FOUR months ago, Aaron Royle was in a Basque hospital, frightened and facing an uncertain future after coughing up blood following a race in Madrid.
Now, the 23-year-old is Australia's top-ranked triathlete and poised to make an impact on the Noosa Triathlon.
Royle will be among the favourites for the renowned Olympic-distance race after an impressive finish to his season, which included a seventh place at the ITU World Triathlon grand final in London last month.
And he's in fine form, winning the Nepean Triathlon at Penrith on Sunday.
It's certainly a far cry from when he was quarantined in hospital in June/July. "I got pneumonia and two lung infections which caused an abscess of the lung," he said.
"(But) for the first five days, I wasn't sure what it was. They thought maybe tuberculosis or maybe a tumour. Thankfully they ruled that out but I had to stay in for another week."
Royle said those first few days of uncertainty "were really scary".
"Especially being in a Spanish hospital and with the language barrier and not having family around me," he added.
And it put things into perspective. "At the time I wasn't thinking about triathlon at all. I wasn't worried about whether I would miss this race or that race," he said.
"INSTEAD I was thinking 'okay this could potentially be quite a serious illness'."
The 2012 world under-23 triathlon champion received antibiotics to kill the infection and he returned to racing less than a month later and finished 18th at the ITU World Triathlon Hamburg.
But it was the result in London, where he earned a berth at next year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, which raised eyebrows.
"That period in hospital wasn't a good time but to come out of that and finish the season off well in London was a huge positive," he said.
"I was really happy to get though the illness and come out the other side and perform well."
And that race provided Royle with new-found confidence.
"Since London I've had the attitude that I deserve to be the leading Australian ITU male at the moment," he said.
"No longer am I scared of other people that I'm racing against. I feel like I belong here and I've worked hard to get in this position."
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.