sábado, 20 de agosto de 2011
AASP NEWSLETTER.Volume 21.
Issue 3 Fall/Winter 2006
Mind Over Water: Challenging Physical
and Mental Life Threatening Beliefs!
Dr. Patricia Wightman. Head of the Sport Psychology Department, CENARD,
LONG DISTANCE SWIMMING FEATS
Author’s Introduction: The CENARD in
is similar to the USOC Argentina
Athletes get all of their check-ups and training controls done there.
As head of the Sport Psychology Department since 1990, Dr. Wightman
has worked with many athletes and teams including the men’s
basketball team that won a gold medal in
There is a staff of permanent sport psychologists and
others that come and go with teams and major events.
Channel, with relaxation, breathing, visualizing, cognitive
behavioral therapy and all that this implies. She also
trained afterwards with biofeedback, meditation, yoga
and other techniques, especially to get control of her
body temperatures. This information was gathered at the
CENARD in an interview and conversation.
She has corrected and approved all that was written and has given
permission that the information be shared in this public forum.
Maria Ines wants her work to be known.
The following article is based on the work and extraordinary
achievements of María Inés Mato.The swimmer talks about her
experiences in the freezing waters, mental preparation, overcoming
obstacles, flow, and feelings of transcendence.
María Inés Mato is a 39-year-old open water swimmer who lost
part of her right leg in an accident at the age of four and started
swimming when she was six. She competed in regular long distance
events until 1992. That year she was invited to swim in an open
water event in the Paraná River (
). She explained, “the Argentina
first time I swam in a river I was fascinated and I knew it was
something that I wanted to do all of my life. The texture of the
water, the current, the landscape, the speed of the river, the
reflections of the sun. I realized that it was a place I wanted to be.”
Since then her life has been divided in two periods with different
motivations and goals. From open water competitions, she passed
to individual long distance crossings which are not competitive in a
traditional sense. Thus, her first challenges were classic open water
events: the English Channel, the Belt Channel (from
in the Guinness Book of World Records and has also been recognized
as an Honorary Citizen of Buenos Aires and other cities.
Along the way, she developed her own training method which
included multiple approaches to mental training. “I started to realize
that I could swim for a long time training very little. But really, that
had nothing to do with omnipotence; I knew that I could compensate
for not training in the water with a mental workout scheme that
gave me great confidence for what I was going to do. I understand
that for someone who observes from the outside this might seem
out of reality.” She started working with Sport Psychology at the
for Elite Athletes) before Argentine National Training Center
English Channel (08/25/97). She and her team had to
work on goals, overcoming obstacles (even from official personalities
who doubted that these ideas or dreams could come true), using
relaxation, visualization and desensitization.
Patricia Wightman and Maria Ines Mato, CENARD
For her feats, she has been inspired by different sources. For example,
in 2001 she studied the legends and history of the indigenous Yamana
Tribes, who lived in the Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego,
The word “yamana” means “spirit of the water.” The Yamanas were
a tribe of canoe Indians. They lived almost entirely on birds, seals,
fish, mussels and limpets. The women cooked, fetched water, paddled
the canoes and fished. The men tended the fires, fished, made and
mended the canoes and prepared material for them. The women were
good swimmers, but it was a rare thing to find a male Yamana who
could swim. Members of this tribe often lived in places where for
many miles there were no beaches on which it was possible to haul
up their canoes. They were compelled, therefore, to anchor them off
the rocks in the best shelter to be found. This anchoring was done by
the women. After the canoe was unloaded and the husband had gone
up into the forest to collect fuel for the fire, the wife would paddle
off in the canoe a few fathoms into the thick kelp (a large species of
seaweed), which makes a splendid breakwater. She would secure the
canoe, and once it was safely anchored, she would slip naked into the
water, swim ashore and hasten to the fire to warm herself (all this at
a temperature 6° Celsius).
The Yamana women swim like a dog and had no difficulty getting
through the kelp. They learned to swim during infancy and were
frequently taken out into the water by their mothers in order to get
them used to it. In winter, when the kelp was coated with a film of
frost, a baby girl out with her mother would sometimes make pick-aback
swimming difficult by climbing onto her mothers head to escape
the cold water and frozen kelp (Bridges, 1988). The purpose of The
Lakuma Project for María Inés was the revindicating of human rights
and making evident the role of women in this tribe. It was sponsored
by Amnesty International and the Unesco (03/03/2001).These feelings
were so strong that Maria Ines returned to the south to swim by the
southern wall of the Perito Moreno Glacier.
María Inés had discovered that cold water was her habitat. She
explained, “the motivation behind all this had to do with cold water.
I create an imaginary context where the air is warmer than the water
but I do not deny that the water is cold. With my trainer, Claudio
Plit, I learned to differentiate the cold water from what is inside my
body…even if my body is frozen. With each breath, heat enters my
body which I retain. I see myself red from the heat. People don’t
accept cold water. I accept it and think that the outside is cold but
the water protects me. To achieve this I have always demanded 100%
from myself in each workout. Water has always signified a place
where I have a particular mental perceptiveness, an attentional state
that I do not have when I am out of cold water.” This particular
frame of mind and the mood state it ensues helps her to avoid the
fear of cold water.
María Inés is fully convinced that the body registers and develops
a memory through time. A memory of past competitions, years
of training and life experiences. “A confidence is built based on
all these physical experiences which later can be recalled. I can
recognize water at any temperature. Cold water does not produce a
feeling of ‘something unknown.’ The body integrates all the physical
experiences as well as the mental elaboration that has taken place
with regards to your personal experiences. The memory is an
organization, not only isolated tracks. Fear occurs due to unknown
scenarios or beliefs, for example the settlers of the Antarctic think
that ‘man overboard is a dead man.’ This is not true for me...if
you are prepared. Today I believe that to evoke is different than
to visualize. Evocation is a corporal experience. I registered my
experiences consciously and this helped me to be able to gain
control. Whatever happens I register it.
“In those cold waters it is necessary to tolerate the first 3 minutes.
At times there are headaches or pains in the limbs. In each practice I
forced myself to analyze what was happening to me. All these years
I have controlled what has happened to me. Visualization for me is
the mental image of what is to come. The future. Ever since the idea
began of going to the Antarctic, I began to see the place. What is
the water like? It is not unknown. Evocation and visualization were
joined in the Antarctic. Sometimes the athletes do not trust these
two paths. When this is achieved, a very magical thing takes place.
It is moment that contains something of the past, the present and
the future. It is a lot of work for many years. In honor to the truth I
really prepared myself.
“The Antarctic was much more dangerous. In Bariloche I swam at
first at night in a river that joins the Ventisquero (a glacier). The
water was calm. While swimming in the dark I could not see my
movements and I had a feeling of being frozen. This prepared me for
the Ventisquero which turned out to be direct contact with the sky.
That was the lab. I already knew how to raise my body temperature
having studied Eastern techniques, mental control, and other skills
already mentioned. I elevated my body temperature to 39º C (102.2º
Fahrenheit) before entering and it only fell to 37º C (98.6º F). It was
fresh water; it was a very strange sensation because I did not feel
my body. I just swam. It was swimming in total anesthesia. I felt
a connection with the mountains, the
, the sky, Tronador Mountain
the ice wall, the Ventisquero Glacier, and the loose pieces of ice. I
let myself go. I was in contact with the sky. I was more connected
with these scenes than with the water. Actually, it seems that I swam
too far away from the support team. Dr.
Nestor Lentini (who was in
charge of the team) was at a greater risk of a heart attack than I
was, since he could not monitor neither my body temperature nor my
heart rate! It was awesome, something transcendental. It was flow
“Another experience was the Antarctic. You float better in salt water.
In the Antarctic, before being lowered to a small boat, I prepared
for 20 minutes doing smooth and asymmetric Yoga movements.
I also stretched and meditated. I went down to the boat and I
swallowed the sensor (Corp-Temp 2000) that registered the internal
Antarctica is much more vertiginous, but we couldn’t
wait any more time and I threw myself into the cold water because
the climate was good. There I swam 20 minutes without a neoprene
suit (that prevents hypothermia). Suddenly while I was swimming
three seagulls appeared. They formed a circle above me and one left
the flock and approached me. I had visual communication with the
seagull! People generally do not allow themselves to experiences
things like this.”
The physiological aspects of the Antarctic experience will be
presented in 2007 at the American Association for Sports Medicine
Conference. This project was possible thanks to the support of
’s Sports Secretary and Mariano Memoli, Argentina
National Director of the Antarctic (02/06/06).
One of the most outstanding things about María Inés is the
significance she finds to what she does: “Basically, everybody has
something that they would like to be but they don’t dare. If there is
one thing I would like, it is to help people open up their minds and to
stop being so structured.”
Bridges, E. L. (1988). Uttermost part of the earth: Indians of Tierra
del Fuego. New York: Dover