Yes, there really are people who walk on water – and BBC TV employee Lindsey Russell is one of them. The presenter of the world’s oldest children’s show spent almost ten hours crossing the Irish Sea in a ‘zorb’ – a kind of giant hamster wheel.
“It might sound a bit strange, but I’m going to be walking across the Irish Sea – in a hamster wheel,” announced Lindsey Russell, a presenter of the BBC TV show “Blue Peter”, on air in February 2016. Strange but true: Soon after, she set off in a zorb, a three-meter high combination of inflatable sphere and treadmill, to fulfill a special mission – a 35-kilometer walk across the open sea.
The project was born as a result of an event staged by the charity “Sport Relief”. Every two years, the charity teams up with the BBC to organize sponsored runs and other sporting events to raise money for people in need. “We obviously don’t want to encourage people to build their own hamster wheels and walk across the Irish Sea,” said Russell before the event. “But whether you like swimming, running or climbing, sport is always good for you. And it would be great if the walk manages to draw attention to Sport Relief and encourage everyone to donate a little to help the disadvantaged people the charity supports.” The stunt with the hamster wheel was guaranteed to attract attention, but there was a lot of work to be done before she could board her quirky floating treadmill at Donaghadee in Northern Ireland. From there, her destination of Portpatrick in Scotland was little more than a speck on the horizon.
Lindsey’s tight training schedule included four months of endurance and strength training, six gym visits per week and a diet of mental exercises – “overcoming the challenge in your mind is half the battle,” she said. Although the vivacious presenter from Oxford had run the 2015 London Marathon in an impressive 3:36:30, this new challenge was on a totally different scale – not only for Lindsey Russell herself, but also for brothers James und Grant Cooper, the engineers responsible for constructing the zorb. Looking back on the project, the two inventors say: “It was simply something that no one had ever built before. For us, it was one of the most difficult professional challenges we had ever faced. Whenever we told people about the project, they ridiculed it and said it would never work. Showing them that it did work was, of course, deeply satisfying.”
When “Bobby” – the affectionate nickname given to the hamster wheel – was finished, it was time to begin trials. The first seaworthiness tests took place in the safe, sheltered conditions of a small harbor, followed by trials in the open sea, at night and in a heavy swell. “Our aim was to test it under the worst possible conditions,” says Russell, adding that nobody really knew what to expect. Despite perfect physical training, mental preparation and meticulous construction, there was still the weather to contend with – the one thing not even the most painstaking preparations could influence.
At last, the great day dawned. Lindsey Russell alias “The Wave Runner” stepped onto her zorb in Donaghadee harbor on February 25, 2016 at 6:30 local time. The sun was just coming up on the distant horizon – through a bank of gray cloud. The presenter had exactly 34.8 kilometers to cover to reach her destination in mainland Scotland. The plan was to battle her way across the open sea and complete the trip by nightfall, but after seventeen nautical miles (about 31 kilometers) and nine hours and fifty minutes hard walking, the undertaking was abandoned due to bad weather. With her destination in sight, an exhausted Lindsey Russell stepped aboard the support vessel. But even if things had not gone entirely to plan, her walk across the water was still a triumph – nobody had ever covered such a long distance on the open sea in a zorb before.
Lindsey Russell is no stranger to challenges: At the age of just 22, the University of Bristol graduate beat more than 20,000 competitors to join the team of presenters at the BBC’s “Blue Peter”, a children’s show that is as popular with British kids as Sesame Street is elsewhere. Blue Peter has been on the air continuously since 1958, making it the longest-running children’s TV show in the world. More than 5,000 episodes have been broadcast and the show celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. So that is at least one ambition that Russell has achieved. And after only three years as a presenter, she has notched up another unique achievement to help Sport Relief. She may have arrived in Portpatrick on a motor launch rather than in her zorb, but the popular personality was still given a rousing reception by the countless fans who were waiting to greet and applaud her for taking part. Incidentally, her next project is already up and running, because this year, Russell joins her co-presenter Radzi Chinyanganya on a "Mile-a-thon", a series of 26 individual one-mile (1.6 km) races with children from 26 different schools.