FREE THE HEEL, FREE THE MIND
Photo: Matt Whitcomb
‘Free the heel’ a popular Nordic skiing mantra, stands for a sense of freedom, describing how heels are unbound at the back of Nordic skis, unlike Alpine skis where feet are clamped front and back. ‘Free the heel’ and ‘free the mind’ seem like natural partners as there is so much more to sport than physiology, psychology is also vital.
Olympian Jessie Diggins speaks out
Jessie has been using her fame to shine a light on mental health and body image. In 2014 a throw-away comment about her body sent Jessie spiralling into a destructive eating disorder, impacting both her mental and physical wellbeing. Ever since she has used her personal experience to spearhead the WithAll Foundation’s ‘What To Say’ initiative*, helping parents, coaches and teachers to reflect on how they interact with children by stressing:
‘Words really do matter, so let’s learn what to say.’
Jessie says: ‘I am so proud to speak up about my past with an eating disorder in order to help people currently struggling see that there IS hope and to talk about the WithAll Foundation and the importance of educating all the adults in a young athlete’s life.’
7k ski race – what’s the biggie?
My own personal challenge this winter is to learn to ski skate-style and to complete the 7k Muster event. Some may mutter, huh a walk in the park, what’s the biggie? Fair enough, I’m not shooting for the top and attempting the full-on 42km Merino Muster, that really would be a zero-to-hero story. I’ve met a 10 year-old girl who is aiming for the same event as me. It is the race with a lolly station midway and some competitors even dress up in comic Onesies. But hear me out I have a ‘monkey on my shoulder’ and to me the finish line is more than a measurement of distance, getting across a start line is also a mind game.
Monkey on my shoulder
In August 2010 I was wired up in a hospital intensive care unit fighting to recover from a drowning incident in the London Triathlon. I’d been knocked unconscious during the mass swim, saved and given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by a vigilant kayak rescuer. Within a month I was swimming again, but I vowed to never participate in another competitive event. Race bibs, jostling for position, starting guns? No thank you.
The largest triathlon event in the world (until 2015), the London Triathlon attracts over 13,000 participants and takes place in the stark cityscape of the Docklands. The Merino Muster ski race gathers 300 participants who ski across the rolling, beautiful Mt Pisa Range. The contrasts are vivid, nevertheless, the 7k Muster still fits within my category of ‘never again’, involving stress and adrenaline, wrapped around self-doubt (…that monkey again).
Cocoon of confidence
I’m working on my PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) and spinning a cocoon of confidence, so that I can ‘ditch my monkey’ at the finish line. Others will have their own race goals and motivations. Jessie will have her sights set on the podium of the 42km Merino Muster for the fourth successive year. I’m stoked to be crossing the same start line – even though we may finish at different times!
I hope that we all achieve our personal targets and share a sense of collective pride in our achievements. We’ll all be winners if we can free our heels and free our minds.
Margaret Batty, Ski Musteress, 22 August
A bit about me:
After 30 years of commuting, career and city life
in crowded London and travelling to over 90
countries, I moved to wonderful Wanaka with
Gary, to pause, breathe and reconnect with the
mountains – and my muscles…We’re totally
smitten with New Zealand, immersing ourselves
in all four seasons, biking, hiking, kayaking and
skiing, for a precious year-off (an ‘OE’ in our
fifties) before heading back to England,
Attempting the Merino Muster is my nod to the famous Kiwi ‘give it a go’ attitude.
* withall.org ‘what to say’ initiative, five healthy food and body phrases to say to kids:
- You are you and you’re wonderful as you are.
- Food is the fuel your body and brain need to power your day.
- Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
- When you eat, listen to your stomach, it will tell you when to stop.
- You look (emotion). How do you feel?