AS SURFING queen Layne Beachley was lifting her eighth world title late last year, Samantha Cornish was contemplating a future without the sport that has been part of her life since she was four.
Cornish was out of form, emotionally drained, physically exhausted and anchored to the foot of last year's world tour ratings. This week, the Crescent Head surfer will begin the Beachley Classic at Manly as the top-rated surfer on the women's tour.
It's been an amazing turnaround for Cornish, who won the Billabong Girls Pro in Brazil this year and holds a narrow lead over Silvana Lima going into this week's event.
"My head wasn't really in it,'' the 26-year-old told The Sunday Telegraph. "I had a really bad season and almost lost my spot on the tour ... a lot of things were going on personally. You know that saying, 'sometimes you don't realise what you have until it's almost gone?' Well, that was my realisation.''
For the girl who started surfing when she was four and won a chocolate Paddle Pop as first prize in her maiden contest at 11, thoughts of retirement were replaced with the drive to do everything possible to compete on the world stage.
"I received a wildcard entry to get back onto this year's tour and decided then and there I would put 100 per cent in,'' Cornish said. "The previous year I had a really bad year, so I came back with a new strategy and mindset. To know the hard work I've done is paying off is great, because I did a lot.
"Not only physically and mentally but also my equipment. I've been working with a sports therapist and also a personal trainer. As the year has unfolded, I've been getting closer to where I want to be. It feels pretty satisfying to be in this position at this stage.''
Cornish said she held no fear of her rivals, including former world champion Sofia Mulanovich of Brazil and Australia's Beachley and Chelsea Hedges. "I'm really relaxed. I can't wait for next week,'' Cornish said. "I'm having the time of my life, so I'm not putting any pressure on myself. It's all very close right now, but obviously I have goals to finish on top.''
And of ruining Beachley's beach party this week, Cornish said: "I think everyone is fired up to take her down and I'm one of them. To surf at an event in my country, it's a real thrill. Having the support of my friends and family makes it super-exciting.''
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