At what point is a comeback complete? For Caroline, 40, it could be argued that this was achieved in May, when the Swiss Cervélo athlete returned to the pro circuit with an impressive third-place showing at Ironman 70.3 Vietnam.

No comeback by a legend like Xena could really be complete without a victory, and this came three months later at Ironman 70.3 Sunshine Coast, where she also qualified for the 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championship on Sept. 7 in Nice, France. But Xena didn’t stop there. She won Ironman 70.3 Shanghai in October — making it five straight podiums and three straight victories — and then added an exclamation mark to her inspiring season by shattering the course record at Ironman Western Australia. In the process, she also punched her ticket for the 2019 Ironman World Championship on Oct. 12.

Her 53:54 swim and 4:44:52 bike split on her Cervélo P5 were both fastest among the women’s field, and with a huge lead heading into the marathon she cruised to victory in an overall time of 8:49:46.

“A solid swim and strong bike performance were the keys,” Caroline said after the race. “I haven’t done 180km since my last Ironman, which was at Kona 2015. So it was a little unknown how it would go in the second half of the race. The body stayed strong, and I was able to keep pushing away from everyone else on the bike. This set me up to run my race and break the course record.”

The large crowd lining the course cheered loudly for the new champion, who makes her home in Port Macquarie on the east of Australia. “I allowed myself to celebrate a little earlier than usual and enjoy the last kms,” Caroline said. “And then, of course, getting called across the finish line by my partner Pete Murray, and seeing my son Xander, was a very special moment.”

After spending plenty of time with friends and family over the holidays, and celebrating Xander’s first birthday, Caroline will determine her race program for 2019. “Being already qualified for Ironman 70.3 and Ironman World Champs before the end of the year leaves me without any qualification pressure for next season,” she adds. “Now I can relax and keep doing what I’m doing.”