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Inspiring Interview with an Osteopath Who Rowed the Pacific with a Physiotherapist

 

Humpback whales, overcoming physical and psychological challenges, team work, treating each other with callused hands and plenty more advice for rowers.

 

In this article Lizanne van Vuuren shares an insight into her motivations, training and experiences at sea and we finish of with our top tips to inspire you to row. You can also check out the Netflix documentary that covers their journey ‘Losing sight of shore.’

 

Introducing Lizanne van Vuuren

 

I remember the first time a post popped up on my Facebook about Lizanne, with whom I studied Osteopathy at Uni, having joined the Coxless Crew. The Coxless Crew were an all-female team of 6 that were attempting to row the entire Pacific Ocean unsupported. Lizanne would spend 3 months at sea joining the crew from Hawai to Samoa. Two thoughts came to my mind. One, Lizanne you are completely bonkers and two, I feel really proud of you, good on you. So I kept following their journey, which was an incredible one.

 

I read that it was a Ted talk that inspired you to apply to become a member of the Coxless Crew.  Why then? Why them?

 

I was really inspired by a Ted Talk by Meg Jay “Why 30 is not the new 20” that I signed up for a Half Ironman straight after watching it. I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I wanted to do something that challenged me to do something I had never thought possible.

After the race I became fascinated by our body’s ability to persist through anything that we set our minds to. Soon after, I read about The Coxless Crew and was amazed at what they were trying to achieve. I contacted Laura, the Coxless Crew team lead and wished them good luck for their journey. They were recruiting at the time so she replied “why don’t you join us?”

It never crossed my mind to apply as I had never rowed before, but over the following couple of weeks I couldn’t get it off my mind. So I applied just to “see how it goes”, and the rest is history!

 

So it is true that you had never rowed before this trip?

 

Before applying I had never rowed before! Before leaving Hawaii on our 97 day voyage I had one rowing lesson and spent 6 hours rowing our boat to the Isle of Wight.

 

What did your daily training routine involve both physically and mentally?

 

We basically had to pick up approximately 10-12kg of muscle and fat. This meant a LOT of food which was great, some protein shakes and strength training. We were very fortunate to have the British Olympic Rowing Coach, Alex Wolf, draw up our training program which I did remotely in Cape Town.

Psychological preparation was paramount in the success of the row. Sports Psychologist Keith Goddard helped us with this. Firstly we did psychometric tests which plotted all of our personality profiles on a chart. This was great because we basically knew each other quite well even before we stepped onto the boat. We also did a lot of mindfulness techniques which prepared us to change our mindset when needed to on the boat.

The dietary programme we were advised was 23% protein, 37% carbohydrates and 40% healthy fats.

Our exercise program mainly focused on weight training: leg press, leg extensions, bench press/chest press, seated row and trunk/core work. These exercises were the focus of our training, and over the months we increased the weight and repetitions.

 

Once on the boat what did you find most challenging initially?

 

Honestly, the routine. We rowed for two hours, rested for two hours, 24 hours a day. Our routines were slick and quick to make the most of our rest shifts but it was a bit like getting hit by a bus!

 

How did you overcome those challenges?

 

The thing that got me through most of my challenges was the strength of our team. We really tried to leverage everyone’s strengths and as a result created a team that was strong, dynamic, funny, loving and motivated. I didn’t want to let my team down, so no matter how tired we were, how much pain we had or how sea sick we were, every two hours we would be on the oars without fail.

 

How did you guys support each other? Did you have external support as well?

 

Laughter was really important in getting ourselves across the ocean. We all struggled, but we also joked about it. We got to know each other better than I’ve ever know anyone, and we all shared a very deep respect for one another.

We lived by our team values; SPIRIT. Strength, Perseverance, Integrity, Resilience, Inspiration and Trust.

We had an on-shore Logistics Manager, Tony Humphries, who tracked our progress via satellite and sent our weather reports. We also had an on shore medical support team who we could contact if we needed to. Myself and another team member suffered burns from our Jet Boil spilling in rough seas, but apart from that we were very fortunate in that we had no serious medical emergencies.

 

Where there physical struggles you did not expect?

 

I did not expect my muscles to waste away like they did! There’s a common misconception that we were all going to get off the boat looking like the Hulk, but instead we stepped off looking like sticks. Because we were only ever sitting or lying down, our calves and gluts completely wasted away.

Additionally, because of the salt, sweat and sun cream our skin was often covered in rashes.

I also thought that I would get used to the motion sickness after a couple of days. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I had sea sickness right up until the last week we were at sea!

 

Some of you guys came from a healthcare background you being an Osteopath the other being Physiotherapist. Did you treat each other on the boat?

 

It was Laura, a Physiotherapist and me, an Osteopath who came from medical backgrounds. The rest was a mix from a Lawyer to Expedition Manager.

Laura and I did treat each other when we had the energy, and when the pain got bad enough. Common problems included hip pain, low back pain and shoulder pain.

 

 

What did treatment on a tiny boat on the pacific look like?

 

Basically, imagine you’re stuck in a boiling hot tiny two man tent that moves constantly from side to side, you and the patient sweating profusely, working on the floor trying your best to avoid the callused part of your hands touching the patient. In fact, our hands ached so much it basically meant we mainly used elbows and forearms. We certainly learned to improvise!

 

What were you more scared of – sharks or big waves?

 

Surprisingly I didn’t get very scared when I was on the boat. The sharks weren’t a problem as long as we stayed on the boat when they were around. The scariest moments of all though was being knocked off your seat by a big wave in the middle of the night!

 

What was the hardest thing about integrating back into everyday life after 3 months at sea?

 

The noise! Not just literally speaking but just the fact that it’s very difficult to escape somewhere without phones, emails, social media, work etc. Being disconnected for so long was really magical.

 

What are your favorite memories from the time on Doris?

 

Definitely the swimming. I wish I could explain how it felt swimming in a body of water 64 million square miles big! With fish swimming beneath you in water so incredibly clear! Visibility in some parts of the Pacific has been recorded at 62m!

Another favorite is when a huge humpback whale circled our boat for an hour and a half, coming so close we got sprayed by its blow hole. We were thousands of miles from any kind of civilisation, it was hard to imagine that this whale had ever seen people before.

 

More on Netflix

 

Thank you very much for taking the time to talk about the amazing journey you and your team of women have been on, it’s incredible.

You can still watch the documentary about this epic journey “Losing sight of shore” on Netflix now and please support their cause by donating to Walking with the Wounded and Breast Cancer Care.

 

 

Rowing tips

 

If you feel inspired to get on the rowing machine now here are my top tips for successful rowing.

  1. Relax – make sure you keep your shoulders, hands and upper body relaxed without gripping too hard.
  2. If you are only starting out keep the resistance low around 4 until you have built up strength.
  3. Distribute your power. The main power should come from your legs – about 60%, then 30% should come from your core and the final 10% should be from your arms. Don’t over work your glutes.
  4. Speaking of core strength do have a look at our excellent pelvic floor exercise video and built on that. http://www.octopusclinic.com/videos/08-foam-roller-on-floor-contract-pelvic-floor-deep-abs/.
  5. Sit up straight with a pelvis in neutral – have a look at our sitting video http://www.octopusclinic.com/videos/43-sitting-posture/.
  6. Don’t bend forwards or backwards too much. Imagine a clock face with your starting position at 12 o’clock. Flex forward and backward from the hip joints without going beyond 11-13 o’clock.
  7. Start with your knees above your ankles and keep them above your ankles even at the end-point to protect your knees and avoid reducing your power for the next drive.
  8. Don’t allow your seat to go all the way into your heels.
  9. Avoid having to lift the handle over the knees, thereby losing efficiency, by making sure your legs are straight until the handle has passes over your knees while keeping your arms straight and body tipped forward.
  10. Go for it! Don’t forget Lizanne had done no rowing before she signed up for the Coxless Crew!

 

I look forward to hearing your comments or queries so please do not hesitate to get in touch. To learn more about me please check out my bio on this website which also contains a library of almost 100 free physio exercise videos and lots of advice on training, sports and injuries. Or to book now email info@octopusclinic.com or call 02075838288.

… and don’t forget to share this with any budding rowers or adventurers!

Anna

 

Anna Aydinc

Registered Osteopath M.Ost 

 

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