By Kent Gray/
In trademark action woman style, Tri NZ’s new General Manager of Community has hit the ground running in her mission to repay in kind all the amazing experiences and critical care the sport has offered her.

Anna Russell officially started the newly established role on November 27 as part of a departmental rejig designed to add even more capability in the sport’s critical community space.

Former Community Manager Mel Saltiel has not been lost to the sport in the wake of the disestablishment of that role, taking up the new position of ‘Age Group Experience Manager’. It will see Saltiel continue to work in the age group space, including supporting Tri NZ Suzuki Series events and age group teams on the global stage, beginning at the World Triathlon Multisport Championships in Townsville next August.

Funding secured through Sport New Zealand’s Strengthen and Adapt Fund will also allow Russell to oversee two new employs. The new community staff members will be chiefly charged with youth participation and events growth as the heads of two new regional hubs to be established in the New Year.

Employed by Tri NZ since 2015, and since 2017 in a Community Advisor role as she’s raised children Max, 6, Cooper, 4, and Aria, 2, Russell edged 30 applicants to become the new GM – Community.

From a nervous newbie triathlete 15 years ago, to a podiumed professional and back to an Ironman 70.3 World Championships qualified age grouper, Russell knows well the opportunities triathlon can provide.

Mix in her admin roles at Tri NZ, the stable of athletes she coaches, commentary stints for Ironman, the fervent promotion of Zwift-powered indoor racing including the Tri NZ Esport Series, and the superpower that is motherhood, and Russell’s experience and devotion to triathlon is hard to beat.

“With the amazing work that Mel [Saltiel] has been doing in the community at a really difficult time during the pandemic, the sport is in a great space to go into a growth phase,” Russell said. “I’m excited to develop and deliver a community strategy that connects, grows and develops this sport we all love.”

Russell is already well advanced with her short term goals of reconnecting with Tri NZ’s network of clubs and event providers to discover “what is needed and how we best support this happening.”

In addition to getting the two new regional hubs established, she is also committed to enchancing membership offerings for athletes and coaches as swiftly as possible, including the build of an app-based membership platform.

“We’ll also soon ramp up our focus on our event structure to ensure they are well supported. This is the heart of triathlon as we are an event based sport. We’ll take learnings from what other triathlon nations do and implement this in New Zealand,” Russell said.

“In the longer term, I want to see a thriving and vibrant community, lots of well run and safe event offerings, increased participation right from youth through all age groups. I want us to be proud of our sport in New Zealand and know that it will a sport our future generations can enjoy.”

Russell is intimate with the community pathway, racing her first World Triathlon Age Group Championships on the Gold Coast in 2009 before working her way up to professional long course racing, finishing with a podium at the Port Macquarie 70.3 in 2015.

She will contest the 40-44 age group at the 70.3 Worlds in Taupo next December having qualified in 2019, pre pandemic, when Cooper was just seven months old.

Russell is also a huge proponent of the club life and credits the North Harbour Triathlon Club for helping her through one of the most difficult periods of her adult life.

“Through a hard bout of post-natal anxiety after Aria, it was my local tri club that pulled me back into the community. It’s an amazing support network I’d love more people to know up and down the country.”

Tri NZ CEO Pete De Wet said Russell’s varied experience would make her an invaluable resource across the community network, building on Saltiel’s legacy.

 “I am really looking forward to working with Anna in this new capacity, and I know that she will be an outstanding ambassador for our community,” De Wet said.

“Mel too, was an outstanding candidate amongst 26 applicants, and her passion and dedication to the age group community came through really strongly in her interview. There are a few big years coming up for our age groupers, starting with the Townsville Multisport World Champs, and with Mel at the helm of this programme, we can rest assured that our participants will be really well looked after.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank Mel for her efforts in the [now disestablished] Community Manager role. I think we can all agree that Mel has represented Tri NZ extremely well, and I am pleased that she will still be part of the team supporting our great triathlon community.”

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