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 adventures. So much that 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. Having been an avid rider as a child (recreationally) has hopped on-board at the opportunity to see some wildlife, on horseback. Sadly, due to a miscommunication with the staff (may I add, negligence to check our proficiency correctly), I ended up riding a horse that was 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 driving a go-kart.
After a reasonably normal ride, my equine partner decided to bolt and train for the Kentucky Derby. We bolted into a puff of Namibian dust for a duration of 1.5km at a speed of 50km/h. This lasted for a total of 5 minutes: 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 worked, and it could have ended in disaster. Thankfully I was able to hold on by making my best impression of a jockey. The horse was about to drag me through the bushes and rocks when I realised that I needed to do something drastic, or things were about to get real ugly. My only option was to throw myself off, 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. While 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 physiotherapy, I felt ready for the outdoors again, and 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.
Sadly, little did we know what was waiting for us at the top. Let's just say we had another freak accident that had us running for the hills (pardon the pun). Having to face a split-second decision that could have ended truly horribly, we had to sprint through the bushes away from danger, running down through the steep hills and rocks.
The adrenaline was pumping high, and as I was falling while running downhill, I was able to 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 Movie kind of 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 Disney moment there 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 core beliefs of the #BodyBeforeSkill method:
You never know what's around the corner, but if you treat your body in the way that it was meant to. Keep it active, healthy and resilient - in the face of danger, it can do things you never thought were possible.
Staying fit 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 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. Please feel free to follow on Instagram @jessicaZ00 if you want to join me on this journey whether you're into fitness, flexibility, sports or you just like to move.
Yours in #BodyBeforeSkill