Keep your brain and body active. Do something outside your comfort zone. These things, they say, ward off dementia and keep you young. But now I’m not so sure.
We were on a family skiing holiday recently in Norway, at Hafjell, where some of the events of the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympic Games took place. The bob-sleigh run is still there and open to the public. My two grandchildren were keen to have a go so we went along to watch. At 11 and 12, they were too young for the ‘taxi-bob’ – a piloted, proper bob-sleigh – but could ride in a ‘raft’. This was a rectangular, padded box able to carry a pilot and up to five additional passengers.
A short ride in a van to the top of the run – the actual top, no cheating here – a few instructions (sit up straight, face forwards), helmets on and they and their mother were away. We took the appropriate photos as they flew past us at around 80km/hr, angled at 90 degrees to horizontal, wooden runners rattling. They were elated when they got out, wishing they were older and making our daughter promise to take them back when they were sixteen, old enough for the taxi-bob.
My husband, Tony, looked at me with his eyes gleaming. ‘I’d love to do that.’ What he meant, of course, was that he’d love me to go with him. ‘Come on, it’s probably the only time in our lives we’ll have the chance to go on an Olympic bob-sleigh run.’
Not matching his enthusiasm, I agreed to the raft. The taxi-bob was a ride too far. I was definitely outside my comfort zone.
‘You can have a stiff drink afterwards.’
We packed ourselves into the raft, legs apart, bum to crotch with strangers. Tony attempted an apology in Norwegian to the woman he was pressed against. Fruitless, as she was Russian. I clutched the flimsy grips inside our lidless coffin and tried to ignore the boot that was pressing into my leg. We gathered speed at an alarming rate and the positional changes bombarded us: upright, sideways, upright,sideways. Our pilot tried to steer a straight course through the sixteen turns but we still ricocheted off the sides of the run. There were no controls. Around 15 seconds into the run, my stomach made itself felt. I am a poor traveller so I should have expected this. Closing my eyes made it worse, although with them open all I could see was the back of the pilot. A run of 1.7 km and it was over. Everyone cheered and jumped around with delight at the experience. Tony was ecstatic; I held my stomach and attempted a grin.
I was alright in time for dinner a couple of hours later, although I declined the stiff drink (a bucket was more appropriate). I don’t know about keeping myself young; I think this trip might have aged me ten years. In a strange way I enjoyed it but I won’t be back for more!