Category Archives: Extreme Sports

5th July 2014 – No.72: Abseil down Ocean House

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Every couple of years, St. Michael’s Hospice in Hastings holds a sponsored abseil to raise money for their charity and their partner charity of the Sara Lee Trust. I signed up partly because I like to raise money for this cause and partly because I really wanted to abseil down something larger than 30ft, like the last time I went abseiling. So, I paid the £10 admin fee and set about raising sponsorship, ready for the 10th of May. Alas, when the 10th arrived, so did winds of nearly 40 miles an hour (at ground level, who knows what it was higher up the building) and the abseil was postponed for reasons of safety. I didn’t mind as much as one might suppose; it happened the first time I was going to go skydiving too and actually I wasn’t really feeling up to it that day.

My abseil t-shirt

The abseil was moved to the 7th of July. On the day I showed up at my assigned time of 11:15, to be told that there were delays due to strong winds and it would be another hour or so. I signed in, collected my t-shirt (to show which of the two charities I was supporting) and was given my name and number on paper so I could be identified (in photo’s, not in case I fell off. That’s just ghoulish.) I went for a coffee in a nearby cafe and came back an hour later to be told it was still an hour’s wait. Some time later, I was called into the reception of the building to get harnessed up. Here’s a lovely picture of me looking far more worried than I thought I felt.

Getting ready

I waited around in my harness for at least another hour as the wind speed kept picking up and dropping but the organisers and participants were all determined to go ahead with it if it took all day, so we tried to be patient. Eventually, at approximately 3pm, my small group was ushered into the lift and we ascended the building to the top floor. It was full of machinery and insulation and had the definite atmosphere of somewhere prohibited. Walking into the final stretch of corridor, we could see the open door and the last member of the previous group waiting her turn. I asked the people in my group if they would mind if I went first, as Elliot, who had come with me for support (and taking photo’s) was really not feeling very well and had been wishing himself in bed for the last few hours. None of them minded, so when the next person was called, I  stepped out onto the scaffolding rig from which I would descend.

The 128ft of building that is Ocean House

Standing up there, with St.Leonard’s spread out beneath me and the wind in my face, I felt my nerves peak. The extended wait had done nothing for the butterflies in my stomach and as hard as I was squashing them down, they were still there. I listened carefully to the instructions I was given as the people up there attached ropes to my harness. Then, I very slowly lowered myself backwards into thin air. It took longer than the first time I had been abseiling; I had thought I would be less scared because I’d done it before but actually it was worse! There is something in it when people say ‘ignorance is bliss’.

Me, coming down

After I got a short way down, I heard the photographer on top of the building call my name, so I paused and looked up so she could take my picture. (I’m really looking forward to seeing it and I shall definitely post it on here when I get a copy.) I made my way very slowly down the building. It was hard to keep my feet on the wall because of the wind and after a while I somewhat gave up and just sat in the harness as I lowered myself down. I wish I could say I took advantage of the view but I spent most of my time staring at the brick wall in front of me. It took such a long time for me to get to the bottom (or at least, that’s what it felt like) but eventually I got close enough to hear Elliot yelling encouragement. Finally, my feet touched the ground and the gathered crowd applauded (in that polite British way we have that conveys approval rather than enthusiasm.) We posed for a picture, and then I took poor Elliot home and looked after him because he was really not well.

I’m mildly disappointed that my nervousness didn’t dissipate on the way down, however I did accomplish what I set out to do; namely having a longer go at abseiling as well as raising money for a good cause, so overall, I am happy with my experience.

Me and Elliot after the abseil

Me and Elliot after the abseil

Quick update, St.Michael’s Hospice doesn’t have my pictures from the top. Nor do they have a bunch of other peoples. They are not sure what happened but it’s obviously very disappointing because it would have given you more of an idea what it was like up there.

23rd March 2014 – No.17: Complete the Hastings ½ Marathon

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20. Half-Marathon - Copy

When I was in school, I hated P.E. (along with Mathematics, it was my least favourite subject). So you can be forgiven for wondering why I would sign up for an endurance running event of 13 miles, covering some very steep terrain in a circuit following the original town boundaries. I had one motivation for this and it’s ridiculously shallow; I wanted the big shiny participation medal you get if you finish. So, I entered soon after the 2013 half-marathon, fully intending to do the thing properly. I would start training in January 2014, as recommended by the organisers. I kitted myself out with suitable running gear, sports bra, trainers etc. Well, the utterly atrocious weather that winter put paid to my training before it had begun. I’m not kidding, rain, hail and gale force winds battered the whole of Britain for weeks and caused cliff-falls and sections of train-track to collapse; it wasn’t an appealing prospect to go running in it. The race route goes up Harley Shute (very long steep hill) and onto Queensway (this is a road race, so the motorway was closed to traffic), in the middle of which is the five-mile point and a clock. I was surprised to discover my time was just over an hour. I began to hope that my estimated finish time of 3 and half hours, which I had calculated based on apparent walking speed during the walk to Rye (it being the same distance of 13 miles), minus lunch breaks etc, might be erroneous. I ran occasionally, mostly getting tired out quickly but once finding the rhythm of it and doing quite well. I came to the conclusion that my poor running skills might be due to technique and not fitness; after all I was walking the route with no problem, faster than some of the runners.

route

route

(Or go to http://www.raceroutes.co.uk/route/156/196/hastings-half-marathon for an excellent map of route with interactive elevation display)

Around the halfway point, up on the Ridge, the weather changed. The sun disappeared and a light rain began, followed by a sprinkling of hail. My fingers swelled, numb with cold, stiff in their movement. I distracted myself with the excellent running playlist my fiancé had put on my phone and kept going. Occasionally, I would pass groups of scouts holding out cups of water, or members of the public holding out sweets and orange slices. I was grateful for all but none more so than in the last mile, where I think if the peel was edible I would have swallowed a quarter of an orange whole. At the ten mile clock, I noted my time was 2 hours 16 minutes. I pumped my fists in the air, celebrating, only three miles left. I sent a text my fiancé to start heading to the finish line to meet me. A second lot of rain and hail began, worse than before. I bore through it, turning onto All Saints Street, where I spotted my mum. I was pleased to see her cheering me on, got pumped up and started running again, which I had been doing periodically, forgetting each time that I lacked any real ability.
The final three miles of the race are totally flat, familiar territory to me and should have been relatively easy. However, a combination of dwindling energy resources and a brutal assault of hail so thick I had to shield my face reduced my speed to an almost-crawl. I could barely force my frozen limbs to keep going, even when the finish line came into view. Marshalls and spectators called encouragingly that I had only meters to go but exhaustion convinced me running was not in my best interests despite this support from strangers. I may well have walked over the finish line if I hadn’t spotted the clock, reading just a few minutes less than three hours. Suddenly, I’d be damned if I finished over three hours, so I dredged up one final burst of energy and crossed the line running.

20.17. Half-Marathon

I stopped, bent over, gasped for breath. A small person wrapped itself around my waist, shouting ‘Mum, you won!’ I hugged my lovely, well-meaning (if somewhat mistaken) daughter and staggered over to my fiancé. He helped me sit until I’d recovered enough to go collect my finisher’s medal, the big, shiny lump of brass I’d worked so hard for. Afterwards, I discovered my biggest issues were not the sore feet and legs I’d expected (they didn’t even hurt) but the violent shivers that continued well after I’d peeled the sodden clothing from my frozen skin and the stomach cramps and persistent nausea that refused to dissipate until I finally managed to eat something later (at which point I ate a massive bacon sandwich and bag of Doritos and none of it touched the sides.)
So, I finished 3257th out of 3428, beating the bottom 5% of runners (171 people) with my time of 2 hours, 58 minutes. Everyone says this is a perfectly respectable time, especially in view of the fact that I walked most of it and didn’t train. Oddly, I find myself unsatisfied, not with the time but the amount of actually running I did. So, the day after the Half-marathon, I signed up for a five-mile road race that’s in May. I have started training, (e.g. I’ve been jogging twice) so maybe this time I can run more of the course instead of walking it.

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Me just after the half marathon, with my daughter Emiko

Me just after the half marathon, with my daughter Emiko

17 of April 2013 – No.25: Go fire-walking

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image from pixaby

image from pixaby

I first came across the idea of fire-walking when I was a little child. I was going through a phase of fascination with all things paranormal and discovered an encyclopaedia in my local library detailing many things of a spooky persuasion, including the exploits of certain fakirs, who walked on burning coals. This is me we are talking about, so of course, my seven year old brain thought ‘I bet I could do that’ and yet another desire was born. I had known for ages that our local hospice, St.Michael’s Hospice would every few years hold a sponsored fire-walk to raise funds, but so far I had always missed the announcement and therefore the application deadline.  This year however, I was buying our local Observer on a weekly basis so I could keep up with the news on the Hastings Carnival Queen competition, so I did see it. I wasted no time in applying, paid my £10 entry fee and set about raising money.

On the 17th of April, my fiance Elliot and I went to William Parker School where the fire-walk was to take place. I registered and received my participation t-shirt. I could see the fire-pit laid out but not yet burning and began to get quite excited. There was quite a lot going on to entertain spectators while those of us taking part were getting our training/pep talk, so Elliot went off to get a burger and I joined my fellow fire-walkers in the school gym. The training was mostly designed to get everyone hyped up and confident and to lay potential worries to rest. I didn’t really have any worries or doubts about my ability to go through with it, because I had already researched the physics behind the act. Fire-walking is possible because of several things: firstly, by the time the fire dies down to embers, it is mostly carbon and ash, both of which are poor conductors of heat. Secondly, you walk across the embers quickly, so there is no time for heat to transfer (this is similar to the trick where you pass your finger through a candle flame, if you’ve ever tried it) and thirdly, at that time of year the grass is usually damp and forms a moisture barrier on your feet. There is actually an episode of Mythbusters where they demonstrate the effectiveness of the moisture barrier by dipping their hands in molten lead. So unless you stand on the fire, you will not get burnt.

An hour or so later, suitably pepped up by our training exercises, the participants and I exited the gym and assembled around the fire, by now at the preferable state for walking across. There followed some showmanship by the event organisers where they demonstrated the temperature of the fire with heat sensors and then they began sending us across, accompanied by furious drumming by the local Section 5 drummers.  I took off my shoes, rolled up my trouser legs and joined the queue. Finally my turn came. The guy running the event asked everyone by turn the same two questions to determine we were ready before they let us go.

“What is your name?” asked the guy.

“Elizabeth Fitzgerald” I answered confidently.

“Are you ready?” he roared at me.

“Yes!” I bellowed back, and walked briskly out onto the burning coals in my bare feet. I felt a cosy warmth beneath my soles and before I knew it, had crashed into the man at the other end who was there to stop people like me who over-enthusiastically carried on charging down the field after we had left the fire behind us. Then I turned around and joined the group of people who had completed the challenge to cheer on the remaining people. One girl even did the fire-walk in her bikini!

Afterwards I joined Elliot, who said it was awesome and then gave me the unfortunate news that none of his photos had come out. They were all blurred from the motion and the amount of ash in the air, so unfortunately I cannot show them to you. I was quite disappointed but I cheered up when the celebratory firework display started up at the end. A week later, I received my certificate in the mail, along with a letter thanking me for the £115 I had raised.

Despite the sad lack of photographic evidence, the whole experience was brilliant and I will always have my memories. I always knew I could do it and now I have proved I can. 🙂

16. 25. Firewalking

27th October 2010 – No.63: Go Abseiling

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Having finished my National Diploma in Business with such good grades, the next logical step was to apply to a university and carry on my education. This was never originally my plan (hence not being a list item) but everyone else was doing it (worst reason to do something, ever), so I applied for and was accepted onto a degree in International Business at Brighton University. Living with my flatmate at the time was making my life rather difficult so in-between finishing college and starting uni, Emiko and I moved to a small flat on the other side of town. As you can imagine, my bad habit of moving house right before or during big life events did make things rather stressful, especially since I now had further to travel to get Emiko to nursery before the 70 minute commute to Brighton. So, long story short, before the first semester was up, I knew that course was not the right course for me and that it was not the right time in my life to go to university.

I could have left right there and then. I would have, if not for one thing…we were shortly to be taking part in Team Skills Day, a day when students from similar courses are randomly grouped together with each other and then expected to learn to work as a team whilst competing various mental and physical tasks, one of which was abseiling. Abseiling had been on my list for a while and I hadn’t had any opportunities before, so I leapt at the chance, even if it meant putting up with uni for a little longer.

Me and the guys I wnet with for Team Skills Day

Me and the guys I went with for Team Skills Day

Team Skills Day dawned and I dressed in sensible clothing and shoes, packed myself a hearty lunch and made sure I had my camera. The coach journey was actually not too bad; I have largely outgrown my travel sickness although it does come back sometimes. On arrival, we were sorted into random groups. I only knew one person in my group and I was actually quite upset not to be teamed with my friends because I knew I was never going to see them again. Each group was assigned a leader and told we would be competing as teams for points for each activity we completed. I disliked our leader fairly quickly, especially when he told us that because he doesn’t think winning is important, his teams usually come last. I like winning and I didn’t want to miss out on activities because this guy wasn’t bothered. The first activity we tackled was belly crawling through what some people might consider claustrophobicly small concrete pipes. They were kind of wet and consequently we spent the rest of the day covered in mud. One of our group refused point blank to go through the tunnels even though it lost our team a huge number of points, so I was actually really glad when we got around to abseiling.

My peers watching me descend the 30ft tower

My peers watching me descend the 30ft tower

I wasn’t first up, so I got to watch a couple of other people do it before me. I was excited and I had that funny tingly feeling you get that’s half adrenaline and half nerves. When it was my turn, I left my camera with my group so they could take pictures and climbed the several flights of wooden stairs that led to the top. Part way up, it felt as if the tower was shaking. I was a little bit thrown and wondered what the hell was going on. Arriving at the top, I could see our group leader jumping around and shaking the stair rail. Maybe he thought it would add atmosphere; maybe he was just bored. Whichever it was, I really didn’t like our leader now. And there I was, about to dangle myself off a 30ft drop with only him to hold the other end of the rope. I looked him dead in the eye.

“You’re not going to drop me,” I said. It was a statement, not a question but I guess he thought it was because he started spouting semi-comforting stuff about how he would lose his job if he did. While he talked, he set up the rope through the karabinas in my harness and then began instructing me on how to descend. The most important things seemed to be keep your feet level with or higher than your hips and not to let go of the rope. Following his instructions, I put my feet on the edge and started leaning backwards out over the drop. This is the scariest part of abseiling. Once you’re in the right position, you just kind of half walk, half hop backwards. I actually did feel quite secure and was enjoying the treetop view immensely. It turns out, it doesn’t take very long to climb down 30ft. I felt like I had only just got the hang of it when I reached the bottom and I immediately resolved to abseil down something bigger one day.

The first time I went abseiling

The first time I went abseiling

And, yes, our team did come last in the points competition but even though we didn’t get to do all the things the other teams did, some of them didn’t get to go abseiling so I was glad I’d had the opportunity.  I now plan to wait until St. Michael’s Hospice has their next abseiling challenge to raise funds and take part in that (they get people to raise sponsorship by abseiling down a 13-story office block). Ultimately, while the day didn’t go exactly the way I was hoping it would, overall I did have fun and I was happy to have a new experience under my belt.

15th of September 2007 – No.10: Go Skydiving

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I decided to cross No:10 off my list when Barrie found out Help the Aged was holding a sponsored skydive and suggested it to me. I thought it was a great idea – I could do a list item for free and raise money for charity. I applied for it and once my sponsorship forms arrived, set about persuading people to give me money. Several weeks later, I was ready. RJ, who was driving me up to the aerodrome, got us horribly lost and was very stressy about it.  We eventually arrived under grey and lowering skies. It did not not look promising . I spent thirty minutes having a safety talk (you don’t need much training to do a tandem jump) and then got told to go home; the weather was too bad and no one was going up today. I was pretty disappointed, obviously but the silver lining was that I then had time to save up and pay for a DVD to be made of my skydive, for which I will be forever grateful.

Me inside the plane

Me inside the plane

The second time we didn’t get lost and the weather was perfect, sunny, warm and with barely a breeze. We bought breakfast but before I could have more than a couple of bites, I was being called over the PA system. Following my instructor to a hanger, I donned the red jumpsuit I was given to wear and was quickly attached into my harness. Everyone was rushing to get ready so I barely had time to worry. Gloves in hand, Biggles hat and goggles attached to my harness, I followed the rest of the people to the plane. As I crossed the fields I felt as if I was moving in slow motion, as if I was in movie, the sort where intrepid aviators are setting off on a trip across the Atlantic for the first attempt in history. The notion was only encouraged by the camera man filming me.
Having reached the tiny aircraft, I stood while my tandem partner tightened my straps further; increasing the difficulty and awkwardness I already had walking. I approached the open doorway blasted by the backflow of the propellers and entered; making my way down the aisle to our space on the bench that ran down the left-hand side. The plane began to move, picking up speed quickly and then, amazingly, we were in the air. I watched the aerodrome and the surrounding fields of Headcorn diminishing while my instructor repeated my instructions.
“Tilt your head back, arch your body, don’t uncross your arms until I tap you on the shoulder, lift your legs up when we land…”

Perry and I approach the door of the aircraft

My instuctor and I approach the door of the aircraft

Six thousand, seven thousand, eight thousand and then we were at twelve thousand feet and heading towards the gaping hole of the doorway. I saw the divers before us jump one by one and then we were there, watching the clouds scud below us as I tucked my legs behind me and off the floor. Suspended from the guy to whom I was entrusting my life, I contemplated the folly of leaping from the very first plane in which I had ever flown.
As we launched from the aircraft I attempted, as instructed, to scream in order to force the air from my lungs. Unfortunately I mistimed it and ended up instead inhaling deeply at the exact moment we hit the air. The net result of this was that the wind traveled up my nose and mouth and over-filled my lungs, producing the sensation of being unable to breathe. I panicked. I can’t even breathe properly in high winds at ground level and here I was at twelve thousand feet, falling at terminal velocity, around 120 mph. It felt an age but eventually I got my breathing under control.
The world had turned white, surrounded by clouds and the only other visible object was my personal cameraman, cruising casually in front of us. He waved to me and I waved happily back, then drifted dreamily calm until my instructor tapped me on the shoulder to signify he was about to open our parachute. We had traveled seven thousand feet in a mere thirty seconds. The jerk of the ‘chute opening brought me back to my senses and I was occupied for a while adjusting my deeper breathing back to normal. Gazing down at the patchwork patterns of the fields and the tiny metal birds that were the other planes, I was left speechless.

Me, skydiving

Me, skydiving

As I took the loops that steered our pale blue canopy and began to take us into our slow spiraling descent I realised with some amusement that I felt like a character in the film the Matrix, when they pan the camera around them as they hover mid-air. As we slowly approached the landing field my instructor took control and I watched the sheep scatter in droves as the other skydivers landed. In training I was told that adrenaline would cause me problems lifting my legs for landing and that as they would stiffen, I would have to pick them up. As we came closer and closer to the ground I tried and failed to lift them, so I did the only thing I could to prevent my instructor and 50lbs of parachuting equipment landing on me; I tucked them up behind me instead and came in on my knees. We skidded for a few hundred yards before we stopped, grass-stained but otherwise fine. As my instructor detached me from him, my camera man approached.

Coming in to land

Coming in to land

“Hi!” he said. “How was it?”
“Hi!” I squeaked back, several octaves higher than usual.”It was cool.”
He laughed. “You seem ever so calm! Hi, yeah, it was cool!” he mimicked. “Do you think you’ll ever do it again?”
“Oh, totally.”I assured him with a grin.
“Well then,” he smiled, shaking my hand, “Welcome to skydiving.”

After the dive

After the dive