Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Coaches!

I've been off-blog for a while, so just a brief note on the worlds: they were not great for me, as for the first time ever in a depth world championship, I turned early. Unbeknownst to me, I was in bronze medal position, but I was sick with flu and had mentally checked myself out of the dive. I simply lacked the focus to get it done. A new experience. Can't say I liked it, but I suppose it's part of every athletes journey! I did fool around with Daan Verhoeven though, to get some funky pictures:

Chill out spot!

Back in Berlin (after a detour across some mountains, pure magic) I've thrown myself into Crossfit, asking Nico of Spree Crossfit to recommend one of the team to be my personal coach for the next months. He set me up with Sebastian Werner, who (fortunately) has no idea what he is getting himself into - best not to introduce him to evil coach Andrea, or he might reconsider whether he really wants to do this!

Sebastian started me off with a relatively gentle session, and had me thinking: well this is nice. He was probably just getting me comfortable so I wouldn't run screaming for the hills after the first fifteen minutes - now he has me hooked and it seems the nightmare is about to begin. In fact, during our last session I strongly considered giving up my lunch right there in the middle of the box.

I have already noticed one thing: if I (blond, I know) mention at all that I don't like/can't do/am rubbish at something, this very exercise/skill/nightmare appears instantly. Between two repetitions of squats I somehow (blond, see above) told him that I am incapable of doing box jumps (you have to jump onto a box, heights vary, standard are 40cm and 60cm). I went to great lengths to explain that I was physically unable to jump, as in, genetics, and that it had always been like that, even back in school when I played basketball. He listened to my expert reasoning, went off to get a 40cm box and made me jump on it. Now, this might seem like an easy exercise, but I tell you: mentally, to me, it was an unscalable cliff face. I was terrified to catch my toes and slam forwards onto the box, and certain that this very thing was going to happen.

it's HUGE!
So here is why having a coach who suits you and understands what goes on in your head is one of the best investments you can make. It took Sebastian less than three minutes to have me jump onto the nasty thing, something I had avoided so far at all costs, having firmly convinced myself that it was impossible. As soon as I was up on 40cm, scary enough as far as I was concerned, he came back with the 60cm one, pushing my mental boundaries. He could see that I was physically capable of getting up safely and that the barrier was just in my head. This is when you know if you have the right coach - although everything in me said: "impossible!" I trusted him and discovered that although challenging, it was no problem. It took my new devil coach all of 10 minutes to cure me of a conviction that has been limiting me for years. It was our second session together. As an instructor, I love inspiring this kind of trust in students, but I also love giving it to someone myself.


coach Sebastian, aka devil coach
So. If you want to get ahead, get yourself a trainer to get you out of your comfort zone in the right way. In the water, I could trust evil coach and angel coach to do this for me every time (coach Martin in the pool!). On the mountain, it's snowboard guru Joerg Egli who has made me carve down pitches I felt impossible to ride. Now I can add Sebastian to this crew, who I reckon will push me to new levels of fitness - and be known as devil coach henceforth!


I shall not vomit in the gym, I shall not...


Something tells me this is going to hurt - I apologize in advance for any vomiting I might do in the Crossfit gym. It's not my fault. I have a devil coach!

Friday, 4 September 2015

Blue water heart

photo by Daan Verhoeven
It's that time of the year again: freediving depth world championships are up! In a sport with more world championships than we can keep track of, this is the big deal. It's our ultimate challenge. The very essence of freediving.

Over the next two weeks athletes from around the world will be battling it out in the deep waters off the coast of Cyprus. Going out in a rib to float in the middle of the sea, with nothing around but water and nothingness below. Hardly anyone knows we are here or what we do. The only cheers come from other athletes. This is something I have always liked about our sport. It's a small universe in itself and doesn't rely on instant gratification from crowds of spectators. The highs and lows are private.

Although I have most likely had the worst training season ever, I am already loving this place and my very own moments at depth. Whatever that depth may be in the end, the beauty of it is a constant. When James Cameron was asked why he was striving to dive to the deepest part of the Mariana trench in a one man submarine, an endeavor that was as risky as it was expensive and complicated, he said: "it fills my heart with wonder".

I couldn't agree more. There is plenty of wonder coming up to fill this freediver's blue water heart.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Survival at sea


I've been blog-quiet for a while, which can only mean one thing: excitement! New projects! I went snowboarding (how could I not?), did a fair lot of fitness training (75kg deadlift, yeah!) and went to start the freediving season in Sharm, where I was slowed down by illness as usual. So far, all normal - but then: five weeks of new challenges, crowned by a brilliant adventure: taking part in a "survival at sea" course. This is meant to help you not kick the bucket should you happen to fly in a helicopter across the ocean, and should said vehicle have the audacity to say, crash - something that apparently goes on more often than you'd like! Shit. Note to self: reconsider the helicopter flying thing, if ever offered such transport in the future.

Anyway, having been shown a video of lots of crashes, I got zipped up into an overall with a helmet on my head and chucked into a pool alongside a load of guys, told to float on the surface and not move, then made to remove the overall and turn it into a float, and then put it back on. Someone should have explained to these people that I like to be UNDER the water! This surface stuff is too much like hard work. Still grumbling to myself about all this swimming business, I was sent up to climb the five meter tower by the instructors and told to jump down, doing a "safety jump". Well. As far as I'm concerned, there is a flaw here. Jumping off a five meter tower feels far from safe to me - in fact, it feels like a total nightmare! Problem was, there were 20 guys on the course. As any self respecting female knows, this is the moment where you just can't show hesitation. I managed to suppress a shriek and threw myself into the abyss, feeling pleased that this bit was behind me, not realizing that I'd get to repeat this nastiness another three times!



Next it was time for the fun stuff: we climbed aboard a helicopter contraption which then gets dropped into the water, turned upside down and other such funky things, sometimes in the pitch black dark, while you have to keep calm and make an orderly exit, one after the other. This was so enjoyable to me I managed to convince the crew to let me put on my mask and follow the next group from the instructor position, meaning I was able to observe what happens when someone gets panicky, ignores the "orderly" bit and tries to exit through the door together with two others, nearly getting everyone stuck! Brilliant! I am more and more fascinated by people's fear/panic responses under water and how to help them overcome their most primal instincts. That is the difference between life and death in the water, right there, in the few seconds that decide whether someone will give into their fear or dominate it.

Having done the exciting stuff, we got pulled up, made to chuck out the rescue island thingy, jump (again!!!) after it, launch it and climb aboard. Looks easy in the classroom, gets kind of complicated in the water - I don't even want to think about what that would be like in a freezing sea with waves crashing over your head. Sitting inside with five guys is fun in the pool, but I'm sure I'd not pick being adrift like that for any length of time! They threw me in with so much enthusiasm, they put my head under water inside the island for a good 20sec. Just as well I can hold my breath, but thanks for the rescue, guys!

As if that wasn't enough fun, I next got hooked up to a parachute-pretend-machine, wheeled out from the five meter tower, dangled across the water, and then dropped - again - down, where the job was to release yourself from the straps, then swim underneath a parachute canopy on the surface, pulling yourself along to get out from under it without getting tangled in all the lines. Fun but served as a reminder that there is no reason whatsoever to leap out of a perfectly good aeroplane, as far as I'm concerned - and you can forget it, guys, I'm not doing any tandem jumps either!

I think I have found my new job when I'm done with the bookshop. The METS (Modular Egress Training Simulator) is the best thing I have seen in a long time. It's a freediver's fairground ride!

Now. I know it's time to go be serious and train and all that, and then to compete in the world championships, but: when can I go again? When? When?








Wednesday, 28 January 2015

New year, new job!

Right. 2015 is here. No one knows why these new years always come as such a surprise, and always so suddenly! Mine came with the - totally unsurprising - traditional four week sinus infection, as usual messing up all training ideas. I might try a new approach and just eat chocolate for the entire month of January 2016!


Fit or not, a new challenge was around the corner for me: my first ever job as a presenter. The crew responsible for the organization of the annual BOOT trade show (the biggest watersports trade show in the world) had decided to book me to be stage presenter in the diving hall for nine days although I had zero experience. Fortunately, I was only the second presenter, and able to watch closely what the proper professional was doing - taking the lead from Ingo Meyer was a very good plan, since he is hosting all manner of events including surfing and kiting world cups and working as TV sports commentator. The days were hectic with a schedule calculated by the second to fill the hours between 10:30 and 18.00. Note to self: drink less coffee next time! In fact, best drink nothing at all.

My favorite challenge of the week were the German navy divers who came on stage twice per day to present their three divisions. Novice presenter that I am, I asked the obvious: what exactly do the navy divers do? and was presented with a staggering range of military speak. It took me a couple of days to get through to the real information, e.g: they sometimes dive for miles/hours to get themselves and their gear unseen to a location - the audience that is used to paddling around the reef for 45min or so suddenly woke up! Ha. Since I like having a target to aim for I decided to work on making those guys lose their serious look a little more each day, something I started to succeed with when I discovered the best tool ever in one of the videos they were presenting: an underwater chainsaw! Amazing! Instant attention from all the men in the audience guaranteed. I did my best to make sure they were all storming the navy diver stand after each presentation.


A highlight in our 4m deep diving pool was a helmet diving suit. When I first spotted it, I had nothing better to do but to open my mouth (no surprises there) and declare this to be one the few things I have not tried in diving. Immediate result: the guys started planning to put me into it! My busy schedule (barely any time for toilet breaks) did not deter them at all. I was thinking, hell, this could be fun - until I was told the whole thing weighs 80kg, and that the challenge included me having to climb the stairs to the diving tower myself! A brief oh-shit-moment was followed by: if I don't make it - who cares? Until the exhibitors party, that is, when one of the guys told me that bets were being made on whether I'd get to the top, with some of them betting against me! Outrageous! Did I mention? Oh SHIT!


The morning came on the busiest day of the entire show. A brief thought of sports clothes was discarded for: why? I'll be dry - after all, it's a helmet suit! Climbing into it with my jeans soon showed the flaw in the plan: the men are a touch bigger than me, so there were, in fact, no seals on my wrists. Anyways, minor details, a bet was on and I was going to get up those stairs come hell or high water!

Since I was trained on trimix years ago by former UK navy diver Aaron Bruce, I firmly believe that planning is key to any kind of dive. This does not start in the water but well before, and includes such things as figuring out how to get your big ass and your gear to the divesite. Just in case the 80kg suit was going to be too much, I'd recruited the diving area crew to be on standby and help push me up the stairs if needed - what you don't have in your legs, you best have in your head, after all. Still, what self respecting girl can let a bunch of guys bet against her! This is were all the squats and burpees I did last year had to finally be of some use.


Climbing into the suit, it was hard for anyone around to keep a straight face, including me. This is what I used to call a man-proof-overall when I was still riding my Ducati around London: when wearing one of those, there is absolutely no danger of men getting any ideas. Apart from the size of the thing, the non-seal-wrist fit and the fact that they put a helmet on your shoulders that weighs 64kg, the boots were the biggest challenge. They weigh 7kg each, which is not such a problem in itself, but becomes pretty complicated when you have size 38 feet and the boots are 46.

Finally it was time to get to it and start climbing. The weight was actually easy enough, although I did notice that the man who's suit I was in cheated a little by not putting the chest weight on me until I was at the top - I reckon it's around 10-12kg. You're a true gentleman, Mr F! Biggest problem was trying to balance the boat-like 7kg boots on my toes to lift them up the steps. Climbing down the ladder was a bit special for the same reason, but once in the water, it was brilliant!


Of course, the water started to rise up the sleeves right away, but I figured I had time to hop around until it reached my upper arms. It's odd but funky to simply breathe with no regulator in the water, and just as well we had no radio connection, because I was laughing away the entire time. I felt quite heavy - I suppose I might not need quite as much weight as the usual wearers of the suit - and decided to let more air in to see if I could do some bigger jumps. Turns out this was a very bad idea, which I recognized when I nearly could not reach the valve in the helmet any more which you have to push with your head to let the air out! Failing to pay attention will send you straight to the surface, helpless and looking like a right fool. I saved myself - just! Phew.

Time flies when you have fun and with the water in the sleeves nearly up to my shoulders it was time to get out - standing below the ladder it came to me that all my planning had been terribly flawed. Blond moment! The only way to get out was to leap off the bottom and reach up to grab the ladder, emptying all the water from the arms into the legs. I might as well have sat in a bathtub. Still laughing I climbed out of the suit and prepared to go on stage with a pair of sweatpants borrowed from the diving tower crew. By the way, thank you kids, you were all great!

My first moonwalk! I loved it! Next time, I will bring tape for the seals and do some somersaults. And climb the stairs with the full 80kg.

Note to self: prepare for the BOOT show 2016 with heavy backsquats!