Swimrun Life: Where Adventure meets Science
By Nancy Heslin
SLM: What led you to start Adventure Science in 2008?
SD: I’ve always loved exploration and adventure, even as a small child, so I gravitated to the natural sciences in school and ended up doing a PhD in geology. I started adventure racing during my university years (eventually competing against ÖTILLÖ co-founders Michael Lemmel and Mats Skott at Eco-Challenge NZ in 2001 and finishing one place behind them, 10th) and eventually realised that having a high level of fitness helped my geologic fieldwork. I was able to move faster, travel farther, and endure tougher conditions than many colleagues and consequently – able to collect more data in the same amount of time.
SLM: Were you always attracted to both science and fitness and what can these two worlds learn from each other?
SD: I have always loved understanding the natural environment around me, but I didn’t always love endurance sports – that one has definitely grown on me. As I spent more time in the world of endurance and fitness though, I realised that science compliments fitness incredibly well. Despite our advancing technology, nothing beats “boots on the ground” fieldwork and scientists would be well served to always keep this in mind.
Maintaining a high level of fitness will simply give field researchers a greater capacity to conduct work and make more discoveries while in remote regions that are inaccessible to vehicles, of which there are still many on our planet!
SLM: Tell us about Adventure Science and how it works.
SD: The first formal Adventure Science project was in 2008 and since then we’ve done at least one major project per year. Adventure Science tackles projects in remote and hard-to-reach locations that require people with stamina, grit, and occasionally technical skill to access.
Aside from being the first organisation to take this approach back in 2008, what makes us different is that researchers and subject matter experts are in the field with adventure athletes – coaching them on how to be scientific observers.
Each day the athletes will head out and trek their prescribed routes, recording measurements, taking photos, etc, along the way and then report back to the chief scientist for vetting and next-day planning. This approach has worked very well for us and we’ve made a number of important discoveries over the last decade – including finding the most northerly known dinosaur tracks in Madagascar, and previously unknown and unidentified fortresses and villages in the mountainous Musandam region of Oman.
SLM: Do you receive funding from the Canadian government?
SD: We do not typically receive funding from government sources, as we prefer to fund our projects independently so that our projects are not contingent on outside funding.
SLM: What are some of your past and future projects?
SD: Some of the more epic projects include searching for caves and dinosaur fossils in the remote and generally inaccessible Tsingy de Bemarahara National Park of Madagascar, searching for forgotten villages in the high mountains of the roadless Musandam Peninsula of Oman, or searching for missing people and airplanes. We have some major projects set for the remainder of 2017 and 2018, including a conservation focused project in Kenya, a project in the Canadian Arctic, and hopefully a return to the Musandam Peninsula in Oman.
SLM: You have received attention from some of the world’s most recognised media – National Geographic, Discovery Channel, New York Times … As a scientist, which has been most rewarding?
SD: The greatest reward for me is that the buzz that the media creates has helped more athletes decide to do more with their fitness, and lets them know that there is more to life than racing.
I still love to race, but realised years ago that I needed to do more with my fitness. Doing these projects and giving back to the world by sharing our findings is a meaningful way to share the physical gifts that athletes possess.
In terms of outreach and our speaker series, we are able to share this message with students and adults and show them that science occurs outside of the lab, and that fitness doesn’t only happen in the gym.
SLM: How can people get involved with or support Adventure Science?
SD: We advertise our projects at www.adventurescience.com and we are on Facebook and Instagram so interested athletes and researchers can reach out via email or direct message to see if they can get involved, join a trip, or attend a camp/workshop.
SLM: How did Adventure Science lead into you developing the ÖTILLÖ merit race, the Amphibious Challenge swimrun in Sheenboro Quebec?
SD: I discovered a large, and beautiful 1000-acre farm here several years ago while looking for a place to base Adventure Science training camps and workshops from. Having recently competed in ÖTILLÖ, I knew that Canada would be perfect for a swimrun race and had it in my head to organise one at some point. Once I got here and started exploring the area I saw that the upper Ottawa River and the terrain around Sheenboro were perfect for the sport. And so I created the first race last year, which was a hit on all levels, including within the community.
SLM: How is swimrun different from triathlon and other sports? Do you believe swimrun is a lifestyle?
SD: Swimrun to me is about adventure. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of going for a swim but with swimrun, kilometres in the water seem to fly by. I enjoy the freedom of being able to design a course that honours the landscape and not predetermined regulations. I love being able to share wild and interesting places with athletes new to the Sheenboro area.
Swimrun is new, exciting and not as heavily regulated as triathlon, which I personally enjoy – but only in small doses. I think that swimrun is a reflection of the athlete, in that they are looking for something out of the box, and that takes them out of their comfort zone more than other sports.
The hallmark of a swimrun athlete is that they are adaptable, and enjoy the challenge of the unknown as opposed to needing to know exactly what lies ahead.
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue #4 (October 2017)