Trying a new activity doesn’t mean that you have to suddenly take up an extreme sport such as rock climbing or scuba diving, it can be something simple or something that maybe you tried as a kid but have let slip to the roadside since.

I’m the product of two very different parents. My mum’s grey-blue eyes and my dad’s brown eyes mixed to give me multi-coloured eyes. My dad’s very academic, and my mum’s a sportswoman with a knowledge of physical biology. I’m not really either, but I am very artistic (I think my genes gave up on this one and decided to head in a totally different direction). And my mum is an excellent swimmer, and my dad can’t swim. When I say my dad can’t swim, people assume that he just never learnt. That’s also what all the swimming teachers at his local pool assumed when he started taking lessons there. They soon changed their mind. My dad proves the theory wrong that all humans naturally float. Since a young age, my dad has literally been able to walk along the floor of a swimming pool right up until the deep end. He’s quite happy down there, and he accepted long ago that he’ll never be able to swim properly. He just wants to be better at it than he is now, and that’s why he goes to his lesson every week. My mum, on the other hand, grew up swimming in Lake Windermere. My dad was the first person she’d met who couldn’t swim, and I think before that she’d always supposed that it was instinct. I wouldn’t be surprised if my family made bets on whether I would ever be able to learn to swim. It didn’t look good for the first 10 years. Although my mother optimistically took me to the local swimming baths every week, it looked like I’d inherited my ability in the water from my dad. That was until my last year at primary school, when our new headmaster decided to come along to our weekly swimming lesson with us. I will always be grateful to Mr Dempsey for that. Until that day, no teacher had ever actually got in the water with us. Us kids who couldn’t already swim were usually left in the shallow end whilst the swimming teacher busied herself with the children who didn’t need to learn (figure that one out). I genuinely learnt to swim in one day.
I’ll never make it to Olympic standard, or probably anything more than 50 laps at a slightly lob-sided breast stroke, but I can swim. Whilst I was living in Greece, I found swimming a great way to keep in shape. Working as a rep is a very busy and unpredictable lifestyle, so making plans to do anything is virtually impossible. You usually get free access to hotel pools, though, so going for a quick swim was an easy option. It also keeps you cool in the 45 degree heat! Since I’ve moved back to the UK, I’ve tried to continue swimming. I try to go to my local baths at least every couple of weeks and swim 40(ish) lengths. As well as being great exercise, it’s probably the only time of the week when I relax and empty my mind. Thinking about it, I must look like a swimming zombie because I really zone out sometimes.

I’m hoping to be able to fit some private swimming lessons into my schedule over the next year, so that I can learn to swim properly. Although I can swim on top of the water, and underwater, I never got to grips with the breathing properly so I can’t go in and out like you’re supposed to. Until then, I’ll continue with my forty lopsided lengths.


Facing My Fears 2 – Scuba Diving

Back in September, I told you about how I Faced My Fear of heights by taking up rock climbing. Another of my phobias is the sea, although I don’t believe that this fear is entirely irrational. I didn’t learn to swim until I was eleven years old, and I had a scary experience at the beach when I was just six. Where I grew up on the North West coast of England, the Irish Sea is a wild and dangerous stretch of water that only the bravest, or craziest, swimmers tackle. Unlike the calmer shores of the southern and eastern seaside resorts in the UK, Blackpool and it’s surrounding coastline is attractive for its sandy beaches and bracing air rather than it’s water. About 8 miles north of the bright lights of Blackpool town centre, my village has it’s own little stretch of beach that my dad used to regularly take me to as a child. It was on one such visit that I was caught by a freak wave and dragged out to sea by the current. Luckily, very luckily in fact considering that he can’t swim that well himself, my dad managed to rescue me, but it put me off swimming in open water for life. I remember my dad sitting me in the front of the car to try and dry me off and warm me up, and thinking that I hated the sea. I also remember my dad suggesting that maybe we shouldn’t tell my mum about what had happened when we got back to the house, and me pointing out that she might question why I was soaked through with seaweed sticking out of my hair.

So that, along with a dislike of swimming with fish (I have no idea where that one came from), is why I have a phobia of the sea. Just like with my phobia of heights, I decided to tackle this one head on. My chance came when I went to work in Rhodes in summer 2004. One of the benefits of working as a holiday rep is that you get to experience a lot of the excursions that you sell as part of your job. In Rhodes, one of our most popular days out was scuba diving with Waterhoppers.

From absolute beginners to qualified PADI divers, Waterhoppers are a great school to dive with. Even if you don’t want to dive, it’s still worth going along with those in your party who do. You can have a go a snorkelling, or just chill out on the boat and sunbathe. The Waterhoppers team encourage all the reps to take their PADI course whilst working on the island. Not only does it give you an in-depth knowledge of the sport to be able to sell the excursions, but it also gives you the opportunity to work for the diving school yourself someday. Although I never got round to taking the course, I did have a go at the introductory day.

Working as a holiday rep is incredibly hard. You’re on 24 hour call seven days a week, you work long hours and you have to deal with every situation that you could possibly imagine might happen whilst you’re on holiday. So, when you only have one day off a week, dragging yourself out of bed in the earlier hours to go and meet the diving boat isn’t easy. The first up in our building was Steve. Steve was always the first up in our building. Before becoming a rep, Steve was in the army and had not got out of the habit of tackling everything with head-on military determination. He forced the rest of us out of bed, including Neil who wasn’t actually diving but just wanted to come along and laugh at the rest of us in all the gear. We grabbed a quick breakfast on the way to try and head-off our hangovers from the night before. The diving instructors had told us not to drink alcohol the night before we dived, but on our one night off of the week that instruction and been forgotten about by the time we finished work at 9pm. Refuelled, we headed down to Kalithea Bay where we would be meeting the boat and diving from. ‘Kalithea’ means ‘beautiful view’ and the bay is situated just north of Faliraki, the famous party town of Rhodes.

We boarded the boat and joined a group of holidaymakers for our briefing. After learning the basics of diving, what signals to give when and what safety aspects to be aware off, we were split into smaller groups and sent off to relax on the beach until our designated time. Relax is probably the wrong word to use. Steve had dived before, so he was far too excited to relax, and the rest of us were more than a little nervous. By the time our group were called up, I’m sure I was the same colour as the seaweed.

The first time you put on a wetsuit, before you’ve learnt that trepidation is not the way to go about it, is always interesting. Especially when you’re on a boat that’s bobbing back and forth in a small bay. After about twenty minutes of wrestling ourselves into the suits that looked half the size of us and constantly bumping into each other in the process, our group were all zipped up and ready to get into the water. Even though we were on Rhodes, known as the sunniest island in Greece, this was early May and the water was freezing. Afterwards, one of the instructors commented on how good my diving posture was because I wrapped my arms around my body instead of using them to try and swim. I omitted to tell her that I was only like that because I was desperately trying to keep myself warm in the water, good diving posture was the last thing on my mind.

Before I tried diving, I’d always assumed the hardest part for me would be swimming so far under water with all those fish. Weirdly, once I was under the water I was absolutely fine and all fears of being in the sea completely disappeared, Instead, what I found incredibly hard was just putting my face in the water with my regulator on before I even properly got into the water. I felt so stupid. All I had to do was put my face in the water and breath, but it was the hardest thing in the world to do. Even though I knew I could just pull my face out of the water again if I had to, it took me ages to fight against my instinct and breath through the regulator. Once that was out of the way and I’d acclimatised to the temperature of the water as best as I was ever going to, I was away. Steve, as always, was like a kid in a sweet shop, zigzagging across the seabed every time he saw something that remotely looked like a fish or a stone. He was kicking up sand in everyone else’s faces, the instructor desperately trying to hold him back with the rest of the group. Due to the underwater sandstorm that Steve was creating, I wasn’t able to see much for the first part of the dive. Help came in an unlikely form. Another of my colleagues, James, had incredibly white legs (which were still the same colour six months later after a whole summer of Greek sun) and under the water they were so bright that I was able to follow them through the murky sand. I don’t think I would have seen much on that first dive, anyway, I was concentrating so much on just breathing and being in awe of the fact that I was actually scuba diving. I loved it, though, and signed up for the second optional dive as soon as I got out of the water.

The second dive was much more interesting, and Steve had calmed down a lot by this point so we were all able to see a lot more. The instructor took us to a cave that has a hole in the top of it that opens up above ground. The sunlight streams through the hole and into the water, and from your underwater perspective it really is the most incredible sight.

Although I loved my day scuba diving, I never did go back again. Unfortunately I was diagnosed with sinitis shortly afterwards, and my doctor forbade me from diving again that summer because I would be unable to equalise. Equalising is when you hold your nose and mouth shut under the water and blow. I have to do it a lot when I’m skiing, due to the altitude and my useless sinuses, and when I was diving I was almost constantly equalising. I had to resurface at one point as well because the pressure was hurting my head too much, and as I was being lowered back into the water the photographer chose this point to take my picture so my souvenir photo isn’t as cool as everyone else’s. I’m very proud to say that I have got my photo, though, and that I tried scuba diving at least once.

Scuba Diving

Core Strength

Apparently, there are two times in the year when people make an extra effort to get fit. One is in the New Year, when everyone vows to stick to their resolutions and turn over a new leaf, and the other is right now, in the run up to Christmas. With that in mind, I thought I’d spend some time over the next few weeks sharing with you some of my ‘new activities’ that I’ve tried in the past. I’ve already shared with you my experiences of indoor climbing, step class and joining the gym. In my bid to try at least one new activity every year, though, there are lots more to tell you about. I’m going to start with an exercise class that, for me, wasn’t a good experience and one that I’m certainly not in a rush to try again, Core Strength workout. Posting it first gets it out of the way, and as I have mentioned it a few times in previous posts I thought you might be a bit curious.

As I mentioned in my post Facing My Fears, I am a gold member of my local climbing centre, Boulders. Not only do I get unlimited climbing with my membership, I also get to go to the fitness classes they offer, including core strength. I’d seen the core strength class whilst I’d been climbing a few times, and although it looked tough I thought I’d give it a try. To be honest, I’m not really sure why it was classed as a core workout. We started with a warm-up that was basically jogging up and down a car park. The instructor then said we’d be moving onto cardio exercises. Surely cardio exercises would be more suited to a, well, a cardio workout. He then wrote the list of exercises on the white board, which may as well have been an alien language to me. I had no idea what a ‘V-Raise’ was, and when he mentioned the ‘bicycle crunches’ I looked around for the bikes. I raised my hand when we were asked if we needed an explanation, at which point the instructor let out a sigh and made a half-arsed attempt to demonstrate. Without any technique or safety guidance, I might add. I could understand if the instructor was one of those motivating, shouty marine types, but for all he did they could have just given us the white board and a stop watch and left us to it. The main body of the class involved 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off of four different floor exercises with a jumpy-up exercise in between (sorry, I really can’t remember what it was called). Basically, we did 30 minutes of circuits but without all the running round in circles. If you’re into proving how macho you are, then give core strength a go. If, like me, you just want to keep fit without (literally almost) breaking your back, then I wouldn’t bother. At least I can say I gave it a go.

Since I first posted this on my old blog, I’ve noticed that the instructor that took my class isn’t working there anymore. My experiences of the other classes at the climbing wall have been nothing but positive, so maybe he just wasn’t the right teacher for that enviroment.

Facing my Fears

I’m gutted. Due to my ridiculous treadmill injury, I’ve had to miss out on three climbing sessions this week. I thought it’d be fun to look back at how I felt when I first started indoor climbing about 2½ years ago. Here’s what I blogged about climbing when it was one of my new activities:

‘There I stood, numb with fear. I was suddenly very aware of the daunting task ahead of me. A strange man came up and clipped an odd looking metal contraption to the front of the harness that I was wearing. I was wearing a harness! What was I thinking?
It had seemed such a good idea when I’d booked. But now, as I stood at the bottom of the obstacle-ridden, incredibly high wall in front of me, it dawned on me that maybe indoor rock climbing wasn’t for me.
This wasn’t my first experience of climbing. My brother had taken me climbing outdoors a couple of times when I was a child. Unfortunately, the outings hadn’t gone well. The problem is, I don’t like being pushed to do things until I’m ready to do them, and my brother doesn’t have much patience with me. The combination of the two resulted in lots of shouting (him), a helmet thrown on the floor (me) and no suggestion of the two of us going climbing together ever again.
So what made me want to try climbing again? A few years ago, Boulders Climbing Centre opened in Cardiff. As I’ve said in previous blogs, I always try to tackle my phobias head-on, and one of my phobias is heights. The local press had been running lots of articles about the new climbing centre, and it occurred to me that if there was ever going to be any way for me to learn to climb properly, this would be it. When a local radio station advertised an introductory offer of a climbing taster session for £1, I spontaneously picked up the phone and booked.
When I found myself stood at the bottom of the climbing wall, all roped-up and ready to go, I wish that I hadn’t been so spontaneous. I think I made it about half way up the wall on my first climb and then, paralysed with fear, I asked to be belayed back down. The hardest part wasn’t the climbing itself, although once you move on to harder routes you definitely need to learn some proper technique. Like with most sports, the difficult thing is getting over the mental blocks. You have to argue with that little voice in your head that’s telling you that what you are doing isn’t natural for a human. In climbing, it’s overcoming your instinct and letting go of the wall once you reach the top. Your mind is telling you that if you let go you’ll fall, even though the instructor had logically explained to you that the equipment makes that impossible. I’m a keen skier, and one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever received to improve my skiing is to trust my equipment. This is something that I bear in mind when I’m taking part in any sport, and it’s what I was quietly whispering to myself when I had to let go of that wall. Needless to say, I did let go and I didn’t fall.
I’m now a Gold member at Boulders and I go climbing there a couple of times a week. Not only is it a fun way to exercise, but I’ve made new friends (after all, you can’t climb on your own) and it’s filled a gap in my life where skiing used to be. There’s not much skiing in South Wales, but there sure are a lot of places to climb. What I wasn’t expecting was the mental stimulation that I get from climbing. Tackling new, more difficult routes requires real thought and problem solving. The Boulders team make it impossible for you to come up with an excuse not to climb. They offer courses for every age and level, coaching, social climbing for those who don’t have a climbing partner, a play area to keep the younger members of the family entertained and the Boulders Café to refuel in.’

No pain no gain!

I am in pain today. I think I’ve bruised my ribs, or possibly worse. I wish I could tell you that I did it whilst trying a challenging problem on the climbing wall, or riding a massive wave on my bodyboard. Unfortunately, though, I fell on the treadmill at the gym. I wouldn’t mind so much if I’d been running at the time, but I was wiping the machine down ready for the next user when my foot slipped off the side. I feel such a fool!

So no working out for me for a few days! I never thought I’d say this, but I miss not going to the gym. This reminded me of a post I wrote on another blog of mine thetravelbug, so I thought I’d reblog it for you:

I Can’t Believe I’m a Gym Bunny

‘I’ve surprised myself once again with my latest passion. I never thought I’d say this, but I love going to the gym. Until a couple of months ago, I’d only worked out in a gym once before in my life. Whilst working my very first summer season as a rep in Austria, one of my colleagues had persuaded me to go with him to the gym at one of our hotels. I found it too repetitive at the time, and I soon got bored and distracted. Plus, the cross-trainer put me off because I looked like a frog in a blender.
So what made me give it another go? I hear you ask. Well, since my vow to try at least one new activity every year, I’ve found myself doing things that I never thought I would and revisiting some activities that I didn’t get off to the best start with first time round. Although I’ve been a lot fitter the past couple of years, my stamina is something that I still really struggle with. I’ve tried taking up running (I have the most beautiful park right on my doorstep), but I have problems with my feet and so training can be hit and miss. Even on days when my feet don’t hurt too bad, I have to be careful where I’m running in case I fall over and hurt them even more. I also wanted to build up my strength to help improve my rock climbing.
As I was already using the local sports and community centres for swimming and exercise classes, I’d heard about the Cardiff Active card. For a monthly fee, you get unlimited access to all Cardiff Council gyms, exercise classes and swimming pools. Plus you get a gym induction included. When I found out that I get a further 25% discount as an employee of the company that I work for, I went straight to get my application form.
I’m getting my moneys worth using my Active card for all the activities at the centres, but what I love most at the moment is the gym. I usually work out there two or three times a week, and I’ve overcome my distraction problem by taking along my MP3 player to listen to. The weights have been great to build up my strength and help me to climb better, and I can tell that my stamina has improved greatly already. The best thing is that I can run really easily on the treadmill because it’s a smooth surface and I don’t have to worry about doing further damage to my feet. So far I’ve worked up to running for 10 minutes straight, which for me is a huge achievement. My goal is to run the Cardiff 5k Race for Life, and I hope to be able to sign up for it next year. Wish me luck x’

Author’s note: Since I first wrote this post I’ve improved my running even more (apart from when I fall off the treadmill). I now run 2.5km as a warm up, and I’m well on my way to being ready for the 5k next year.



Convincing myself is the hardest part

‘Try something new’ is a common theme through my blogs. I’m constantly encouraging people to attempt different activities and make manageable, positive changes in their life. So I must be the most super-extrovert, confident person in the world, right?

Wrong. When I try something new, I am the biggest scaredy cat in the world. I get nervous at the thought of doing something that I don’t already know how to do, I worry about meeting new people, and I generally just convince myself that I’ll mess up and everyone will laugh at me. To be fair, that has happened to me, although thankfully very rarely.

The thing with me is, though, that deep down inside I really want to be that super-exrtrovert, confident person. So I make myself take the plunge. I ignore all my own excuses, and force myself to go to that new exercise class or sign up for night school.

This week, I forced myself to go to climbing club. For the past couple of years I’ve pretty much climbed with the same partner. We met on a climbing course and discovered we liked each others company, plus we were able to climb at times that suited the both of us. This happy union continued until this summer, when my climbing partner dropped the bombshell that she was moving to London. Although I was happy for her, I was also petrified at the thought of having to find a new partner to climb with. The only other option would be to quit, but I really like climbing so I don’t want to do that.

Instead, I’ve been using guerrilla tactics to solve my problem. I put a notice up on the ‘Looking for a climbing partner?’ notice board at my local climbing centre, I’m phoning other people on the board and I’ve started going to climbing club.

I won’t lie, I was bricking it the first time I went up to the social secretary on duty and asked if anyone else was climbing the same level as me. Rather than laugh and point, though, he welcomed be with a handshake and introduced me to Phil, who I spent the next couple of hours having a laugh and climbing with. It really pushed me in my climbing too, and I ended up climbing at a much higher grade than I usually would.

Today a got a message from another climber who saw my advert on the notice board. We’ve arranged to meet up tomorrow at the wall. I am, of course, really nervous. Somewhere inside my head, though, my little rational voice is fighting to be heard, and it’s saying that it’ll be OK.

Taking a ‘step’ into the unknown

Every year, I challenge myself to visit at least one new place and try at least one new activity. If you haven’t already guessed from my terrible pun in the title of this post, which I apologise profusely for, my latest attempt at a new activity is ‘Step Class’.

The step class at my local community centre is between my usual gym time and yoga class, so I quite often catch bits of it as I walk past to use the changing rooms. Since I first saw all those energetic steppers bouncing away, I’ve wanted to give step class a try, but I kept putting it off and making excuses. Why do we do that? I get really nervous before I go into any new group situation for the first time, and I know it’s ridiculous. I’ll either like it, or not. If it’s the latter, then I just won’t go again, as in the case of the Core Strength Workout that I tried at the local climbing wall (http://thetravelbug.blog.co.uk/2012/02/14/core-strength-12782430/ for anyone who hasn’t read my old blog). So, this week, I had a word with myself and promised myself I’d make it to step class. And I am so glad that I did, because not only was it a good workout but I had a blast doing it.

For anyone else who is old enough to remember, the step instructor reminds me of Victoria Wood in the sketch where she played the substitute aerobics instructor. And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. She is brilliant. She has so much energy and enthusiasm, and she constantly looks out for us clueless beginners who watch in confusion as the experienced regulars throw themselves into the more difficult routines. Even with my dance background, I think it’s going to take me a few weeks until I can keep up with them.

The hour flew by so quickly because I was enjoying it so much and concentrating so hard on what I was doing. Personally, I really enjoy sports where I have to think, so step class is perfect for me. It took me back to my dancing days, having to remember routines and make sure you’re on the correct leg and using your arms at the same time.

My only worry is that after a few weeks the class could get a bit repetitive. I’m hoping that she mixes it up a bit now and then. For now, though, I’m loving step. Bring on the next class!