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How Elka Whalan finds a touch of heaven in nature

In her first career as a top-level swimmer, Elka Whalan (née Graham) won a swathe of medals at the Olympics, World Championships and Commonwealth Games, and 20 national swimming titles. Elka’s key swimming stroke was freestyle: that lovely loose, apparently effortless yet incredibly efficient way of cutting through the water.

And it seems that Elka has carried all the benefits of this style into all areas of her life in the two decades since competitive swimming. A motivational speaker and media personality, Elka is a mum of four, married to her best friend (and fellow Olympian), water polo player Thomas. In 2016, she founded QueenHood, a community network for women ‘who work … who work out … who mother… who leisure … who do it ALL’, with the aim of supporting, inspiring and celebrating women from all walks of life. Key to the well-being and health of Elka and her family is an active, outdoor life, and here she shares how making time to be in nature—and especially near water—is a vital part of every day:

What’s your favourite thing to do in nature?

I love to walk and admire the beauty around me. Often when I’m so in awe and overwhelmed by what my eyes can see that I sing or smile out loud. I must look crazy but the happiness just oozes out! I find time in nature by myself beautiful, and when we’re with our family we always encourage them to experience how special it is for eyes to see and ears to hear that gorgeous silence. 

Describe your connection to nature: what positives does it bring to your life? 

I am grounded when I’m in nature. My husband and I have taught the children that ‘a touch of heaven’ always makes the day amazing. It’s little things like stopping on the way somewhere to close our eyes and feel the warmth of the sun or walking barefoot on the grass. We love being at ocean pools, especially early morning or sunset. 

What are your fondest memories of spending time in nature?

I swim outdoors, and when I backstroke I love to watch birds fly over me. As I swim, I like to wonder where they are on their way to. I can watch clouds take shape and move, and lose myself in the gorgeous blue sky above me. It feels so special to be in the water and also to be able to connect with the sky.  

Many of us are time-poor and might not get out into nature as much as we’d like. Any suggestions for a quick nature-based pick-me up? Something sensory, experiential…? 

If you are short on time, just jump into the ocean or a pool, or have a run just around your block. Do a quick 5/10/20 minute workout outdoors as opposed to following instructions inside on a screen. Sometimes when I’m time pressed I’ll do a triangle of exercises:  20 lunges, 15 squats, 10 star jumps, 5 push-ups. Then I’ll reverse it: 5 push-ups, 10 star jumps, 15 squats, 20 lunges. Get that blood flowing, the serotonins working, and you’ll be wearing a bright smile, I promise!  

Lastly, find a time where you INTENTIONALLY go outside for the sake of your headspace: breathing in fresh new oxygen works wonders.

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