In the Heart of
The Extreme Athlete
A conversation with Angelika Castaneda and Barbara Warren,
By Sydney L. Murray
In the heart of an athlete we find the physical element of
the triad of our body, mind and spirit represented both figuratively
and literally. I've never regretted a surf session, a ride
on my bike or an early morning run. I experience epiphanies
and moments of extreme joy when I enter this physical realm.
It is when I enter the zone, that place of complete flow,
where I touch my spirit and open up to a greater connection
to all things. When you exert yourself, nature offers endorphins
as an added benefit to your workouts. I used to run in Boulder
(Colorado) to the top of Flagstaff Mountain and each time
I reached the summit, I felt like"Rocky" at the
top of those steps in Philadelphia.
I've had the opportunity to examine my life through the inspiring
example of two San Diego area women who are extreme athletes.
Angelika Castaneda and Barbara Warren, Ph.D., are 56 year
old twins known as the Twin Team; they are redefining what
it means to age and to live. Born in Austria, the twins left
in their early twenties to study art in Italy. Then they moved
to Mexico City where they soon found success in modeling and
movies. Seeking a life outside of the spotlight, the twins
relocated to San Diego in their early forties. Their competitive
life began with ultra-running events, but it wasn't long before
they entered their first triathlon. Extreme events are ultra-endurance
events consisting of 100 plus miles of running or biking,
such as The Triple Ironman Triathlon in France, which consists
of covering 421 miles in 46 hours. The Twin Team finished
first and second in 1992. An extreme athlete confronts a different
level of existence than your every day mortal. Aperfect exampleof
this existence is an upcoming race in Death Valley, CA, known
as the Badwater. During this 146 milerace, the twins will
endure extreme temperatures of hot and cold, as well as extreme
changes in altitude. The race begins at the lowest point of
the land on earth and finishes at an elevation of 8,800 feet,
on Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental U.S.
Both women expressed anxiety and trepidation about this race
because of the extreme conditions. Castaneda remarked that
she had lost all of her toenails last year due to the heat
of the desert floor; they literally lifted off of her toes.
These two women, who are extreme athletes, offer a prescription
for daily living that many can use: To seek to better your
best, to continually challenge yourself and to get out of
your box. Push through your comfort zone, whatever it may
be. Maybe you need to read your poetry in a group, learn a
new sport, stand up before an audience and sing a song (maybe
karaoke?) or switch jobs. Whatever it is, take the leap, it's
worth it. Stretch yourself on a daily basis. This is where
I have gained inspiration from these two women. The daily-ness
of it all. These are the building blocks of life.
SLM: What motivates you to attack
such incredible physical challenges?
BW: There have been different motivations throughout our lives,
but our motivation now is to give back all that we have been
given. We give motivational seminars called Beyond the
Possible Stretching: Your Comfort Zones. We teach people
how to get out of their comfort zone. Because when you stay
in your comfort zone too long it becomes a depressive zone,
because it kills your spirit. We need to push and press and
get out this zone, and we teach people how to do this. If
you're in an aerobic class, jump a little higher, leave a
little bit later, go a little bit earlier. Wherever you are,
extend, extend, extend-go higher, deeper, further, Go beyond
what you think is possible. We tell our students that there
is always so much more than they ever thought possible.
AC: This sport gives us everything: ecstasy, triumph, pain,
humility, and agony. To know how to win, you need to know
how to lose. For example, in the Death Valley race, the confrontation
of what is ahead of me brings about anxiety: Will I be able
to handle it? Will I be able to overcome the pain? The distance
and the heat and the climb bring me so close to the edge and
so few people have done it. You come so close to God. When
I'm on my knees in pain, I know God. Then after a race like
this you appreciate the way the water feels in the shower,
the privilege of the water is so great. It's something that
everyone does, every day, and you just thank God for it .
You have to come so close to the edge of almost losing your
life and then life becomes so precious, so great. So when
someone asks us why go to such extremes, why risk so much,
I answer, "Because then life becomes so great."
The motivation for me is the challenge. I love a challenge.
AC: I couldn't live a day if I did not spiritually connect.
What is it all about if you're not connected? I could not
imagine life without this spiritual connection, life would
not have meaning. If we don't use that connection, we are
so much poorer. My richness is in that connection.
BW: I have read a lot and seen a lot. I've been to 55 countries,
but it's still a very limited knowledge. When we tap into
God's power, there comes wisdom and wisdom goes way above
all knowledge and the solutions fall into your lap. And you
know God, and you know that your are stepping on holy ground.
Remember the old adage, if you don't use it, you'll lose it?
Walter M. Boritz, a senior Stanford physician, has coined
the term "disuse syndrome" to describe negligence
in paying attention to our body's essential needs, such as
physical activity. When you don't use a part of your body,
it will begin to atrophy and wither away. Boritz discovered
that this effect was body-wide, spreading beyond the cardio-vascular
system. Lack of exercise results in a host of other problems:
Your heart and arteries become more vulnerable, your muscles
and skeletal structure become more fragile, depression sets
in, obesity becomes a risk and signs of premature aging surface.
These are five symptoms of Boritz's "disuse syndrome".
Therefore, when you become aware of the holistic effect of
exercise, you may see the benefit of constantly expanding
your comfort zone.
SLM: What is your schedule
BW: It begins at 4:30 every morning. We get up and think,
not feel, but think. Many people don't want to get up because
of their feelings, but we have trained ourselves to think,
not to feel (first thing in the morning). I get up in the
morning with thinking, which says, "Get up, do this,
do that" and suddenly I'm out of the door and I didn't
allow my feelings to distract me in between. There are times
that I want to feel and times when I want to think, and there
are times that I want to fall apart. There are different parts
of the day for each of these. I can't feel all day long or
think all day long. There are certain times for everything
and it balances you out if you approach life in this way.
One important aspect of achieving your goals is visualization.
CA: Always see it. Visualize: see it, feel it, allow it. It
has to flow and it's not about shoulds. Be there and be ready,
ready to flow. Be ready to feel the wind, to feel the obstacles.
I have completely visualized The Women's World Expedition,
a 2000 hour worldwide race, organized the Twin Team. I have
visualized the severest obstacles on the course and I've overcome
them mentally. The most grueling storms, lightening, whatever
you can imagine, earthquakes, and injuries. We are decision
makers when we are out there on an expedition. I go into my
creativity to survive it, otherwise you don't survive. Visualization
in connection with your spirituality, which is your connection
with God, gives you the creativity for the solutions. Instead
of just seeing it, I write every detail. If it's a fifteen
hour race you could get lost trying to do it all at once.
I take it in portions. I draw and write about it as I visualize.
When I was on the plane to Hawaii for the Iron Man Triathlon,
I visualized the whole thing, right down to the winner is....Angelica
Castaneda. I saw the whole thing in my mind, just as it happened
in the race. SLM: What do each
of you do when you hit the proverbial wall physically?
BW: When I hit the wall, I think, just to that next tree.
I know if I give myself the chance to reach that certain point
I have a survivor's spirit and probably I won't die, my body
is too strong, so why give up? Also, when I feel the pain
coming, I instantly transport myself to northern Italy to
my grandmother's villa which was a paradise for me as a child.
Here comes the pain, I feel it, then I'm at my grandmother's
house and I'm walking through all of the rooms. I see the
old furniture, the knickknacks and the smells. And then I
go out into the garden and I pick apples. I just live there
for as long as it lasts and then the pain leaves me.
CA: I hold out for the next step and then the next one, because
if you can do one more step, you can do another. It's just
like a day at a time, or even less, fifty yards at a time.
It doesn't matter if you crawl. What matters is, you reach
the goal. When I was in Alaska on an Extreme Expedition, I
blew out my knee and I crawled like a dog. It's not the humbling
aspect, but the victory that is important. We teach people
how to go a little further, a little faster. To break through
whatever limits you've placed on yourself. We all have different
gifts. As we get older we learn that the mind can endure more
than the body. The body is strong when you're younger and
later on the mind is stronger. At 56 years of age we have
incredible strength of mind.
BW: As much as we train our physical bodies, we train ourselves
mentally. People should put themselves in our shoes and see
it from our perspective, because it's not that we are that
different. We are just human beings living our life and trying
to live themto the fullest, just like everyone else. It's
not in our nature to stop. For the rest of our lives we want
to continue to expand.
For more information on the Twin Team of Angelika Castaneda
and Barbara Warren, Ph.D., and their Winning In Life Seminars,
please call 619.483.2122 or email at email@example.com. The
Twin Team is in need of sponsors for The Women's World Expedition.
For more information please visit their website at www.worldexpedition.com