Inductee - Karla Gilbert

Karla Gilbert

Karla Gilbert


Ironwoman Karla Gilbert retired from the sport that made her a national icon the same way she entered it - a prolific winner.

In 1980 parents John and Wendy wanting to ensure the water safety of their 5 year old daughter - led Karla to join the Nippers at Palm Beach Surf Life Saving Club. Surf and sand were added to an already determined young lady and so the recipe was made for the successful surf lifesaving career of Karla Gilbert.

Karla had won many state and national junior championships with Palm Beach. The loss of her nipper board and the willingness of Surfers Paradise Club to provide her with a new one resulted in a change of clubs.

Surprisingly Gilbert won in her first attempt at a professional ironwoman event - which just happened to be the first ever professional ironwoman race in Australia in 1990. Surprisingly, because she was just 15 year of age competing against older more experienced and established ironwoman like champion Samantha O'Brien.

It soon became apparent that she would be a star in the senior ranks of Surf Lifesaving when in 1992 she won 3 gold medals at the World Titles in Japan and took out the Queensland and placed second in the Australian Ironwoman Championships.

This was the start of a 10 year dominance in the sport which saw Karla win 'back to back' World Ironwoman Championships (2000-2002), amass 7 consecutive ironwoman series wins (3 Kellogg's, 3 Meadow Lea, 1 Devondale), 15 Australian Championships (inc 3 Open Ironwoman titles & 3 Competitor of Carnival Titles), 8 Queensland Ironwoman titles and numerous state and Australian nipper titles.

Coaches Pat O'Keeffe and Denis Cotterell were a big part of her many highlights. Winning four Uncle Toby's races in a row and beating the great Trevor Hendy's record of 17 race victories rank highly.

But the defining moment in an outstanding career spanning 21 years was when Karla crossed the line in her very last race - the final round of the 2003 Kelloggs series doubling as the Australian Ironwoman Championships. Victory was not garunteed - in fact Karla had not won an Australian Ironwoman Championships since 1994. Faced with the most important race of her life, she approached it like any other - with a will to win an undying determination. Trailing after the board, Karla overtook club mate Penny Turner in the swim leg to take to the lead and maintain it - claiming her most significant victory and ensuring she left the sport in the best possible way.