Sunday, 28 July 2013

Daisy begins training

Daisy sprinting for the edge of the river. Her speed is low,
but her endurance is phenomenal-Dopjie Van  Heerden.
Welcome to the July issue of Elezine. We are once more privileged to
have Dopjie Van Heerden with us, coach of Botswanan Olympic swimming sensation, Daisy, the Olympic elephant.
Elezine: Dopjie, we understand Daisy has started training for Rio 2016, but there were some issues to be sorted out?
At first Daisy just goofed off. Here I am
 trying to get her to get a move on-DVH
DVH: Yes that's correct. For your readers who missed the first instalment, I entered Daisy in the Botswana Olympic squad as a lark, but she was accepted, much to my surprise, so we went with it and began her training.
Elezine: Where did you start?
DVH: Well, we thought we would begin where she was most comfortable, and so I flew out to Botswana, conferred with Simba, her human partner, and then we took her back to the Okavango.
Elelzine: She was happy to swim?
DVH: Oh yeah. She loves the water. Our first real problem was to get her to swim laps. At first she just sat there spraying water on herself and generally goofing off.
Elezine: So what did you do?
DVH: I conferred with Simba and we came up with an answer. We had two problems really. First, her goofing off, secondly, she would only swim in a direct fashion while Simba was riding her, telling her where to go by tugging her ears. So we took her to the river and Simba taught me some specific instructions in the local dialect, basically, "Swim back to Simba."
Next, I stood on one side of the river and Simba got on her shoulders and swam to the other.
Then, and this was a real crucial point, he instructed her to swim back to me.
Simba lining Daisy up for
 lap swimming at the Okavango.
I waited on the bank for what seemed an eternity, then, it really was magical, I saw her shadow in the water and then her trunk, and she was back with me.
I should point out, as can be seen in the top picture, when Elelphants swim they are invisible from above the water, you wouldn't think a two-ton animal could be invisible, but she was.
I greeted her with great happiness, I can tell you.
Then I gave her a reward, sugar lumps and some carrots, and did as Simba instructed, I gently grabbed her ear, tugged her around, made the arm gestures Simba had showed me, repeated the words he'd taught me and stood back.
To her credit, she is one smart animal, and my great joy, she trundled down to the water's edge, disappeared like a submarine and began swimming back.
Elezine: The first day was the hardest?
DVH: In some ways, but every day was the hardest really. That day she swam three laps of the river, a distance of about six k. Then we had to get her to swim faster, get used to a pool, get used to her swimming costume, a hoarde of issues, but, yes, in general we were happy that she had quickly learned to swim laps without Simba on her.
Elezine: So what did you do next?
DVH: Well we spent the first week just swimming her three laps, and we were happy with that. Then we started work on her sprinting. Now I'm sure your readers will appreciate this, if an elephant doesn't want to do something, there's not much you can do.
Swimming the river she liked, but then, and this even taxed Simba's communication skills, we had to get her to go faster.
Elezine: Did you achieve that?
DVH: We did, all thanks to Simba, he really is a brilliant elephant handler. He simply took her downstream of our "lap" point and sent her back to me, so she had to swim against the current. Even then her sharp intelligence nearly sunk us. The first few laps she just swam directly across the river and then walked up the bank to me, she's no fool I can tell you.
Elezine: how did you solve this problem?
DVH: Simba had a word with her, got her to swim upstream and we gave her greater reward in sugar lumps. Also, she quickly figured out that she could coast downstream back to Simba, so it all balanced out in the end. We got her swimming laps, and every second lap was against the current at greater speed, so we were generally happy.
Elezine: And what was the next step?
DVH: Two next steps really, well, three. Botswana doesn't have much of a pool presence, most of Botswana's athletes compete in track and field, running, boxing and so forth. The paperwork I got said that to even go to the Olympic trials she had to join a local swimming club and record three times to be submitted three months before the trials.
The Olympic pool at Kimbala, here seen empty, as it soon was when Daisy stuck her paw in-DVH
I checked around and luckily for us there was a pool in Kimbala and even a swim club, so I signed her up and she became a member of the Okavango Delta Swimming Club.
At first Daisy just wanted to
drink the pool water.
That done, we then had to get her used to swimming in the pool, we needn't have worried, she loved it.
We had to do a bit of monkeying around, at first she thought we had provided her with a large drink of lovely clean water.
Have you ever tried to explain to a clothing
 company that  "my elephant needs
  a swimming costume?"
Here Daisy dives in wearing
the colours of the Okavanga Delta club.-DVH
However once Simba explained the lay of the land to her, she took to it with a flamboyance even we couldn't believe. As you can see from the picture on the left, she took to the pool with real joy.
Elezine: And she was happy to train in the pool?
DVH: Oh yes, once again we had to get her mind on the job as this was the most see through water she had ever been in, so at first she just liked being underwater looking about, but Simba got her going and soon she was lapping with great abandon.
Elezine: So pretty simple in the end?
Once Simba did a few somersaults, Daisy got
the idea. Here she is coming out of her tumble turn.
DVH: It was , much to our surprise really, our biggest issue on that day was getting her to do a tumble turn, but again Simba solved the problem by doing somersaults himself at the deep end of the pool and she quickly picked it up.
Elezine: So you're satisfied with how the training is going?
DVH: Oh, yes, really, when I think back to that morning on the river bank, waiting anxiously for her trunk to appear out of the river, and realise all she has achieved, we're over the moon.
Elezine: So what's next for Botswana's swimming elephant?
DVH: Well, we keep training in pool and river for the next months and then submit her times to Sports Botswana. If they're acceptable she goes to the Olympic trials and, hopefully, then to Rio.
Elezine: thanks so much for your time Dopjie, will you keep us informed?
DVH: Happy to, could I just add, we would like a sponsor (sugar lumps are not cheap in Africa), so if any of your readers can think of anyone suitable, we would love to hear from them.

No comments:

Post a Comment