True blue

The Optimum Nutrition team take a special trip to the Land Down ON-der.

What quintessential Aussie experience would you recommend to tourists? Optimum Nutrition asked their fans this very question recently, as Team ON made preparations for internationally-based athletes to head to Australia for a special tour “Down ON-der”.

Team ON athletes – England’s Shaun Stafford and Steve Cook from the US – got to experience some of the most dinky-di, true blue Aussie adventures imaginable, from eating a Vegemite sandwich to swimming with a giant croc in the Top End.

M&F caught up with the guys on the last day of their tour, at Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach, where Stafford and Cook were taken through a full-on training drill with members of the Bondi Surf Life Saving Club and Sydney local ON athlete, Nick Cheadle.

As well as beach flags and sand sprints, the guys took part in a 600 metre ocean swim, which Stafford says “nearly killed us”.

“We had to swim out to a buoy, then 100 metres across and back in to shore,” he says. “It was a race – we had a head start on all the guys who do it every week, so we just went for it. I beat the girls out of the water, although they were breathing down my neck!”

Cook also found the ocean swim to be incredibly challenging.

“Ain’t no way I’m ever attempting ocean swimming ever again!” he laughs. “It’s definitely a different kind of fitness to what I’m used to with my training. A 600 metre beach swim with a rip and massive waves is no joke.”

Stafford also believes the ocean swim was one of the hardest things he’s ever done, which certainly shines a light on how fit and hard-working our surf life savers are.

“It was really challenging – I was out of my comfort zone,” he says. “We don’t really go into the water in England because it’s too cold, so it was completely alien to me. But the flag game and beach sprints I loved. I could have done that all day – explosive, high intensity exercise, in a competitive environment.”

Three fit blokes

While the beach swim might have been a new challenge for Stafford, Cook and Cheadle, none are shirkers in the fitness stakes. Cheadle is a personal trainer who is currently training for a powerlifting competition. Cook is an IFBB professional physique competitor, placing fifth at the 2014 Mr Olympia physique showdown competition. He’s also a personal trainer who

is about to launch his Big and Lean online fitness program. Stafford is also a professional physique athlete who started his sporting career playing rugby at a national level and who has since gone on to win WBFF UK, European and Pro World Fitness Model titles. All three athletes are seriously ripped.

“My main training focus is strength and hypertrophy work,” Stafford says. “An average week in this current training phase would be back and triceps Monday, handstand/gymnastics and core work on Tuesday, legs Wednesday, more gymnastics and sprint work on Thursday, chest and biceps Friday and then yoga and flexibility on the weekend.”

Stafford only recently incorporated gymnastics- style training into his routine.

“I’ve been a bodybuilder for five, six years, and at the start of the year I felt so unfit,” he says. “I looked good with my shirt off, but if you asked me to move my body in a way that was functional I couldn’t do it. I realised I was lacking flexibility and cardio fitness. I had turned into a gym monkey rather than an athlete, so I made the conscious decision to change my split and get back to more of a fitness and athletic style of training.”

A snappy tour

When the guys arrived in Australia, they had little idea of what to expect from their tour, knowing only that ON fans had chosen “Aussie” experiences for them. While it all started out fairly harmlessly – a feast of fairy bread, Vegemite sandwiches and Farmers Union iced coffee – things soon became far more exciting.

“It ramped up pretty quickly,” Stafford says. “We woke up every day not knowing what we were going to be doing – we would just get a video telling us.”

A trip to Port Lincoln for a spot of shark cage diving with Calypso Star Charters was followed by a plane trip up to Darwin where the guys came up close with an 18 foot “crocosaurus” at Crocosaurus Cove.

“It was surreal,” Cook says of his croc close-up. “Growing up, I was always fascinated with animals, especially big ones that were capable of killing me! I felt a little like Steve Irwin as we entered the croc’s space. I tried to keep my cool, but coming face to face with these prehistoric animals that are top of the food chain was intense.”

After a flying visit to Darwin it was back to Sydney to do a Bondi to Bronte sunrise beach run followed by a jet boat tour of Sydney Harbour and an AFL game, where the Optimum Nutrition-sponsored Port Adelaide Power beat reigning grand finalists the Sydney Swans. The guys had also enjoyed a training session with Carlton Football Club’s strength and conditioning coach earlier in the tour on a trip to Melbourne.

After being put through their paces by the Bondi Surf Club squad on the tour’s last day, the guys had a chance for payback, taking the squad through a weights workout at the club gym. Then it was time for another Aussie pastime, beach cricket.

“I love it here in Australia,” Stafford says. “This is the third time I’ve been here. I actually found out my wife was pregnant with our son here on Bondi Beach, so it’s a pretty special place to me.”

Cook also loves spending time in Australia whenever he can.

“I’ve been to Australia about four times,” he says. “I always enjoy spending time here. Whether that’s in a cafe in Melbourne or on Bondi Beach, the weather and the friendliness of the people is what really makes the experience for me.”

However, while Cook loves everything else about Oz, he is not exactly leaping through hoops to get his next fix of Vegemite.

“I’ve had it before, but this time I had an Aussie spread it for me,” he says. “It’s actually starting to grow on me, but I’m still not ready to add it to my daily diet just yet…”

While Stafford’s Down ON-der tour was an incredible experience, there was one thing that he wishes he’d had a chance to do before heading back home to the UK.

“I wish I’d held a spider,” he says. “It’s my biggest fear, and I was psyching myself up for it. I think it would have been good for me to do, but luckily I didn’t have to. I did have a baby croc on my head, though.”

Well, there’s nothing much more Aussie than that!