Fight­ing fit:

When she wanted to get out of her com­fort zone, Aida Austin hadn’t banked on an ad­ven­ture in the woods

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Inside -

Aida Austin tries boot­camp

Back in April, I e-mailed my edi­tor af­ter re­turn­ing from a press trip to Bu­dapest.

“Thank you for send­ing me on a three-day lux­ury cruise,” I said, “but next time, let’s change things up a bit. Pack me off on an as­sign­ment that’s as far out of my com­fort zone as a cruise but in an op­po­site way — like...oh I don’t know... white wa­ter raft­ing or a heal­ing crys­tals work­shop.” Don’t ask me why I wanted to change things up. I just took a no­tion, as they say round here.

The no­tion passed, as no­tions do, fall­ing straight out of my head as quickly as it en­tered it, helped by the fact that my edi­tor didn’t get back to me.

But then, alas, she did. Which is why to­day, at 10am on Satur­day morn­ing, I’m hid­den in the woods that run along the shore­line of Fota Is­land, do­ing press-ups in the mud.

Terry, lead in­struc­tor at Fota Is­land Ad­ven­ture, has just or­dered me to drop to the for­est floor. I am to do five, he says, as pu­n­ish­ment for stand­ing with my arms folded across my chest (tip: hands in pock­ets will get you the same.) Terry, an im­pas­sioned, kind, twinklyeyed dis­ci­plinar­ian heads up the team of pro­fes­sional in­struc­tors here — many of them ex-army and all ex­pertly trained to the high­est stan­dard — that have put to­gether a range of daily out­door ac­tiv­i­ties and be­spoke pack­ages which are de­signed to ex­cite, chal­lenge, build con­fi­dence but most im­por­tantly, be top fun.

But there are rules — and I’ve al­ready bro­ken one.

“Back straight,” Terry roars, “and ONE.” I push my­self up from the for­est floor with my hands. ONE is hard. Like any nor­mal per­son, I use my body for nor­mal things like gar­den­ing, cy­cling on the flat, pot­ter­ing and sin.

“CALL THAT A PRESSUP?” Terry shouts — then some­thing else that I don’t quite catch. I hear laugh­ter.

He must have made a joke.

“TWO,” he roars.

I fear I am the butt of it. TWO is harder.

I’m a mid­dle-aged lady and my mouth is closed so as to avoid ladling rain­wa­ter out of a pud­dle. I’m sure I could build a case against do­ing press-up num­ber three.

“THREE,” he barks.

I do THREE: Terry has that jolly twin­kle in his eye but on the other hand, he’s seen live com­bat, not just pre­tend. Bet­ter not mess with a man like that.

Af­ter the last press-up, I scram­ble to my feet and re­join the small group of six to which I be­long. Its mem­bers have formed a straight line and each one — in­clud­ing my hus­band who’s ac­com­pa­ny­ing me as my plus-oneis stand­ing goody-twoshoes-up­right with their arms goody-two-shoes down by their sides. They all look ea­ger to start the morn­ing’s ac­tiv­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly my hus­band who’s for­ever on the look-out for new ways to in­jure him­self.

I get in line, next to my hus­band.

“What was the joke?” I whis­per.

“He said you looked like a dis­tressed mack­erel,” my hus­band says.

Terry says the next three hours will be about us get­ting a feel for what the Fota Is­land Ad­ven­ture team of­fers par­tic­i­pants.

It’s very beau­ti­ful down here but start­ing to spit rain, I have mud in my mouth and have got a feel al­ready.

“Not be­ing funny,” I say. “But who are th­ese par­tic­i­pants?”

“Fam­i­lies,” he says, “solo vis­i­tors, cor­po­rate re­treats, school tours, scout groups, hens and stags.”

“You see,” my hus­band says. “A lot of peo­ple like adren­a­line, it’s not just...”

But Terry has spot­ted my hus­band’s folded arms.

“Dear oh dear,” I say. “Down you go.”

Terry tells us the plan: first we are go­ing to do the ob­sta­cle course, then have a pop at com­bat archery, af­ter which we will do Bushcraft, which he says is be­com­ing pop­u­lar in ur­ban ar­eas where the av­er­age per­son is sep­a­rated from na­ture. One of the bushcraft skills we will be learn­ing is fire­craft. Hav­ing lived in a farm­house for the past two decades in which I had to light two stoves ev­ery day just to stay alive, I’m not sure there’s any­thing Terry can teach me about fire­craft. (Turns out there is: I should have in­vested in a Mag­ne­sium Stick when I first bought the house.) This will be fol­lowed by Find the Sniper. This, he ex­plains, is when some­one dresses up in a ghillie cam­ou­flage suit and hides in the for­est. (It’s ex­actly like Hide and Seek, we dis­cover later, only mi­nus the find­ing part.)

“So are we all clear?” Terry says.

“Yes,” we say, re­spond­ing po­litely and not all at once.

“I CAN’T HEAR YOU,” he bel­lows.

“YES,” we shout in uni­son.

“THAT’S MORE LIKE IT,” he bel­lows back.

“It’s vi­tal that you give a loud, clear, im­me­di­ate re­sponse to any in­struc­tion that I give you,” he says. “Be­cause it shows me that you’ve un­der­stood the in­struc­tion.”

This is for our own safety, he ex­plains, and the safety of the group. But there are other rea­sons why we must re­mem­ber to re­spond in this fash­ion (to do with dis­ci­pline, re­spect for our­selves and obli­ga­tion to our com­rades) but per­son­allyspeak­ing, none of th­ese are as com­pelling as the fact that Terry will make us do more press-ups if we don’t.

“So this morn­ing is go­ing to be sort of like a taster menu,” my hus­band says un­der his breath as we yomp be­hind Terry deeper into the woods.

“Ex­actly,” I say. “But where ev­ery­thing on the menu looks alarm­ing, we have to eat it all, and there’s no pud­ding.”

We pro­ceed to the ob­sta­cle course af­ter a slight de­lay: two com­rades drop to do press-ups on the way (hands in pock­ets.) My heart goes out to them but I see what he means about mack­erel.

We yomp through for­est un­der broadleaf tree canopy, ar­riv­ing at the cus­tombuilt ob­sta­cle course.

This is the cor­ner­stone of Fota Is­land Ad­ven­ture: Swings, tyres, ropes, climb­ing wall, hur­dles and tun­nels — you name it, it has it. Half a mile of hell. Or fun. Not sure which yet but I’m about to find out.

“First time round, I want you to go at your own pace,” Terry says.

I trem­ble at the start line. My hus­band stands be­side me.

“Terry just told me they’re build­ing 15 more ob­sta­cles to add to this course,” he says. “You’d get a right bloody past­ing here if you came with a bunch of mates. I’m to­tally com­ing back.”

“GO!” Terry shouts. We all GO, GO, GO.

I GO, GO, GO un­til I reach the dark tun­nels where I find my­self on the horns of a dilemma. I don’t like dark tun­nels. But I GO, GO, GO through them and I keep go­ing, right up to the last ob­sta­cle when I stop.

The last ob­sta­cle is f ***** g HUGE. Like its de­signer sat down and thought: “Hmmm, now what can I cre­ate specif­i­cally for peo­ple who are for­ever on the look­out for new ways to in­jure them­selves? Oh yes! I know! I’m go­ing to de­sign a mas­sive skate­board-ramp and then I’m go­ing to su­per-su­per size it. And af­ter that, just to in­ject a lit­tle near-death fris­son into it, I’m go­ing to cover it in slip­pery black plas­tic. For a laugh. So peo­ple will ei­ther have to run up it like speedy geckos run­ning up an ice wall — or die try­ing.” My hus­band’s up it in a blink.

IRUN at it like a gecko. It’s easy to run like a gecko on grass. I get half­way up the ramp and slide down.

My sec­ond and third at­tempts end the same way.

On my fourth, every­one shouts, “YOU CAN DO IT.”

“I AM A SPEEDY GECKO,” I say, and sum­mon all my strength. I run two thirds of the way up and hurl my­self to­wards the top to find my­self hang­ing off a bar with one hand, my legs splayed out be­hind me.

Some­how, now, I have to hoist my­self up the slip­pery plas­tic.

I hoooooooooooist my­self up.

I am up! Right at the tip, tip top. I am the gecko CHAM­PION.

We traipse back to the start­line, where we are al­lowed to catch our breath be­fore we go­ing round again. This time our aim is cover the course in un­der four min­utes.

“This is top fun,” I say, jig­ging up and down. “Is this what it’s like to be pumped?” “GO,” shouts Terry. OFF goes my hus­band. OFF go I.

“I’m im­pressed,” my hus­band yells over his shoul­der, hurtling to­wards the first ob­sta­cle. “What you lack in ex­pe­ri­ence, you cer­tainly make up for in grit.”

“I’ll show you grit,” I think, hurtling af­ter him.

We are neck and neck at the hor­i­zon­tal log hur­dles.

I am go­ing to get round in un­der four min­utes even if it kills me.

My hus­band sails over the first log.

“I’M GO­ING TO SHOW EVERY­ONE,” I think.

“It’s all about the tech­nique,” I think, fly­ing up into the air. “I just have to swing my right leg up like this and...” SMACK, my right knee slams straight into the log.

I am on the ground.

I try to move my leg.

I am over­come by a sud­den wave of vi­o­lent nau­sea.

I am es­corted off the course.

Launched ear­lier this sum­mer, Fota Is­land Ad­ven­ture is a fun-filled, high-adren­a­line ad­ven­ture cen­tre pro­vid­ing fun for all the fam­ily (sev­en­plus) with a range of ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing an ob­sta­cle course, kayak­ing, SUPing, bush craft as well as a se­lec­tion of field based ac­tiv­i­ties.

www.fo­tais­land.ie

Fota Is­land Ad­ven­ture prom­ises fun and high-adren­a­line ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing bushcraft and a half-mile-long ob­sta­cle course.

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