In 2017 I was living in South Africa - newly married and fur-mom to Charlie Woofles. As a micro-family, we love to move, travel and adventure. We plan our holidays (including our honeymoon) around the ability to explore with our fur-child.
Based in Stellenbosch (close to Cape Town) at the time, we decided to take our honeymoon adventure to Namibia (a.k.a picture the setting of the Lion King feature film).
After a week of deserts, ghost towns and breath-taking wildlife, we stopped in a game reserve in proximity to Etosha National Park. Bonus: they had horseback riding safaris.
Loving an occasional go at horseback riding in my childhood years, I jumped at the opportunity to see some wildlife on horseback. Sadly, there was a BIG miscommunication with the staff (may I add, negligence!!) I ended up riding a horse that was highly unsuitable for tourists. Unbeknown to me, I was given the dressage horse belonging to the owner - the equivalent of handing over a commercial jet to someone used to drive a go-kart.
After a pleasant ride through the wildlife, my equine partner had other plans. It was a sudden bolt for the Kentucky Derby. We puffed into a cloud of Namibian dust at a speed of about 50km/h, for almost two kilometres. This ordeal lasted for a total of 5 minutes and let me tell you; this is a LONG time to be in a situation of panic.
I tried everything to stop it within my limited knowledge of riding, but nothing I could do would stop this wild Namibian fury. Thankfully I was able to muster images of the Ascot races and managed to hold on for dear life, hoping I wasn't going to get smashed off onto the road or worse, trampled and dragged through the desert.
Then, I see it: the END. I was about to get blasted through a pathway of rocks and thorny bushes. I knew as the pathway to doom approached that I needed to do something drastic, or things were about to get really ugly. My only option was to muster all of my courage and throw myself off onto safer grounds, knowing very well that I was probably going to break a lot of bones - hopefully, not my neck, head or spine.
DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a regular rider, and I am not a stuntwoman!
So as I saw the words "The End" slowly starting to appear in this beautiful scenery, I made the split decision to throw myself off, trying to remember all of the things I knew about falling: don't get tangled, relax, breathe out, protect your head, roll. All at once.
I tried to picture how all the cowboys fell off horses in the Western movies, and I made my best impression of a barrel roll off the evil beast. At the same time, trying to avoid rocks and being trampled on. The thump with which I landed still haunts me today.
Miraculously, and because of the rolling/avoiding and rolling action (and a ton of luck), I came out of it with only a badass scrape and bruise on my arm. I couldn't quite believe it, but I managed to avoid disaster. Husband and tour-guide were able to locate me soon after, thankfully before any wild cats did.
(left) Minutes before this nutter decided it was time to train for the Kentucky Derby
(right) Considering the impact, this was a lucky escape. I wear my Indiana Jones "scar" proudly as a reminder that thanks to fitness, I had a lucky escape
Let's just say our honeymoon remains a memorable experience.
Fast-forward 3 weeks later, some yoga and two session of physiotherapy, I felt ready for the outdoors again. The three of us set off for a hike in the Stellenbosch hills; a regular activity for us as part of our South African lifestyle in a pleasent Univerasity town.
Sadly, little did we know what was waiting for us at the top of the hills. Without getting into too much detail, our Sunday hike soon turned to action as we were held at knife-point by two criminals. Let's just say in South Africa, being held at knife-point won't always end well: in a country where the price of life is equivalent to that of an iphone, it's not a situation you want to gamble with. Having to face a split-second decision that could have ended truly horribly, I took a sprint through the bushes. I figured thorns and snakes could be a deterrant for our escape if we left our belongings behind... so here I was again freefalling through nature, tumbling downhill for my life...
The adrenaline was pumping high, and even though it was a tumble after another, I was able to roll and pick myself up again and keep running. This time, what saved me was my speed reaction, my ability to continue running and falling safely and just keep going.
In the madness, we lost our beloved 6 month Charlie pup on the hill. Once we were out of danger, my mind quickly sprinted at a recovery plan, calling the campus security.
Of course, Charlie is not just an average pup - he's a Disney type of action dog. He had already made a 4km run back to the car park all on his own, hoping his parents would turn up soon. We had a real Hollywood magic moment when he ran into my arms, after thinking we had lost each other forever.
There were tears of joy and relief..
The months that followed our great African Adventure gave me time to reflect and come to some conclusions that formed the true core beliefs of the #BodyBeforeSkill ethos:
You never know what's around the corner, but if you use your body as it was designed, it can save you. Keep moving, healthy and resilient - in the face of danger, it can do things you never thought were possible.
Fitness should not be a cult: anything, in extremes - is never good for you. Living a little, finding balance, is vital. It's not all or nothing: do what you can, but remember to do the things you want to because before you know it, you may not even be around to enjoy them.
Training strength and aesthetics might get you Instagram followers, but training resilience is the most powerful tool that you can have. You can't avoid injury altogether, but you can minimise it.
Keep moving: whether it's hiking, yoga, cheerleading, boxing, football.. (maybe not horse riding!) because sports keep you alive, REACTIVE and keep challenging your body with the unexpected.
I am eternally grateful for the role that fitness plays in my life, and my biggest wish is to help more people find joy and health through staying active.
Yours in Fitness & Wellness
Jessica Zoo Christensen