A NEW DI­REC­TION

I was deep in the midst of a slow-mo ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis. By any mea­sure, my life was des­per­ately dis­sat­is­fy­ing. I had lost in­ter­est in my ca­reer – or what­ever it was I was do­ing that now re­sem­bled it, and I'd been mis­man­ag­ing and pro­long­ing a painful brea

Say Yes To Adventure - - News - WORDS: Oliver Bai­ley IM­AGES: Tobi Cor­ney and Bren­don Delzin LO­CA­TION: At­lantic Ocean

AN OLD FRIEND of mine whom I hadn't seen for some time in­vited me to an im­promptu din­ner. We caught up over sushi and sev­eral bot­tles of wine and con­tin­ued late into the night. Then at three in the morn­ing, in our state of drunk­en­ness, he ca­su­ally asked me whether I would row across the At­lantic with him and three for­mer Royal Marines. He had set a date for early 2016, which was a full two years away, but they needed a fifth man for an im­proved ‘power to weight' ra­tio. In my state of ine­bri­a­tion, I blurted out “Yes”. The fol­low­ing day, with a de­press­ingly fa­mil­iar hang­over, I sheep­ishly picked up my phone and found a text that read, “Glad you're in. This is go­ing to be great for you.”

What had I done? I couldn't pos­si­bly leave my bub­ble of medi­ocrity and risk my life on the high seas. Surely it was mad­ness; fifty days at sea, row­ing 24 hours a day in two-hour shifts, in the equiv­a­lent space of two con­joined bath­tubs? I was 6'4” and 17 stone... it couldn't work.

I spent the fol­low­ing weeks re­search­ing ocean row­ing, and it looked as ugly as I had an­tic­i­pated. I had never shown any pro­cliv­ity to­ward en­durance sports. Fur­ther­more, ocean row­ing is an en­durance sport, set in an ex­tremely claus­tro­pho­bic en­vi­ron­ment, on a vast, un­du­lat­ing ocean, which has the po­ten­tial to swal­low up an eight­metre ves­sel with a mere whiff of low pres­sure, yet alone a storm sys­tem.

This cal­i­bre of a chal­lenge wasn't well matched to some­one weak in tem­per­a­ment, slightly over­weight and low on con­fi­dence.

Nev­er­the­less, I con­sulted sev­eral of my friends who had com­peted in triathlons and ul­tra-marathons, and they spoke pas­sion­ately about a chal­lenge of this mag­ni­tude. It was ev­i­dent it would be mem­o­rably dif­fi­cult, but con­versely highly re­ward­ing – a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity – a cat­a­lyst for pos­i­tive change, an in­flex­ion point that might re­vert my life tra­jec­tory. I needed to pre­pare my­self men­tally so I pur­chased some ma­te­rial on be­havioural psy­chol­ogy and mind man­age­ment. Per­haps brain train­ing was the first ten­ta­tive step to­ward my rein­ven­tion. Af­ter men­tal pre­pared­ness, my sec­ond con­cern was how I would cope phys­i­cally with the back-break­ing process of row­ing for 12 hours a day. I was of ques­tion­able fit­ness and prone to in­jury. Over the last decade, my train­ing sched­ule had in­volved a com­bi­na­tion of re­sis­tance and car­dio train­ing at a ubiq­ui­tous UK health and fit­ness chain, in­ter­spersed with the oc­ca­sional ses­sion with a per­sonal trainer who would at­tempt to re­mo­ti­vate me. My rou­tine was the very def­i­ni­tion of go­ing through the mo­tions. I would al­ways take the path of least re­sis­tance – ma­chines over free weights and min­i­mal at­ten­tion to stretch­ing. My form was poor, my func­tional fit­ness non-ex­is­tent and

I was car­ry­ing a chronic lower back in­jury. Another rea­son why I was wholly un­suited to ocean row­ing.

It was ob­vi­ous I ur­gently needed to reap­praise my in­ter­est and knowl­edge of ex­er­cise as I was com­ing at the chal­lenge as a sub­or­di­nate and would need to over­com­pen­sate for it. Three of my team­mates were ex-special-forces and were in in­cred­i­bly good con­di­tion. I rightly de­ter­mined my­self the weak­est link and this at­ti­tude turned out to be a bless­ing in dis­guise.

For our first pro­mo­tional op­por­tu­nity, the team headed to a Cross­fit box for a group train­ing ses­sion and photo shoot. My team­mates had been util­is­ing the sys­tem for sev­eral years and were fer­vent about its ben­e­fits – func­tional, us­able fit­ness, in­volv­ing a com­bi­na­tion

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