Jemma Smith Nutri-Grain ironwoman round 1 at Queenscliff, Amanda Lulham, Swoop

ONE minute Umina surf lifesaver Jemma Smith was sitting in a tent studying for her HSC exams and the next she was racing the biggest ironwoman test of her career.

The unflappable teenager took winning the opening round of the Nutri-Grain ironwoman series in her stride after a late decision to give herself a break from study to race the event at Queenscliff on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

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The 18-year-old held off a star-studded field boasting the likes of former series winners Courtney Hancock, Harriet Brown and Jordan Mercer for the biggest win of her budding career as she lead home a NSW sweep of the board, swim, ski race.

A rising star of the sport after a nine-medal haul in under 17 racing at the Australian surf lifesaving championships two years ago, Smith still stunned the field after only qualifying for the race in the Ocean6 series on Saturday.

Umina’s Jemma Smith (c) with Lizzie Welborn (North Bondi) and Georgia Miller (Newport). Pic: Troy SnookSource: News Corp Australia

“It’s a dream, it really is, something I only dreamed of as a Nipper,” said Smith, who must sit exams in chemistry and extended mathematics this week.

“I wasn’t even planning on coming this weekend so it’s definitely exciting to win.”

Smith beat Newport’s Georgia Miller and North Welborn from North Bondi in the first NSW podium sweep of a Nutri-Grain ironwoman race in recent memory.

Mercer was the best placed of the former ironwoman champions in sixth in her long-awaited return to the sport.

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Still grieving the loss of her ironman champion uncle Dean who died of a heart attack in August, Mercer made her return to ironwoman racing after a year out with stress fractures in both her foot and arm.

“It was emotional,” said Mercer, who last month dedicated her technical and distance paddle board world titles to her uncle.

Jemma Smith only decided at the last minute to race the ironwoman on the weekend.Source: News Corp Australia
TJ Hendy took out the ironman event.Source: News Corp Australia

“We’ve got so much going on in our lives at the moment but within the family you try and play so many different roles for different people.

“We’re hurting together but everyone’s grieving in their own way.

“So it’s those quiet moments where reality is so devastating.

“But we have to find and much joy as we can within what we’re doing.

“Nothing makes me happier than being with my family.”

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Hancock finished ninth and Brown, the defending series champion, was 10th.

Queenslander TJ Hendy also broke through for his first ever series win — 20 years after his father Trevor’s last professional victory in the sport he dominated for more than a decade.

Manly’s Kendrick Louis finished second in the men’s race with Ali Day, a training mate of Hendy’s at Surfer’s Paradise, third.