Erica Hawley says that any self-doubts she harboured before the Commonwealth Games have been replaced with a new-found confidence.
Hawley feared that she might not be ready for the Gold Coast, believing she could get swallowed up by a field including the world’s top women’s triathletes.
She need not have worried.
The 19-year-old produced a performance full of promise in the individual race, coming sixteenth, just eight seconds behind Olympian Gillian Sanders and ahead of Simone Ackermann, Sanders’ South African team-mate.
Hawley then backed that up with a gritty first leg in the mixed team relay to lay solid foundations for Bermuda’s fantastic fifth-place finish.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” Hawley said. “I was really pleased with both the mixed team relay and the individual.
“I didn’t really have many expectations going into the [individual] race. I didn’t really want to put a lot of pressure on myself.”
Hawley warmed up for the Gold Coast by making her ITU World Cup debut in New Plymouth, New Zealand, on March 25.
Her finish of 31st was not what she had hoped for, however it offered her some timely lessons.
“Following New Plymouth, which really didn’t go too well for me, I knew I had to swim well to get with the group,” she said. “I just managed to do that and didn’t to come out last, which is what happened in New Plymouth.
“I managed to ride with a girl from South Africa [Sanders] and stuck with her in the run. I almost beat Jillian Sanders and she’s an Olympian. That puts into perspective what’s possible.”
Watching Flora Duffy, her team-mate and idol, receive her gold medal after more than living up to her favourites tag was another powerful moment for Hawley.
“It was unreal,” Hawley said. “When I heard Hail to Bermuda [during the medal ceremony] as I was watching from the grandstands, I felt like I was truly with her.
“It was emotional for me and I felt proud to be Bermudian. It makes me even more determined to carry on.”
Hawley added: “Flora posted on her Instagram that this was her third Games and that she finally got [the gold] after all that time. It’s been cool to see her progression. I’ve seen her grow up and seen snippets of the tough times and the good times.”
The University of Colorado student was mostly nervous about competing in the mixed team relay.
She was handed the responsibility of performing the first leg and was desperate not to let down team-mates Duffy, Tyler Smith and Tyler Butterfield.
“Dan [Hugo, the Bermuda coach] gave us a pep talk the night before that really scared me and got me nervous,” Hawley said.
“I knew I had to give Tyler [Smith] a good spot for his race. I knew I had to hold my ground, which was kind of scary. I gave it everything I had.
“Personally, I think we exceeded our expectations. We were behind and in front of some really big countries.”
Hawley hopes Bermuda’s team will be offered opportunities to hone their mixed team relay skills in an effort to reach the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“I think all of us are really keen to carry on doing the team,” she added. “That was the first time we had done one together. We were kind of winging it when we started it, but we’ve seen what we can do.
“If we actually practised and adjusted our training, and altered the [team] order, I think we could really excel.”
Hawley will take a well-deserved break before returning to action in the Huatulco ITU World Cup on June 10.
With the Gold Coast now behind her, she will need to draw up some new goals, the of scope of which have become greater after her recent displays.
“It’s weird now that I’ve finished and need to reassess and make new goals for the rest of the year,” she added.
“Looking beyond this year, I have to put the Olympics in there. It’s definitely a different qualification to the Commonwealth, but competing here has opened that door and it gives me confidence that I can do it
“For the next Commonwealths [in Birmingham, England in 2022] I’m already thinking about I could achieve and what the possibilities are.”