"I guess I’ve got a thing about strong women and empowering women. I always tell them, You can do anything. Anything you want to do in the world, you can do it; don’t let anyone ever tell you different. It doesn’t matter what it is."
Kokohuyana Dahl opens up about standing up to bullies, what happened when she started believing in herself, and how she uses BionicGym above the Arctic Circle.
When you see Kokohuyana Dahl, it’s hard to believe she’s almost 60.
She has the sinewy legs and graceful posture of a lifelong athlete. Her skin is smooth. And she can outhike men half her age as they scramble up ice-encrusted and jagged Norwegian mountains. She’s 5’5” and 43kg soaking wet.
After working for 25 years as a forensic psychologist in conflict zones (which included getting blown up by an IED and stitched back together), she tried her hand at retirement but couldn’t sit still; her family nearly threw her out of the house.
Kokohuyana (who goes by the nickname Bru) then retrained as a welder and merchant mariner. Now she works on an expedition ship named Togo based in Tromsö, Norway above the Arctic Circle.
In this interview, she talks about how her new life has blossomed out of the old, the moment she discovered she could believe in herself, and how BionicGym has given her near-bionic endurance.
[Disclaimer: BionicGym is a healthy form of vigorous physical exercise. It is not intended to prevent or treat any medical condition. If you have a medical condition, please consult a medical doctor. BionicGym is not intended for use during safety critical activities. Please exercise common sense.]
I’m talking to someone who does her own thing.
I very much do my own thing. I think my family, if they were going to put something on my gravestone, it would be this: She did what she wanted to do.
I was born in Malaysia. I grew up there. I was sent to boarding schools and got expelled from nearly every school. After that, we gradually got further away from Malaysia.
How did you get expelled from every school?
I have autistic spectrum disorder. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 25. But looking back, I was quite noticeably on the spectrum. They didn’t look for it then, especially in girls. Girls are really good at masking.
I’m nearly 60 years old now.
Someone telling me to do something that made no sense to me, I just wouldn’t. My attitude was, Why would I do that? You’re clearly nuts.
It started off with a lot of answering back teachers and people in authority. My step-mother was Catholic-French, so I was sent to convent type schools. And nuns don’t take too kindly to being told that they’re idiots. I suppose nobody does.
I was horribly bullied as a child. I was a small, skinny, ugly child (in my mind). I was weird. I still am. I was an easy target.
Eventually, I discovered that I could fight back. And so I went from being bullied to being the savior of anyone who was getting picked on. And I would just start fights if I saw someone being bullied or being made fun of - the fat kids, or the kids with glasses.
I’d take the bullies on.
My father was very keen for my brothers to learn martial arts, and I just tagged along at the dojo. I learned to use them, too.
I got expelled for a variety of things: knocking the games teacher’s teeth out with a shinty stick; setting fire to the science labs; fighting; smuggling illicit alcohol into school. I was a bit of a rebel without a cause.
But exam-wise, I did fine. I was moved two years ahead of my peer group; I did a final year and a half at a boarding school in Yorkshire, England. And that was a revelation for me, because I had a lot more freedom than I’d had in the Far East. At one boarding school in India, they were quite repressive and not very feminist-oriented.
I became very interested in forensic psychology. That’s what I did. I did my undergraduate, Master’s, and a PhD. I became a Doctor of Forensic Psychology, which involved working with women and young girls who were either subject to female genital mutilation or who had been raped and mutilated as an act of war.
I spent about 25 years working largely in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, some parts of Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, the Middle East; I got into hanging around in war zones and natural disaster zones. It just appealed to my nature.
You can see that arc where you’d been the one who stood up to the bullies, and you kept standing up to them.
Yeah, and I haven’t really changed. It’s just taken on different guises as I’ve gotten older.
I’ve done a lot of NGO work and set up my own projects. I worked closely with a project called FORWARD, which is campaigning for change in female genital mutilation. They got Angelina Jolie onboard, and things have moved a lot since she became involved.
I suppose it’s sad in a way that, after 20 years of work, all you really needed was a celebrity, but it’s cool; I don’t really care how the job gets done as long as it gets done.
Four years ago I decided I was going to retire.
After three weeks, I’d driven the whole family mad because I’d pretty much redone the whole house... from floors to ripping up bathrooms, ripping out the kitchen... I ran out of things to do and they were saying, “Please, mother, just go and find something to do because you are doing our heads in.”
And I thought, Ok, I’ll find something to do then.
And I went out and retrained as a professional welding engineer and fabricator. That’s how I ended up in the Arctic. And I got my British Seaman’s Documents (I think we have to use the word Seafarer now, because it’s politically correct, but I say Seaman because it makes me laugh more.)
I am the Mate to the Chief Engineer on an expedition vessel called Togo. We sail out of Tromsö, Norway. We go up to Svalbard, and for the summer season we’re based there. And then we come back to Tromsö and do close sailing around the fjords.
What kind of work are you doing with the expedition vessel?
We have a mixed client group. The bookings vary from the Norwegian Arctic weather service, sailing to Greenland and the Northwest Passage, Universal Pictures, marine biologists, and an Australian group that does underwater photography.
The year before, we took Jasmine Carey, who won an award for her underwater photographs of orca and humpback whales.
We sailed and followed the whales. I’m the ship’s dogsbody, or potat. In Norwegian, potat means potato. There’s nothing you can’t do with a potato. If you’re the potat, you do everything for everybody.
I do the deck-handing; I do everything from flaking out the anchor chain to welding. I help out the Chief Engineer in the engine room. I do the washing. I do the stewarding. I help the chef. I catch fish. That’s me in a nutshell.
That’s an enormous nutshell.You mentioned your family; you drove them mad when you retired for three weeks. What’s your family look like?
I have two daughters. Taz is 24 and Saskia is 26. Taz got the nickname because you know the cartoon with the Tasmanian Devil? He just whirls around; that’s just what she was like as a child.
They’re both on the spectrum. Taz is like me; a bit of the Asperger’s weirdy kind. Saskia is on the other end; she’s got quite profound dyslexia and dyspraxia and dyscalculia, but that hasn’t stopped her from becoming a Zoologist and getting a Master’s, and now she’s about to embark on her PhD.
I guess I’ve got a thing about strong women and empowering women. I always tell them, You can do anything. Anything you want to do in the world, you can do it; don’t let anyone ever tell you different. It doesn’t matter what it is.
Taz has more social issues, which I had when I was younger. To some degree, you can work on it, you can improve.
For Saskia, academic stuff was difficult. But she got a handle on it and she’s done incredibly well. She got a distinction in her Master’s. She got a First in her undergraduate degree. And she likes to mentor other young people who have the same issues; the same neuro-diverse learners.
She says, Look, there’s a whole world of things to help you, and you have to help yourself; you just think in a different way.
That’s my little family.
I’ve been married three times; I’m not really very good at that. It’s not my best thing. I’m just not great in relationships.
A friend asked me the other day how I would describe myself. I don’t really like labels and pigeonholes. But Jay and I have been friends for 25 years or so; he and his boyfriend were friends with my brother.
I’ve had girlfriends. I had a transsexual partner. I like people because I like people, and if they can put up with me (because I’m really weird; I’m hard work), then that’s good enough.
Are you into music, and if so, do you have any song that really speaks to you right now?
I’m mad crazy about music. Short of German brass band Oompah music, there’s really nothing that I don’t like.
Back in the day, I came in second in a Salsa dance competition in Havana. I used to be into Latin and Brazilian music (my girlfriend then was Brazilian). Because it was very macho then, you weren’t allowed to dance with a woman, so I had a dance partner. A lot of that music used to speak to me; the Buena Vista Social Club kind of stuff.
I listen to a lot of alternative music: Soundgarden, Arctic Monkeys, Snow Patrol... .
More recently, I’ve been listening to sea shanties. (You see what I mean about being a bit eclectic.) I go around singing them a lot. I have little bluetooth headphones under my ear defenders, so I can’t hear myself singing, which is brilliant, because I’m really rubbish. It doesn’t stop me from torturing everybody else, though.
I’m really into a group called The Longest Johns. They sing sea shanties. They sing a song called The Weller Man.
A friend of mine, a young Scottish lad who until very recently was a postman in Scotland, I suggested to him ages ago on TikTok that he should sing Weller Man because his voice would be really good for it.
He got to number 1 on the British Charts with his version of The Weller Man. So that is the song that speaks to me at the moment. I’m singing it all the time. And I like the history of the song, which is about when they used to go whaling back in the day.
The song is about the Captain; he’s an old school whaler, and they catch this whale and the whale goes under and it keeps on towing the boat. And the Weller Man comes from the name of the company that used to bring rations of sugar, tea, and rum to the sailors.
I’m up in Norway where whaling is still a thing. That’s the song at the moment. You could ask me in a week’s time and I’ll have another song stuck in my head. Like a lot of Asperger’s people, we like repetitive things until we move on to the next thing.
Let’s talk about BionicGym.
I supported it from way in the beginning.
Were you an early backer?
Yeah - December of 2016. I waited a long time and I totally believed in it. To the people who were naysaying it, I said, Look, this is amazing.
I’ve always been surrounded by doctors and medical people. I just knew BionicGym was such an awesome idea.
I was an early backer and at that point in time I didn’t know I was going to end up on a ship in the Arctic. I have always been into sport. I do marathon running, and ultramarathons were quite a big thing for me. I also surf and kitesurf and snowboard. I still skateboard.
I’m always the oldest person in the skatepark but that’s fine because I can pull some pretty sick tricks.
What are your go-to skateboard tricks?
I quite like doing a 540 on the halfpipe. I have to be a little bit careful now because I’m a bit more brittle than I used to be. I try not to break anything.
I’ve skated since back in the day. It started when my father took me on a trip. It was one of the periods when I was expelled from school and didn’t have another school to go to, so we were still looking. So he took me with him.
We visited Santa Cruz, California and it was like Dogtown and Z Boys. I was a little kid. The skaters were much older than I was. I pleaded with my father to buy me a skateboard. And I used to hang around with these kids who became famous. I’m sure I annoyed the hell out of them. But I never lost that love.
I still have my original skateboard.I look at it now and I think, How on Earth did I do anything on that? It has rigid trucks and it was so small, so narrow.
BionicGym for me was nothing about losing weight because I weigh about 43 kilos on a good day if I’ve eaten a lot. (I’m 165 cm tall, 5’5”.) It was about keeping the cardiovascular fitness when I was having to do boring stuff like stand at the computer and study and do coursework for my welding.
I can’t really weld with it on, unless it’s on really low, because it makes my welds really rubbish.
[NOTE: BionicGym does not recommend using BionicGym during safety critical activities. Doing so could cause serious injury or death. Please use common sense and your own judgement.]
Apart from that (and health and safety), I just wear it all the time. I go through the gel pads quite a lot because I’ll have it on for 12 hours a day.
BionicGym just makes a huge difference.
We haven’t sailed yet because we’re waiting for Norway to make a statement on the first of May. We were supposed to sail at the beginning of March. Now I’m looking to see how good it’s going to be.
Togo is not a big ship. It’s not like a cruise liner; I can’t go jogging around the deck because it’s icy and slippery. We work really long days. When we’re on the ship, if we’re steaming (under way with the engine), there’s a lot of stuff to be done. It’s a physical job. But in terms of cardiovascular fitness, you can lose that quite quickly. As you get older, you lose it really quickly. It’s not like when you’re 25.
I have an extra BionicGym which the Chief Engineer is really keen to try.
When I have downtime in my bunk, I can have my BionicGym on. When I’m pottering about inside, if I’m doing the laundry or helping Chef, I can have my BionicGym on. But maybe not so much outside in the cold.
Although I did wear it at level 30-32 and then do a 28km hike up Tromsdalen.
I just started to use it and I think about how awkward I am when I walk through my living room.
All I can tell you is that at the beginning, if I had it at level 30, I looked like I had Parkinson’s.
How did you adjust to that?
Over time, you seem to build a tolerance.
Now I’ve got one of those sit-stand desks and use the BionicGym.
I used to have a treadmill, so I’d be at my computer typing as I was using the treadmill. Not running, but walking fast. But it was quite difficult to type. I just started to dictate since it was easier than trying to type.
And when I got the BionicGym, I thought, This is so much easier than being on the treadmill.
So I would stand there and I could do work up to level 75. I have cranked it up more than that; I can get it up to the low 80’s. Above 83 I find it too uncomfortable.
I’ve got quite thin legs. I have to cut the gel pads down, otherwise they would touch. I’ve got the small size of the wraps, but even then it’s an issue. My legs are quite long; I don’t have a problem with the length. I know some of the other ladies have said they bunch up. I’m a strange shape. I’ve got long legs and a short body.
That’s impressive that you can focus up to a level 70 to work.
Oh yeah. I can.
What kind of cardio workout are you getting when you do that? You said you’re an ultramarathoner, so you know aerobic fitness.
It improved my VO2Max by 27%.
I went to see a colleague at Queen Mary’s University College, which has a medical school, because they have a sports science department. They can put you on the machine and measure you with a breathing apparatus. And I said, “Would you do me a favor? I want to see what progress I’m making.”
The first time we did it, I was reasonably fit. And when we re-measured it 8 months and one week from when I started with BionicGym, I’d improved my VO2Max by 27%. When you’re already good, that’s quite a lot.
What other training had you been doing as well as BionicGym?
Nothing. Just BionicGym.
What happened was, when I was in Congo, I was having a bit of an off day and I rather carelessly drove over an IED. The vehicle that I was in wasn’t fully armor plated on the bottom and I was badly injured.
In total, I had 17 surgeries to repair my leg. So I’ve got scars around the tops of both my legs because I dislocated both my hips. I have plates in both the lower halves of my legs. I had the IIzarov cages on because there were so many breaks in the bone; they had to try to make (particularly in the left leg) the bone grow back between the spaces. Otherwise I would have had one leg that would have been noticeably shorter.
I had those on for about six months. I had spinal fractures. I lost the bottoms of two ribs on my right hand side. I’ve got a plate in the right-hand side of my skull. They had to do reparative work on my right eye socket. And I had other minor fractures - fingers and stuff.
My right leg occasionally flares up where I had the pins and plates. I’m prone to getting shin splints.
I’d had quite a bad flareup, so I was resting it. That was why I was just using the BionicGym, because I couldn’t run. Which is a good test for the BionicGym. I did not lose any fitness in that time period, which I would definitely have done otherwise.
The only other exercise I was doing was upper body weight stuff, seated. I wasn’t doing any other cardio. It was just wearing the BionicGym.
I thought I would just keep my level of fitness until I got back to the running, but it improved.
I can’t speak highly enough of BionicGym. I think (like a lot of things) that you have to be dedicated. If you’ve got huge health problems, it’s not going to be a quick fix. But it is certainly a tool that you want to have in your toolbox. I would say that to anybody.
I wouldn’t be without my BionicGym. I just wouldn’t. I really love it. Louis is my hero.
What are some of the drawbacks of BionicGym?
You’re kind of limited in what you can wear it under. For me, it’s bulky.
The first gel pads made you end up with bits of gel all over your leg every single time. You had to wash them off.
At the start, I didn’t really sweat. Unless I do a 10km run, I don’t really sweat. However, the longer you wear it, the more you adapt. Now, I really sweat. I get soaked. For me, that means having to change clothes, particularly in a cold environment. You can’t be wearing a wet t-shirt.
The sweating started by month 5. Then I started to really, really sweat. I can soak a t-shirt now, which I had never been able to do in my life. You have to stay hydrated. At the beginning, I found I was getting headaches, not realizing how much I was sweating. I had to remember to keep drinking.
I wear it for 10-12 hours a day. I have two heart rate monitors. I’ve got a Polar H10, the chest strap one, and also the optical one that goes on your arm. I prefer the chest strap one when I’m working because it’s a bit easier. I use that with Polar Flow, the app. I’m burning about 5,500 calories a day more than I would without BionicGym on. But obviously that means I have to eat more.
The cook makes jokes. He says, “God, I feed you like I’d feed a 6’7” Norwegian. Where do you even put all this food?”
I’m just always hungry.
But I wouldn’t necessarily say that that’s a downside. If you’re someone who wants to lose weight, I think losing weight is 80% about your diet and 20% about the exercise. If your diet is not good, you’re gonna struggle. But in terms of weight loss, if you can wear it for 10-12 hours a day, you will see a difference.
I had gotten my weight up to about 48,5 kg, which is a better weight for my height, but using BionicGym I’m back down to 43 kg and I struggle to put weight on. I’m not bothered.
When you get sweaty, I find that the pads start to slip. But nobody suggested that maybe you shouldn’t be doing a 28km hike with the BionicGym on; I just wanted to see what it would be like. I had to keep stopping as the gel pads got wetter with sweat and redo the straps.
Sometimes, for whatever reason, the bluetooth just throws up an error. Just sometimes. It happens more if you’re walking about.
The new cables seem really good. I haven’t had any more cable issues. With the old plastic cables, after a few months I replaced mine 3-4 times.
To keep mine clean, I use the hangers with clips at the top (the kind you use with skirts). I hang mine up. I think I posted it on the Facebook group way back when. The pads last longer if you let them dry a bit. Don’t put the plastic covers back on if you’ve just taken it off.
The wraps do start to smell a bit. I mixed up a small amount of HiBiSCRUB, just 1 part HiBiSCRUB to 10 parts water, and I spray the outside, not the gel pad side. Then I wipe it and dry it off with a towel. And that stops it from smelling.
I’m probably in a minority, but I could do with a smaller size wrap (for us little skinny kids). My daughter Taz, because I got her one as well, she has the same problem. She’s super skinny like me. We have to pull the wrap all the way around and trim the inside edge and the gel pads.
That’s just a personal thing. It’s not a huge deal.
It’s not a miracle, but it can do a lot.
Nothing is a magic wand at the end of the day. But if you want to put the time in and if you’re active….
I didn’t own a television until my kids were in their teens just because they banged on about how disadvantaged they were. I was all for, Go out and find something to do; go out and climb a tree; or go out and annoy someone. Do what kids are supposed to do.
I didn’t grow up with television. We didn’t have electricity until I was 12. I remember because the first thing we got was a fridge. And my great grandmother and I spent the first week opening the door to see the light come on. That was entertainment for us. That was exciting stuff. TV’s not a thing for me. But I do sometimes sit with the crew; we have a pull down screen and a projector and we can connect a laptop and watch Netflix.
What I have noticed is that there is a comfortable level at which you can sit; I can sit with it at about 40-45. I tend to use the Glucose gobblers. I use that one with the two hour program. I run it until the battery runs flat, and then I put my other unit in while the other one’s charging.
If I have it on at the same level and I’m walking around and I’m doing stuff, I burn way more calories. Then I burn 231 calories an hour more at the same level using the Glucose gobblers than I do if I’m just sitting.
It’s going to depend on your body weight and your metabolism. There are variations. But it’s worth people knowing that if you’re going to sit there and watch Netflix and eat two pints of ice cream, it’s probably not going to do you any favors.
You said you burn an extra 231 calories per hour than you would sitting alone, but you burn an extra 5500 calories over a ten hour workday. Is that because you’re wearing it when you’re walking around?
Yeah. Walking around and doing other stuff. Quite often I’m lifting heavy stuff (windlass chains weigh around 40 kilos, and I’m hauling them up, moving them from one place to another, I’m lifting heavy hatches.)
Togo is an old ship. Togo and I were built in the same year. She’s very old school. She’s got very heavy watertight steel doors.
I’m burning - by my calculation using the Polar Flow app with my chest strap on - 231 calories more using Glucose gobblers while moving around than if I’m just sitting and doing the same workout.
How has using BionicGym impacted your fitness when it comes to your other physical activities?
I go cold water swimming here. So I will swim in the sea even if there’s pancake ice on the water. I’m quite into that. I find that I can stay in the water longer than I used to be able to. I can’t say if it’s specifically due to the BionicGym, but it’s certainly since I started using BionicGym.
I think I’m about 13.2% body fat. So I don’t have a lot of body fat and my ability to stay in cold water is kind of limited by that. Since I started using BionicGym, and since I started to sweat, I can stay in cold water a good ten minutes longer.
Now, it doesn’t seem like very much; in really, really cold water when the outside ambient temperature is minus 20C, it’s quite a lot.
Are you wearing a wetsuit?
No. I don’t wear a wetsuit. I wear a wetsuit if I’m kitesurfing, because you’re up above the surface of the water and then you’re getting the windchill factor. But no, if I’m just cold water swimming, I don’t wear a wetsuit.
I’ll cold water swim in the little lakes up in the mountains, but once they’re frozen, I’m limited to the sea.
How long is a cold water swim for you?
I aim to do 25 minutes. But before, I could barely do 15. I really struggled to get to 15. I wouldn’t say I can comfortably do 25. Sometimes I only manage to do 20. It varies like a lot of things; it depends how you are on the day and how cold it is outside. I’m pretty sure BionicGym has made a difference for that.
Where it’s definitively made a difference is in my ability to hike, because I know the amount of time it takes me to hike in my favorite places. (I do Nordic hiking with two poles, very Scandinavian.)
The place that’s nearest me is the Transdalen, which is behind where the ship is docked. I hike and fjäll ski there, because there are groomed tracks and it’s lit, so I can even go there at one o’clock in the morning. I’m not the best fjäll skier; I came to fjäll skiing quite late, like 55. Since I’ve been using BionicGym, I’ve got a lot more stamina.
My thighs used to burn, really burn. And people were saying, It’s your technique, you’ll get better. But it never really happened. They just burned. And when I was hiking, I’d get exhausted; I’d have to stop because I’d get out of breath. It’s not because I wasn’t fit, because you’re going from sea level to some considerable altitude in a fairly short space of time. But since I started hiking with the BionicGym on (because I’m a complete nut job), if I go hiking now and do the same distance and the same routes in the same amounts of snow wearing my same boots with my same crampons on them using the same poles and wearing the same clothes, my time is so much better.
There’s one route, it’s very slightly under 17km, and I have cut off more than half an hour from my time to hike that. And my legs just don’t get tired now.
The crew and I all go out hiking. That’s what people do, especially on a Sunday. The Norges are crazy about it. We all go out together. And they say, Oh my God - cause I’m the oldest, by quite a long way - they say, Oh my God, you’re like some crazy mountain goat.
One time, I was marching off ahead and I looked back and thought, My God, are they still down there? Well, I’d better stop and wait for them; it seems a bit rude.
When we first started hiking a couple of years ago, they were having to wait for me. Because I just wasn’t used to it.
For me, it has to be the BionicGym. It’s the only different factor.
I come from a scientific, medical type background. So I get the idea of outliers, and research, and if you’re going to do an experiment, you have to think about all the variables. But the BionicGym is the only thing I changed. There is no other variable (other than the weather). That for me has been the best thing.
When it comes to snowboarding, I was quite old when I took it up because I didn’t think I’d like the cold. I was born in the tropics and worked in the tropics. I used to find the weather in the UK difficult to deal with. Now when I tell people I go cold water swimming, they say, What happened to you Bru?
I did a lot of work out in Watamu in Kilifi County in Kenya, and I’ve got some really good friends out there. And my friend Ben, during the July monsoon season he’d say, Look at you, you’re like the Masai people. You’re wandering around with a puffer jacket on.
I said, I know, but it’s cold. And to me it was. If it was in the 20’s(C), it was cold. If it wasn’t 35C or more, you wouldn’t catch me wearing a t-shirt or shorts. And now, I’m just always too hot.
One time, I went out with the crew and they were skiing and I was snowboarding. We went to Uula in Finland, and the lifts weren’t running. I said, “Let’s just hike. We’ll put our snowshoes on. Then we’ll strap our snowshoes onto our rucksacks and we’ll go down.“
It was minus 34C. We couldn’t see anything and it was steep. We somehow went the wrong way and it got even steeper through the trees. I knew that normally, by the time I’d got to the bottom, the fronts of my thighs would have been absolutely on fire.
It was a good two hour descent. And it was too cold to stop and hang around. At the bottom, my legs were absolutely fine.
I can’t say my legs look more muscular, because my legs are muscular and always have been. But the stamina in my muscles is different. It is much improved.
That sounds like some sort of improvement in mitochondrial respiration. Or density. Or both.
Yeah. I would say so. But that is just my personal experience. I can’t say that for sure.
Sometimes I run up the mountain, once the snow’s gone. I like to go run uphill (because I can.) Now, I just have so much more stamina.
I’m coming up on 60. There’s normally aging and muscle loss, particularly for a woman of a certain age. (My ovaries dried up and died a long time ago.) I don’t use hormone replacement.
People say to me, How old are you? I tell them, and they ask to see my Seaman’s documents or my driver’s license, because they don’t believe me.
And I say, “I am. Look, I can prove it.”
And they say, You look like you’re just in your early forties. Or if they need to get their sight checked, they say, I thought you were just in your late 30’s.
And I say, “Nope. I’m an old lady.” I love my BionicGym. I wouldn’t give it up. Someone would have to fight me to the death for it. That is how attached to it I am.
How long have you been using it consistently?
I got it in February, 2019. In total I’ve used it for over a year, but with a gap in the middle.
This year, I’ve used it every single day.
Do you primarily use Glucose gobblers?
It depends on what I’m doing. I have preferences.
If I’m helping Chef, I tend to use Twinkle toes. I also use that one if I have to stand and fold laundry. If it’s something where I have to be standing in one place and I can’t really move much, I quite like it. But I find that that one is not so easy to walk around or run with.
When I’m walking around, I use the Glucose gobblers. Mostly the first one, which is a bit more intense. And if I’m doing something that’s a little more physically demanding, then I’ll use the second one. I do go through the other programs, but those happen to be my favorites. I just seem to burn the most calories on them. I get to the point where I’m out of breath using those quicker. For me, that’s kind of the point.
To get that cardiovascular workout.
Exactly. I started at Beginner’s start here, and I went through it progressively until I got to the Pro+HIIT stage.
I think the progression should be emphasized to people. You will do much better.
My daughter (you know young people, you can’t tell them anything) she said, “I’m getting straight in and I’m not really getting sweaty.”
And I said, “Go back, start at the beginning, and work your way up. And then come back.”
Later she said, “Yeah, you were right momma.” I said, “That’s because I’m always right. Haven’t you worked this out by now?”
As much as you might want to jump in there, you will get more out of it more quickly if you follow the program; it makes more sense. That’s presumably why Louis did it that way. He didn’t just pull it out of a hat.
I totally love it.
The crew of Togo were quite skeptical. They’re just guys, they’re skeptical of everything online. And I thought, Be the change you want to see. I had it on all the time.
They just made fun of me: Ha ha, look at you, you look really silly.
And I went, Yeah, I look really silly but I’m getting fit.
Probably the most skeptical was the Chief Engineer. Talk about a glass half empty kind of person. I think it’s a thing about engineers. I think it’s because they have to fix the broken shit that everybody else breaks. But he’s gone from being the biggest skeptic to a complete convert.
What has done that? Has it been seeing you wear it and then kick everyone’s ass on the hikes?
That to start with.
It’s a very macho environment. You just have to be one of the boys. And I’m totally fine with that.
My friend has just done an Empowering Women thing on Instagram, and he said, “Bru, you are such an inspiration.”
I do not feel like that, by the way. I’m also incredibly camera shy. But he made me find some pictures. I went through a boy phase, and he said, “Send me one of those.”
I said, “Really?”
He’s just put them up on Instagram.
I can be around the boys if I need to be. They compete about who can hike faster, who can get to the summit the quickest, who can pick the best route. Everything is a competition. Always. The Chief Engineer was adamant that I would never beat him.
There’s this one particular top near a place called Skullsfjörd, and it’s super steep. Almost vertical. And he’d said, You’ll never beat me.
I thought, Yes I will. And the day that I beat him to the cairn at the top, he was absolutely shocked, because I took the steepest, longest route. They’d gone the other way; they were going to head me off at the pass. But no. That was the moment that he asked about BionicGym and that he was interested. His first question was, “Do I have to shave my legs?”
“No. No you don’t.”
He’s got traditional Polynesian tattoos on both his legs from the groin to the knee. And he said, “Will it affect my tattoos?”
“No. Why would it?”
Then he sort of sidled up one day when he was out of earshot of the rest of the crew, and he said, “You’ve got two sets, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, I’ve got two.”
“Would you mind if I tried it?”
And I thought, Okay, uh huh, I see how it is. He wants one for himself, because every time they’re away you’re just on the ship the whole time. You can’t go hiking. You can’t go fjäll ski or ice climbing. He loses his fitness. He’s 54. So he’s beginning to feel it. He’s beginning to get that middle aged man belly kind of thing. So he’s become a convert.
And now the deckhand, Raphael, he’s saying, “Ah, I wonder if I should get one?”
It’s spreading throughout Togo.
Absolutely. I aspire to have every crewmember wearing their BionicGym and standing out on the deck, shaking in the snow with our shorts on. Or to have all of us out on one of the bits of the ice floe.
I just think it’d be a really fun thing to do.
Wherever we are in the world, we can take our fitness with us.
Who else could this help?
I think there are a lot of people - obviously the people I hang with; sailors, people who work out on the platforms. Most of the bigger platforms, they have a gym, but the gyms aren’t very big. If you’ve got a lot of crew, the big complaint is, I can never get on the machine I want to be on. Because they probably only have one or two running machines.
Or they say, I don’t really want to go to the gym, because I’ve been stuck with these people all day on shift. Well, you can be in your cabin and you can have your BionicGym on. I think there’s a whole market there for it.
BionicGym for people who work in confined spaces and work really long hours.
Yeah, absolutely. Because most people who work on ships or platforms, they’re doing a twelve hour shift, if not longer.
And sometimes you also have to stand a watch. If you’re standing a watch, you have to be really focused and concentrated. But when you’re standing a watch at night, it’s hard, because your hormones are at their lowest…
Window of Circadian Low...
Yeah, you’re just trying to be really, really focused and stay awake and make sure you’re not going to hit ice or another vessel, and you’re watching the sonar. You’ve got screens and you’ve got the dark. It’s hard.
I tell you what - with BionicGym, it’s ten times easier. It just keeps you awake. You can’t go to sleep with BionicGym on (well, I haven’t managed to yet).
Do you think there would be any applicability to the armed forces, to the navies out there?
I was chatting with a friend of mine, he’s in Kandahar in the Royal Engineers, and he was saying they try and set up a makeshift gym if they can, but they can’t always do that. And if you’re not out on exercises, trying to keep your physical fitness is really hard. He’s desperate to keep his fitness because he’s hoping to try out for SAS, that’s his goal.
Part of the SAS selection is something called the Fan Dance. It’s in Wales. It’s a 15 mile run with a full backpack. That’s 50 kilos including your weapon. And it’s predominantly uphill. You have to complete it within a certain time. He’s really worried that he’s going to lose that fitness and that he’s going to miss that intake for SAS. So I’d say yes, BionicGym could definitely help him.
Who else do you think could really benefit from this?
It occurred to me the other day that the other people it might offer benefit to are veterans who are in rehab.
It could be done as a test program. Especially for the guys with amputations below the knee, when they’re trying to get back to using artificial limbs. I’m wondering if it would be a really good way of improving the stamina in their quads and hamstrings. And also helping with their general level of physical fitness. Because when they start off, they’re still predominantly using a wheelchair because it takes time to build up the skin on the end of the amputation.
Anyone who’s in any of the forces - they are your family. It’s the same on ships. If you think something’s really good or you love something… or you hate something… news travels fast.
There are plenty of soldiers. I’ve got a friend and he’s stuck with this sort of office job in Salzburg doing stores; he’s just bored out of his mind.
I was talking to him about BionicGym and I said, “Seriously, get yourself a BionicGym. While you’re sitting there, you could have the BionicGym on.”
And he went, “Wow, really?”
I said, “Yeah, check it out with your Senior. It’s not like you’re running around with it on with a gun.”
What would you tell women who feel trapped in their bodies?
I would say BionicGym is your friend as long as you commit to using it.
You can do whatever boring daily chores you’re doing with your BionicGym on. You get it on and you do it at a reasonable level. And get yourself a heart rate chest strap. A chest strap with a smartphone is the easiest way; you don’t need a fancy watch.
You will burn so many more calories. So whatever your starting point, it doesn’t really matter.
Yes, you will have to look at your diet. I eat healthy. I’m not a sweet tooth person. Never have been. If you’re trying to lose weight, you will have to attend to your diet. There is no miracle out there. But attend to your diet and BionicGym will speed up your progress so much.
I have a friend and she’s always been a big girl. She hates it. But she also hates sports. She doesn’t want to do anything. I said to her, “Why don’t you get a BionicGym?”
She’s been on every diet known to man. She will lose a bit of weight initially, and then she puts it back on again. Her problem is that she doesn’t want to be seen because of how she looks. So yes, she feels trapped in her body. But that’s why BionicGym is 100% your friend. Because - I’m not saying it’s healthy, I’m not advocating it - you don’t have to set foot outside your house.
You can wear it all day every day and burn calories. As long as you are attending to your diet, you will shift that weight. It will come off everywhere. You don’t have to be hammering out two hours on a treadmill at a gym.
A lot of women don’t have time. They lead busy lives. They’ve got a job. They’ve got kids. They’ve got all the stuff they have to do at home. And if you don’t like the way you look and you’re very self conscious, you don’t want to be going to a gym in Lycra; you don’t have to do that with BionicGym.
Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. But you’re going to have to do it for a few months. I think 4 months is realistic. 4 months of dedicated daily wearing. And don’t weigh yourself every day; I think women go mad on that kind of stuff.
Take before and after photos. Facing forward. From the back. Both sides. And after four months of using BionicGym, take more photos. Personally, I will guarantee that there will be a difference. And it will be a considerable difference.
For the money that you’re going to spend on BionicGym, how much money do you waste on stupid diets, or a gym membership that you never use? Or people will buy something like a Peloton bike, but they won’t really use that either, because you have to be doing other stuff.
With BionicGym on, even if it’s at a low level, you’re still burning more calories than if you didn’t have it on.
If you had one chance to have a do-over in life, what would it be?
I would have joined the military. That’s the one thing I regret. I did apply and get accepted and then I backed out. It was at a point where I was going to do a medical degree through the Army.
I think that, like a lot of women, I didn’t think I was good enough.
It’s taken me a lifetime to know that I was born good enough.
To all those ladies out there - just know that you were born good enough. The day you came into the world. You just have to believe that. And it’s taken me a long time to believe that. I would never have done the things I’ve done subsequently if I hadn’t gotten my head around that. But that’s the one thing I would have done differently.
When would you say that lesson really sank in, that you really felt you were good enough?
Four years ago when I retired. My family was on my case, Stop trying to rebuild the house.
I’ve got two wolves hybrids. They’re quite big; they need a lot of walking and running. I took them out for a walk and I had one of those lightbulb moments: I’m trying to reconstruct everything in the house. And that has become like a transference for me. Because what I really want is to rebuild myself. I want to be the best version of me that I can be.
And as I was walking I thought, What do I really want to do? What do I love?
I love welding. I’ve always loved welding. I love metal and fabricating.
I welded some nuts and bolts and rivets together and made a spider for my daughter when she was a kid. I don’t know why. We used to do art projects. And I thought, Yeah, I really love that.
But then I thought, You’re far too old. You’re a woman. There are very few female welders, especially outside of the States. You can’t do that now. It’s way too late.
I was having this argument with myself as I was walking and I thought, No. I’m going to do it. I am good enough. If I wanna do it, I’m gonna do it. What’s to stop me?
I’ve always had this in the back of my head: What if I fail?
I think a lot of people feel the same. But our heads just revolve around it. If we can’t be good at something, we don’t want to do it.
And I just thought, I’ve got to stop with ‘What if I fail?’ I need to think ‘What if I succeed?’
I was the oldest person in the welding course; I had to pretty much beg and plead to get in. The guy had to come and interview me twice. And I’m sure he thought I was completely mental. He kept asking me, “You’re sure you want to do this? Why do you want to do this?”
I made my case: “My understanding (I’ve done a lot of research into the industry) is that this industry wants people who are stable and reliable. Who aren’t going to not show up first thing on a Monday because they’re hung over from the weekend.”
I knew I wanted to do marine stuff. I looked at all the different kinds of welding; either marine stuff or the nuclear industry. I was pretty set on that; oil platforms, ships, nuclear industry.
I said, “I don’t have any ties. I can work long shifts. I can go away for long periods of time. I am the ideal person. I have a perfect work record. I have had 10 days off sick in the whole of my working life. And that was because I had malaria. I am the perfect employee.”
And the guy phoned me up the next morning and said, “Yep, you’ve got a place.” So it was me surrounded by 20-somethings. And it was great. That in itself was actually quite inspiring, being with young people. I was so proud when I got my British Seaman’s card and Seaman’s Discharge Book.
If you want to check out the empowering women thing on Instagram, I’m @kokohuyana.
I live in the back of my truck if I’m not on the ship. It’s a Volvo TGB 306, so it’s a 6-wheel drive army truck. I’ll send you a picture of it. It’s Swedish, although she’s Finnish registered. They’re awesome, they just go anywhere. It’s not huge. In the back, it’s pretty compact. It was used as an ambulance. It has a bunk that folds off the wall. It’s got a kitchen and a wood burning stove for the wintertime. I camp in that and I’ve got a traditional Sami lavvu, a tent that looks like a tipi. I camp out in the snow in the winter. It’s fun. It’s not what I thought I’d be doing as I headed toward my 60th birthday.
Life’s just to be lived. It’s one big adventure. I’ve lain in the tent in the snow and I think it was about -29C outside and I had my BionicGym on. A wood burning stove and a BionicGym. What more do you need?
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