Images courtesy World Triathlon

By Kent Gray/
There’s been little funny about the elbow bone Dylan McCullough broke in August but the Commonwealth Games standout has found a way to turn his first serious injury setback into a positive.

The 21-year-old Aucklander is counting down to World Cup Miyazaki on Saturday week (Oct. 29) in what will be his first race back from a breakout seventh place in Birmingham in late July.

McCullough is set to race alongside Tri NZ tier 2 representatives Saxon Morgan, Janus Staufenberg, Olivia Thornbury and Eva Goodisson over the sprint distance in Japan and is sure to find sympathy from Staufenberg and Thornbury in particular pre-race given the couple are both studying at Otago Medical School.

He’ll be able to fill Tri NZ’s other power couple (Staufenberg and Thornbury are racing in the shadow of European trailblazers Tayler Reid and Nicole van der Kaay) on his recovery from fracturing the olecranon (the pointy elbow bone) on his right arm in an accident at Tri NZ’s Banyoles, Spain training base in August.

So far, so good in that respect. The resulting two-hour surgery and requisite recovery time meant McCullough missed planned World Cup races in Bergen and Valencia but the time away hasn’t been all bad.

“It’s actually been really motivating, just taking a step back and having a bit of a break,” McCullough told

“It’s just recharged my batteries and made me excited and motivated to get stuck into work again and build obviously for Miyazaki coming up and my main goal, the World Champs in the end of November.”

As it turns out, McCullough’s second tilt in the U-23 division at the World Triathlon Championships in Abu Dhabi (Nov. 24-26) has been unwittingly well-timed too.

“The Worlds are usually in September but this year it’s actually a blessing for me that it’s in November, so late, gives me some extra time to get back to top shape.”

McCullough has been able to keep cycle fit on his indoor trainer and started back running once his cast was cut-off three weeks post-surgery. The tricky bit has been getting back up to speed in the pool with his range of motion still a minor issue.

“I still can’t completely straighten the elbow or bend it 100 percent. I’ve probably got 90 percent range of motion at the moment and obviously pulling through the water, there’s that pinching feeling,” McCullough said.

“It’s probably about a three out of 10 [pain factor] each stroke I take, so it’s tolerable and it’s going to go away once I get my arm stronger.

“He [the surgeon] actually had to clamp the bone together first, it was in half, so he clamped it together and just drilled a screw in pretty much. It was actually my first surgery so I was a little bit nervous leading up to it but everything went well.

“I’ve still got a little bit of pain when I’m swimming but I saw my surgeon last week and he said it was still the fracture. I’ve got my X-ray and the bone is still kind of in half, the screw is in the middle holding it together pretty much but it’s just going to keep healing over the next couple of weeks.“

Thankfully, McCullough started out as a competitive swimmer during his intermediate years at St Kentigern College so has that to fall back on.  It certainly laid the foundation for his gold medal performance as a 17-year-old at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games

“I’m back to doing around 20k a week which is a pretty normal week mileage for my swimming but I don’t want to push it by doing big swim weeks and potentially aggravate it or go back a step.

“Cycling is my next strongest [discipline] and running is my weakest but I’ve worked hard on that over the last year and it’s really improving.”

McCullough was rightly “stoked” to finish second best Kiwi at the Commonwealth Games behind still-in-dispute silver medallist Hayden Wilde. It’s a huge confidence boost looking ahead to Oceania Cups in Wanaka (Feb.17) and Taupo (Feb.25) and World Cup New Plymouth (March 26) which shape as important marker races as the Paris 2024 Olympic Games loom.

More immediately, the chance to eclipse his 12th placing at last year’s U-23 Worlds in Edmonton, Canada around Abu Dhabi’s F1 circuit on Yas Island is the key motivator for the John Hellemans-coached Pakuranga flyer.

“Miyazaki will be a build-up race to see where I’m at, what I need to build on for the next month and then World Champs….I don’t want to put a result on it, a number. I just want to go into the race 100 percent fit and healthy and see what I can do.”

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