Ironman 70.3 world champ Jodie Cunnama (née Swallow) may originally hail from the U.K., but the 17-year pro is now best known as the most dominant triathlete in Africa after winning her seventh (yes, seventh) consecutive Ironman 70.3 South Africa in January. She married long-time boyfriend and fellow pro James Cunnama after they both competed in last year’s Ironman World Championship, and the couple recently found out they’ll be welcoming their first child later this year. Jodie took time to reflect on her relationship with her body throughout her stellar career—and what it’s like to call Stellenbosch, South Africa, home.
My motivations have definitely shifted through the different phases of my career. I’ve had all kinds of crap thrown at me—from injury to [Olympic] team selections, and also crap that I’ve thrown at myself, like eating disorders. Through everything that’s happened in my life, triathlon has helped me cope and given me a place to direct my anger or passion or whatever I’m feeling.
It’s really hard to overcome an eating disorder. It’s something that’s carved in my personality now. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a normal relationship with my body image, even if I have a normal relationship with food. I’ve looked back lots on why it started. I was a real high-achieving athlete as a child and felt lots of pressure from a very young age. It just came on when I was dealing with puberty and changes with my body image. It certainly wasn’t triathlon that brought it on—I was dealing with it well before triathlon.
If I have any advice for a girl dealing with body image issues, it’s that you have to be honest with people. From someone who has been through it and performed successfully with and without an eating disorder, I’d say it’s not worth it and you have to do something about it as soon as you can.
I definitely feel a bit of pressure racing in South Africa. It’s a small world here. South Africans see [Ironman South Africa and 70.3 South Africa] as the big races of the year because most of them don’t get a chance to race Hawaii or other big races around the world.
I’d consider myself about 2 percent South African now. I’m a total British snob and I still have my British etiquette. (“I’d consider her at least 80 percent South African—she’s losing her Britishness everyday,” James chimes in.)
Stellenbosch is the most beautiful but harsh environment I’ve ever trained in. It’s difficult to put in a nutshell. It definitely has character.
James and I swim together, and that’s about it. I definitely push him in the pool. We do some easy rides together, but we’ll argue if we do too much more training together than that.
Food she can only get in South Africa
Steri Stumpie. It’s flavored milk. You can get chocolate, strawberry—they even have bubblegum.
Thing she misses about the U.K.
My family. And just British people as a whole.
Place to train other than Stellenbosch
Leysin, Switzerland. It’s the right altitude and weather for me. It’s brilliant.
Thing to do as a couple that doesn’t involve triathlon
Going on safari. [James] turns into Ranger James.
Movie she’s seen this year
“Town of Runners.” It’s about this little town in Ethiopia where they develop these great long-distance runners.