My Olympic Dream

I love watching the Olympics, so I guess it isn’t altogether surprising when I decided that I would like to be part of the next one. I’m part of London 2012 too, but more in the role of a spectator. I’ve started to train tremendously hard. China’s latest swimming sensation says that she trains in two and a half hour blocks every day and at least twice a day. That’s tough to beat, but I would have to do one better than her because I don’t think I’m as talented as she is. So, every evening after dinner I switch on the TV, switch to channel 9 and sit on the couch for at least four hours straight. To the untrained eye, I’m no better than a couch potato, but let me assure you (and any sponsors or coaches out there) that I do have a game plan.

London’s mascot – the London eye. Eyes firmly on the prize!

After watching so many different sports over the last couple of days, I have come to the conclusion that endurance and perserverence is the common ground that is terribly important. I figured I would start with endurance. I force myself to watch all the sports, even if I’m not interested in them. Table tennis is great for training endurance. I have to concentrate very hard on two things: where the small white ball is because those players are horridly fast, and how to avoid boredom. Another good sport to watch for endurance training is basketball. The opposition is often better than my home country, so it is difficult to maintain a high level of enthusiasm and yell encouragement to the players at least a thousand miles away.

Sometimes, I yawn too much and that’s when I know it is time for me to refuel. So, I sprint downstairs to the fridge and raid it for chocolatey things, then I sprint back up to the couch. I know just how important refueling is. Afterall, I watched the men 250 km cycling race and at various stages the cyclists could be seen shoveling something into their mouths. My Mum excitedly pointed out whenever a cyclist grabbed a white bag that possibly contained water and munchies. She exclaimed loudly to embarrass the poor cyclist who thankfully cannot hear her because he is in a foresty-looking part of Britain, “there he is eating again!” I tell her that it is a different cyclist but she mostly ignores me. If I ever get to compete in the next Olympics, I don’t want my Mum there because I tend to get self-conscious when people watch me eat. She has the potential to be a great distraction and we all know that you can’t win medals if you are easily distracted. Even a squirrel has a chance to ruin my medal chances, so I’m hoping that there are very few squirrels or cute furry critters in Rio de Janerio.

Even cute furry critters can be fierce. This is why I can’t be a medal winning cyclist!

The next question I had to seriously consider is which sport would I be representing my country in. It’s tough to tell where my talent lies because I haven’t had this dream for long. In some interviews with the athletes, a few of them said that they have been dreaming of becoming Olympians ever since they were kids. Uh, I kind of started this dream about the same time as London’s opening ceremony commenced. Still, I’m not willing to let my medal chances slip by. Everyone is good at something, I just have to determine which sport I suck the least in. Channel 9’s advertisments provided some form of inspiration. Have you watched the Swisse vitamins ads? They feature Cadel Evan, the Australian cyclist best known for winning the Tour de France in 2011; the basketballer called Liz Cambage; and Matthew Targett, the swimmer who achieved two Olympic medals.

I could be the next Cadel Evans! I just know it because I take most of the Swisse vitamins that he apparently does. How exciting is that? I just found my calling. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know how to ride a bicycle, that is a rather minor impediment. But the more I thought about it, the more uneasy I became. As tempting as grabbing those white snack packs are, I don’t particularly enjoy long rides through the forest and those cyclists seem to do a lot of that. If the pack cycles too fast, I’d be left behind and I’m terrible at finding my way back. What if it gets dark? I’m a wuss in the dark. Snacks only last so long before some wild animal comes along to snack on me. Also, cycling uphill is going to be a killer on my non-existent calf muscles. Hmm, I thought to myself, time to find another event.

Basketball is totally out given my severe height disadvantage. The team doctors would be too busy bandaging me up after I get trampled within the first two minutes of the match. No time for physio for anyone else. I suppose I could ride atop someone’s shoulder to shoot the hoops, but I’m not sure if my team mates would mind piggy-backing me through all four quarters of the game. Moreover, I have a horrible suspicion that it is against the rules to do so.

How about swimming? I love watching all the swimming events and practice makes perfect right? I can swim, I took a swimming course in high school. Instead of the breaststroke, butterfly or freestyle, I would compete in floating because I’m excellent at staying afloat. Even my swimming instructor said so. When he asked if I wanted to learn some other style, I told him that it would be greedy to be so talented at two styles. Even though he didn’t reply, I knew he was truly moved by my generous spirit. Unfortunately, none of the Olympic swimming events seem to focus on floating. What a bummer! I could have been the Michael Phelps of floating, maybe even better than Phelps! The world would never know.

Some say he’s the greatest Olympian of all time, but is he as good at floating as I am?

Desperation setting in, I turned to my friends and asked them which Olympic event would they have competed in. One of them told me that he would have made an excellent sprinter because he ran well at track and field events at grade school. I readily agreed because he was often the first one out of the door after class ended. However, I’m not much of a track and field person. I don’t like to sweat much (hence my preference for the pool) or be in the sun for long periods. So, another one bites the dust – no pun intended. Another friend said that she would like to play tennis because she took lessons when she was younger and had showed some promise. Sadly, her parents made her quit and signed her up for art classes instead. I have not played a single game of tennis, but I have played badminton before. You know how some badminton athletes have since been barred because they looked like they were purposely throwing matches? I kind of play like them on my best day, so  that’s a worry. My hand-eye coordination needs huge improvements, so I’m considering laser eye correction for starters.

Even the newspaper that I usually pick up to read on the journey home asked the readers what were their personal bests (PBs). One reader said she could lick her elbow. A little gross, but I couldn’t do it. Another reader said he could polish off twenty six slices of pizza and wash them down with cans of soft drink. That’s competitive eating for you. I’m certain he ate more than one large pizza, maybe it even had the delicious cheesy crust. But I can’t do that! It’s physiologically impossible for me to wolf down more than 3 pizza slices! Yet another reader said that his PB was how he could stuff his entire fist into his mouth. I found this both gross and disturbing. Either he has a small fist or a large mouth or a strange combination of both. I tried it, but I couldn’t get my knuckles past my front teeth and I’m not going to remove them for any amount the toothfairy intends to leave me. Some months ago, I read that the average going rate for a child’s tooth is $2. So, no way will I challenge that event.

Finally, one of my friends came right up and told me that she figured herself best at finger clicking. What she meant was that she believes herself to be extremely fast at counting using a hand-held mechanical cell counter. LIGHT BULB! I use the cell counter quite often myself, and I’ve been training the last couple of weeks due to my need to seed precise cell numbers in 24, 48-well plates. So, I did what every other rational student would have done at 3pm after a tiring day of experiments. I challenged her to three bouts of cell counting. We won’t actually count cells because it might be subjective. Instead, we will try to press the cell counter as many times as we can, and as fast as we can in a given time. A three minute break between the bouts so we don’t cripple our thumbs for the rest of the week. Today, we found a shop that sells cell counters for a very reasonable price of $2.80 each.

To prove how serious we are about this competition, we are betting with bubble tea. Loser buys winner any flavour. I know this is not an actual Olympic event, but it might slowly gain momentum amongst bored science student. Lab pride is at stake here. Next week, I’m going for gold. My lab head would be so proud ;).

Drinking to my (un)health

When the doctor saw me two days ago, my fever had hit an all time high and she told me I had developed bronchitis. I looked at her puzzled because I didn’t think it was physically possible to develop bronchitis within two days of feeling bad. But who was I to argue with her frown and the stethoscope? The last bit of advice she imparted was from to get plenty of rest, keep up the fluids and drink juice to boost vitamin C. I wasn’t training for the Olympics so I had enough time to rest. I could keep up the fluids by drinking juice which has to taste better than water. Things were already beginning to look up!

Drinking juice is no hardship because I happen to love juice. The more berries in my juice the better. I just won’t drink orange juice because oranges make me cough and I’m not fond of citrus fruits anyway. You won’t believe the number of juices they have in supermarkets these days. I was about to pick an apple and black current juice, then I remembered how she had said something about vitamin C. So, I spent the next 5 minutes looking at the ingredient component at the back of juice bottles and comparing between them. Someone old had been standing behind me all these while impatiently, but I hadn’t notice her because I was determined to pick the best juice. Also, my ears were blocked and if she had said, “excuse me,” I wouldn’t have heard her either. So, I’m sorry if that old lady happened to be you, your mum or grandma. I would have apologised but your scowl was certainly quite disarming.

I settled for a 2.4L breakfast juice which contained all sorts of fancy fruits and the more boring ones. This one even said it had antioxidants which are suppose to be good for everyone. I figured I might as well give all the other vitamin levels in my body a boost instead of just C. Drinking one serve of juice was supposed to give me ~200% RDI vitamin C. Wow! Then I stupidly did the math and figured that drinking five cups would boost my C levels by 1000%. How awesome would that be? I’d feel so much better in less than the time it would take to complete my antibiotics course. So, I happily drank all five cups – got to keep myself hydrated after all!

The first sign that something had gone pear shaped was when my stomach started producing rumbling noises followed by growling noises. There was that much warning before my body revolted against the five cups of healthiness. It clearly wasn’t used to so much fruity goodness within a space of three hours. I spent the whole night sleepless and coughing – excessive sugar and the total amount was probably more than a sweet-toothed individual like me would have consumed at peak condition. So, here are some important lessons that I learnt from this slightly amusing (not at that point in time) experience: (1) Drinking in moderation applies not only to alcohol; and (2) do not try doing mathematical calculations when feverish – things will not work out well (e.g. 1000% RDI vitamin C does not equate to you feeling 100% better). So, now I’m waiting for the antibiotics to kick in and work their magic.

The offending culprit is on the far left

Why flu shots do not impart invincibility

Every Winter there are people who faithfully line up to get their flu shots. These visits are announced well ahead of schedule to encourage mass vaccination. However, because I don’t deal well with sharp pointy objects – especially when they are aimed at me – and also don’t believe in the success of this program, I avoid it. It is not to say that these vaccination measures are redundant. They are pretty useful if there is only one specific type of bug. In reality, that one bug loves to throw a good party and invites all its mates over for a bash. Not only that, those bugs are also pretty friendly with just about anyone really, and they tend to overstay their welcome.

Anyway, whenever my colleagues tried to persuade me to get the flu shot, I let them know how much I believe in “herd immunity”. Yes, that is an actual immunology term and not something that I made up. Yes, I know I had those two words in inverted commas. I would try changing them, but it is rather hard to do on the iPad…my fingers can’t tap in front of them. “They give out sweets like Freddo at the end”, cajoled one friend in a bid to appeal to my penchant for sweet things. Sorry, but not even Koko black chocolate is going to cut the mustard. So the rest of the lab trooped to get their shots and I made off to buy a snack – a delicious one that was pain-free.

They came back convinced that they now were immune to the cold/flu. I say cold/flu because there are some sticklers out there who insist it is a cold or a flu. It was ironic then that they were the first to succumb to the bug(s). How could it be? They were bewildered. It did not seem fair that I was still healthy and eating cookies to my heart’s content. They couldn’t even ask for a refund because the shot was free. It was a grave injustice as far as they were concern. Did I laugh in their faces? No, I didn’t, because laughing at someone’s misfortune is ungracious and not something that I do. Blogging about them on the other hand is perfectly acceptable. Deep down, I felt a twinge of panic. This year’s herd seemed to have dwindled, I swear I didn’t spread my belief of herd immunity that far!

My worry only increased when I travelled on the metro trains. It literally is a vehicle for bugs as commuters coughed, sneezed and spread the love. They couldn’t help it of course, but that did not lessen my desire for teleportation to be achievable within the next few seconds. After a few weeks, the inevitable happened. I got bounced by the cold/flu. In between feeling downright sick and exhibiting all symptoms that screamed for healthy people to take cover, I experienced incoherent unkind thoughts. These included: (1) who was the one who passed it to me, (2) how I was going to carve out their spleen using only a spoon, and importantly (3) how could I get better faster and then repeat (2) with the modification of another body part. As well as that, I raged at the fact that I had to watch everyone else eat ice cream whilst consigned to a plain diet. I am well aware that these thoughts border on being neurotic and murderous, but in my defense I was kind of taking every medication over the counter to quench the symptoms. You name it, I most likely have digested it. From this experience, it can hardly be lost on anyone that I make a terrible patient look positively angelic. Usually, I like to think of myself as a pretty amiable and happy person.

So thank you to those of you who very kindly put up with me and tried to make me feel better with warm tea and turning up the heaters until it felt tropical instead of Winter. I have not changed my mind about flu shots, and next year you will still see me heading out for a pain-free hot chocolate shot!