I used to water ski a few times a year as a kid. My grandparents lived on Lake Springfield in Illinois. Yes, the same are that the Simpsons are from! I loved hanging out behind the boat and bobbing over the wakes. That’s the extent of my experience with water skiing and what has not progressed into wakeboarding. So when Per Lundstam and Britta Llewellyn from the Red Bull Performance Division asked me to come to Orlando, FL to help with their athlete wakeboard camp, I was a little confused.
I found out there would be no wakeboarding during this camp. Instead, the athletes would be doing V02 max testing, strength and mobility work, cardiovascular training and motivational training. My task was to meet them and share my experience relating to what kind of commitment it takes to be and stay a world class Red Bull athlete. I would be lying if said I didn’t have a bit of trepidation about speaking to athletes in a sport I knew nothing about. The athletes ranged in age from 17 to 30, so I also wondered if they’d relate to me and if I’d earn their respect.
I arrived to the rental houses in Orlando to find a tight knit group of flat hat, baggy short, barefoot beach athletes. We were clueless about each other’s chosen profession and the only thing we all had in common were the Red Bull hats on our heads. It didn’t take long for them to open up and relax and once again, I realized that passionate athletes are all really similar regardless of their sport. I knew it was going to be a fun experience.
They were all provided with road bikes, a custom bike fit and all the gear they needed for riding. Most of them hadn’t ridden a bike since childhood. Steel Lafferty showed up wearing his boxers under his new lycra riding shorts. It was pretty hilarious to tell him he had to go take his underwear off. We had a brief instructional session on how to inflate their tires, shift, brake, clip into the pedals and then we were off for a recovery ride. They’d had a couple of hard days already and I wanted to instill in them the importance of active recovery to flush out the body and be ready for the next day. It was like holding back a bunch of race horses, but they went slowly, only because I put some fear in them about the next workout.
That evening, I shared with them some of the things I’ve learned over my career. I focused on four areas that have led to success for me: Passion, Commitment, Education and Mental Tenacity. In these areas I spoke about what I’ve learned, how I’ve applied myself in training and how I’ve been able to find places in all of these areas to gain improvement. The end result is a long career where I’m still getting better each year. The exciting thing is that these athletes are the best in their sport and they still have places where they can and will find improvement. We have not seen the best that they can deliver yet.
I finished the talk by showing the video WHY and reminding them to answer that question for themselves on a regular basis.
We wrapped up the evening when they learned my nickname is the Queen of Pain. That scared them enough to want to go to bed early to be ready for our three hour ride with intervals the next morning.
We really did ride about 3 hours and covered over 40 miles, which was a big effort for them. I took them through my standard progressive warm up and we practiced recognizing different effort levels or heart rate zones, even without a heart rate monitor. The full warm up took over an hour and then we got to the real business of 6 x 60 second hill sprints. I found the only hill in the area and did some level 5 intervals. I described this effort level as “drooling on yourself” or “puking pace”. They got it and went after it hard. No one puked, but it was close and I am certain that they all reached a new level of intensity that they can draw on later.
I was impressed seeing them work outside of their comfort zone in a different sport. These are amazing athletes and I loved seeing the fire in their eyes even as their legs were burning. I know we all got something out of the weekend and I have to thank Red Bull for being so open minded and creative with their athletes. Bringing us together across different sports and sharing what we know is a super powerful experience. I love being part of the Red Bull team and now I know I’ll have the best wake board and wake skate instructors in the world if I ever want to give it a shot! I will for sure be following them all season to see how things unfold.