NOTE: The following interview was conducted before the enhanced safe distancing period.
Life goes beyond the digits on the scale and your body is capable of so much more. Yahoo’s #Fitspo of the Week series is dedicated to inspirational men and women in Singapore leading healthy and active lifestyles. Have someone to recommend? Hit Cheryl up on Instagram or Facebook.
Name: Amelie Marivain (@mymongolderby)
Occupation: Marketing director
Diet: Like most people, I thought that because I don’t eat a lot of processed food or “junk food”, I was eating healthy. However, my usual diet would consist of lots of carbs and not enough protein. I can’t resist cheese and bread, you tiao and everything “dough based”. With the help of a nutritionist however, I am now shifting my habits to eat more veggies and plant-based protein.
Training: I go horse-riding 3 times a week – Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I have a personal training session on Wednesday, then on Monday and Friday I train by myself. I sometimes add in an additional yoga class to stretch a bit and “realign” everything.
Q: What was your background in sports?
A: My parents are very active and they encouraged me to do sports growing up. This taught me so much when it comes to competing with and for a team, fair play and enjoying the sweat. I believe many kids can benefit from it.
I started with gymnastics and I was in love with it, but due to a back malformation, I moved on to basketball. Since I was a good sprinter, I could attack fast and it was one of my biggest strengths. My dad always took me swimming on Friday night after school, it was our routine. I was also part of various college teams, such as volleyball.
When you started working, how did your fitness regime change?
On average, two sessions per week is what I could comfortably fit into my calendar. I started working in Lima, Peru back in 2008 and I signed up for pole dance classes. Since it’s a discipline that requires both flexibility and strength, mostly like gymnastics, I was fascinated. The instructor was trained in classical ballet and you could see attention to detail in every movement she executed, her elegance and the search for perfection.
Next, as I felt I needed to up my level of presentation and public speaking skills for work, I switched to improvisation theatre. It is less physical of course, but it does require the core muscles and breathing to be strong, as you move around the stage and sends your heart rate up and down like a yo-yo.
When and how did you get started in horse-riding?
I’ve always been interested in horses. As a kid, I used to beg my parents to register me for classes but to no success. As a teenager, I went riding with a friend who was helping out with caring for her neighbours' horses. I didn’t know how to ride properly but I was willing to help, so I was a sort of “horse walker”.
My husband took me riding for my birthday four years ago and it brought back the feeling of freedom I always had riding. I got hooked and six months later I started being serious about it and rode every week.
What is it about horse-riding that you love so much?
Contrary to other sports where you have a team or a tool or equipment, horses have a mind of their own. They are the best teachers when it comes to empathy, communication and partnership. You never stop learning because each horse is unique, it requires you to “listen” carefully.
Learning a sport as an adult is also a distinct experience, and I take what I learnt in horse-riding to work – “we’re in this together”, “listen first”, “communicate better”.
Finally, I find that there is a sense of freedom and achievement. Being able to collaborate with a 500kg animal so we can both enjoy our sessions together is a very empowering feeling.
What made you decide to take part in The Mongol Derby?
In August 2018, while I was on my way to visit Mount Bromo, my world stopped due to a car accident. The driver lost the control of the van and we rolled over more times than I could count. It’s thanks to horse-riding that I gained my confidence and control over my emotions back. This was the moment I realised my time is now. So after I watched the documentary “All the Wild Horses”, I immediately applied for the longest, toughest horse race in the world – The Mongol Derby.
There is something about the wilderness, the rawness of this adventure, as well as the dependence on the horses that really appealed to me. It’s not only a gruelling endurance race, it’s also a formidable way to promote the history – the race is a re-creation of the Ghengis Khan postal system – as well as the equestrian and nomadic way of life of Mongolia. With my story, my failures and successes, I want to inspire people to be bold, be brave and to be more daring in their daily lives.
What are your fitness goals now?
Since the derby is coming up in August, my main objective is to improve my performance and recovery time so I can hop on the saddle day after day. Only 40 participants from around the world are selected and must ride 1,000km on semi-wild horses in 10 or fewer days.
I am tracking everything I do with my Garmin watch and I’ve been closely monitoring my heart rate and sleeping patterns to improve both. So far, I’ve made some good progress according to the data I’ve gathered. After the race, I want to maintain a level of activity that will allow me to enjoy long distance riding as well as discover other sports.
When did you feel the least confident about yourself?
The last time was right after the car accident when I didn’t understand why I was feeling a certain way if I was physically okay. For me, self-doubt is part of a learning process, yet, it should never be debilitating.
My support system is key in battling all my challenges. I surround myself with people I admire, mentors if you will, and I’m never afraid to ask for advice or help. It’s a great way to overcome any obstacle coming my way.
Are you satisfied with your body now?
From as far as I can remember, I have always been self-conscious about my body. I've always been fit but for the longest time I've considered myself chubby, and I watched carefully what I was eating. After the car accident, I experienced a complete mental switch, my view on my body and food completely changed. Because really, who cares?
I never had plans to become a fashion model and I'm not interested in being one now. Food is there to enjoy and nurture. My body is perfect in so many ways and I will treasure, respect and be proud of it. Sometimes I’m judging myself in front of the mirror again, but I try and slap that right back where it comes from because my body doesn’t define who I am, my attitude and actions do.
Have you ever received any comments about your body?
I was probably eight or nine years old when I received the first comment that stuck with me for the longest time, “Look at her legs, she looks like a frog.”
Then it was about my shoulders: too square, too bulky. It takes a lot of effort and dedication to brush those comments off when you’re young.
The older you get though, the easier it is to deal with them because what other people think matters less. The message we need to send to the younger generation is about healthy living, not unattainable beauty standards.