My trainer’s words of wisdom

This year I have been fortunate to exercise with a local trainer who has taught me a new perspective that has not only improved my physical, but also my mental, emotional and spiritual strength. He has gone beyond the call of duty by trawling the Internet for new ways to adapt traditional exercises to suit my disability, as well as combining physical training with insight into my depression. Thanks Marco!

This post shares just a little bit of what he taught me this year.

You are stronger than you think

Research shows that a positive mental state, being happy, improves physical strength, and vice versa. In a study, researchers asked people to lift boxes. Before they lifted the boxes, the participants had to estimate how heavy the boxes were. Every single participant over-estimated the weight of the boxes, demonstrating how we make things seem far more difficult than they really are. The study also showed that the less socially empowered members of the group over-estimated the weight of the boxes by far more than those participants who held status in the group, i.e. those whose opinions were accepted and who took on a role of leadership. This demonstrates that a perceived lack of social power will affect the person’s assessment of their physical strength.

Mohammed Ali quote

In a separate study, researchers asked a group of people in their 60s with depression to do strength training for a month. A control group did no training. After the month was up, it showed that those participants who did strength training were now in a healthier, more positive state of mind than those participants who did not, as a result of the endorphins released by exercise, the alertness that comes with being fit and the ability to engage with those around them. You are one unit, comprising body, mind, emotions and spirit. Each element affects the other and it is therefore important to respect each part of yourself and practise discipline in each area.

Mind and body cannot be separated

Professional athletes focus and prepare themselves mentally before exercise training or a match/race. It is especially obvious when you watch gymnasts at the Olympics – you can clearly see them composing themselves and controlling their breathing before running up to do their gymnastics. If you drop something and go into a panic, your breathing becomes erratic and your thoughts become jumbled. But just as those external circumstances can affect your internal state, the opposite is also true. By collecting your thoughts and deliberately slowing your breathing, you can calm your movement too.

ParaVolley on Camps Bay Beach

A big part of my fitness this year is thanks to sitting volleyball. We recently had a social on Camps Bay beach.

When you exercise your muscles must work harder than usual, so your mind requires more discipline and determination to instruct your muscles to keep going. In this way, you are strengthening not only your body but also your mind. If your mind is always on something else when you exercise, however, you make it harder on yourself. If your physical labour is not aligned with your thoughts, eventually your mind will begin resisting exercise and making up excuses not to go to gym, because it does not have a positive experience of exercise.

Deliberate peace

When you realise how much is at stake for your mental and physical well-being every time you exercise, you will be more intentional about it and so you will perform better. Think of it as writing exams at school – when you get to the final exams at the end of the year, you know, “Okay, this is it, I have to study hard, because this is pass/fail.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, this year I truly challenged my body physically for the first time in my life and I learnt what it is capable of. There is a sense of empowerment and pride that comes with that knowledge.

*If you are looking for an amazing personal trainer or fitness coach in the Blouberg area, I highly recommend Marco Wentzel. Contact him at


Disabled, but not broken

When both my legs were amputated, they were closed at the upper-thigh, leaving stumps of 8-10cm each. This means that they are too short for me to walk with prostheses and I have been resigned to face life in a wheelchair.

A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues played the below TED Talk video for the whole team of us at work. The progress being made with bionic limbs is truly breath-taking. After watching this, I felt hope for the first time that I might one day be able to walk again.

My colleagues and I got very excited over this technology, and I felt blessed to be working with people who take an interest in my situation.

“A human being cannot be broken. Our environment is broken, our technologies are broken, but we can fix them…”

I felt some trepidation, however, at the suggestion that even able-bodied people should use these bionic limbs in the future to “make life easier” and “reduce the strain on our muscles”. Isn’t that a very bad idea, as obesity is already a huge problem and using bionic limbs for everyday life would surely result in an epidemic of lazy fat people with muscular atrophy?

Soldiers using bionic limbs also worries me, because I really don’t think our armies need anything that will make it easier to create war and kill each other (but that is a totally different discussion about the pros and cons of various methods of conflict resolution).

What do you think about the development of bionic limbs and the potential uses for them?

6 New Year’s resolutions to review

I never used to make New Year’s resolutions. Not sure why. Maybe I thought I should just try to be awesome all the time, rather than in one particular area for one particular year. Or maybe I thought it would be pointless, because I would never be able to see them through.

Anyway, this year I decided that making several resolutions would help give my life the sense of purpose that it lacked. As we are just over halfway through the year, I thought I should review some of my resolutions to see if I am on track. These are my New Year’s resolutions and my progress with each:

1) Be kinder to myself.

It turns out that much of my depression is a result of many false assumptions I have about myself and the way others see me. My psychiatrist has recommended keeping a journal, which has helped me to identify certain thought patterns. The most difficult thing in each situation is choosing to believe that everything I have held true about the world and my place in it is wrong. For now, at least – until I retrain my brain to make different connections.

2) Make more time for the people who matter.

I “borrowed” this resolution from my friend Nicola’s list. At first I did quite well, but alas, I have always been bad at keeping in touch with people I don’t see often. I don’t like speaking on the telephone and it’s become so unnatural to send long emails or, heaven forbid, letters via snail mail.

Now that I am dependent on others for transport, I see all my friends less frequently, because I hate inconveniencing anyone or asking for help. Of course, none of my friends would feel inconvenienced by seeing me, but I can’t help feeling they’d much rather be doing something else (refer to resolution #1). That is, however, no excuse for not letting my friends know that I care, so I am resolving to do better at this resolution over the second half of the year.

3) Be able to lift my own weight in free weights by the end of the year.

The journal containing my  NY resolutions.

The journal containing my NY resolutions.

Please, before you dismiss this as a particularly douche-y jock* resolution, let me explain:

Until last year, I had never lifted a weight in my life. Even on the few occasions I went to gym, I stuck to cardio workouts or classes like Pilates (which I really miss, FYI). After I lost my legs, I spent four weeks at a physical rehab centre, where I had to lift weights every day. It was never more than five kilograms, because the aim was not to bulk up, but rather to improve my upper body strength to the point that I could easily lift myself from the ground into my wheelchair and wheel myself around all day without getting ridiculously out of breath.

It was very difficult for me to maintain this level of training at home after my rehab ended, so I set myself this resolution as a goal to keep me motivated. By April I had gotten about a quarter of the way, but I was really struggling. I was very fortunate to be invited to exercise with a personal trainer whose gym is a block away from my home. He is teaching me a lot about mental, emotional and physical training, so it is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

Since I began exercising with him twice a week, I have lost track of the exact weight that I can lift (so I have no idea how much progress I’ve made on this resolution). All I know is that I am in better physical condition than I have ever been before (besides the fact that I now have no legs, obvs). I can do pull-ups for the first time in my life, so I feel like I have already achieved this resolution in spirit, if not in technicality.

4) Learn to speed read.

After making my list of resolutions in January I Googled how to speed read and it turns out that it basically means skimming over the text, rather than being able to take in each word much faster. I could skim if I wanted to, but I am too paranoid that I would miss some vital piece of information, so I have crossed this resolution off my list as no longer desirable.

5) Learn shorthand.

Why?! Why would anyone make this their New Year’s resolution? I don’t know what I was thinking – most people hardly even write these days. And apparently learning shorthand is way more complicated and time-consuming than I thought. I am never going to be someone’s full-time secretary, so this is another misguided resolution that has been crossed off un-attempted.

6) Start helping others like myself.

This blog is my first step towards achieving my last resolution. I have looked into doing counselling courses and discussed studying psychology with my psychiatrist, who has put me in touch with some of her colleagues who can advise me, so I feel okay about my progress with this resolution so far.

If you made resolutions at the beginning of the year, maybe now would be a good time to take stock – not so that you can feel guilty for not achieving them yet, but because there is still loads of time to pull yourself back on track before the next year rolls in. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

*No offence meant to all the non-douche-y jocks who genuinely enjoy weight training. I envy you. Also, I think you’re hot.