Part-Time Passions: March 2008

These members' hobbies are championship diving and polar racing

7 March 2008

cheney Profession:

Margaret Cheney
World Champion Diver

For IEEE Member Margaret Cheney, jumping off a diving board, doing twists in midair, and cleaving through water 3 meters below with a tiny splash is more than just a hobby–it's about physics, fun, and fearlessness.

"Although diving was scary at first, there's a wonderful feeling of energy flow—the energy transferring from my body to the diving board and from the board back to me," says Cheney, who has been diving competitively since high school. "When the timing is just right, it feels like magic—like flying."

Cheney, a national and world champion diver, has been making a splash since her first diving lesson in high school in East Lansing, Mich.

"I picked it up quickly," she says. She first learned simpler dives, such as a standard forward and backward jump, and then picked up the more complex somersaults and multiple midair twists.

In college, Cheney's coach kicked her training up a notch. He was a diver, a gymnast, and a world trampoline champion, which was helpful because "trampoline is closely related to diving," Cheney says. She began adding more twists and somersaults to her dives. To nail some of the more complicated—and dangerous—jumps, Cheney sometimes wore a spotting rig, a belt that's attached to ropes and a pulley. The coach controls the ropes to keep the diver from crashing into the water when attempting an unfamiliar move, Cheney explains.

She competed on the university, regional, and national levels throughout college, but she quit after graduating to focus on a teaching career at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy,
N.Y., where she teaches math and radar imaging.

But the passion never left, and in 1997 Cheney got back in the water. "Diving was something I wanted to have in my life again," she says. She found a coach near her home in Troy, brushed up on her skills, and took fourth place in the 3-meter competition at the 1998 national diving championships. She also won the 1-meter event in the women's 50-54 age group at the 2005 nationals. Last August she won the gold medal in the 3-meter competition for women in the same group at the FINA Masters World Diving Championship, in Stanford, Calif.


hunter Profession:

Ian Hunter
On Top of the World

As he stood in the middle of the Canadian Arctic, the bitter cold stinging his face after weeks of racing on skis toward the North Pole, Ian Hunter began to question his newfound passion: polar racing.

"'What am I doing here?' I asked myself and even promised myself I would never go anywhere cold again," Hunter, 41, says of his first race, the 2007 Polar Challenge, a 580-kilometer team race from Resolute Bay, Canada, to the magnetic North Pole. The race had teams of three racing on foot and skiing together toward the pole and then going 32 km more to the finish line at Isachsen Base. But even when conditions got very tough, the IEEE senior member didn't quit. Instead, his team, which must cross the finish line together, wound up placing third among nine teams.

Hunter is a senior design engineer for Scottish Power Energy Networks in Bellshill, Scotland. He got involved with polar racing after coming across the Polar Challenge Web site in 2005. Reading the description hooked him, and he immediately signed up, he says.

He trained for 18 months by lifting weights, running, and hiking. Three months before the race, he and more than two dozen other competitors from around the world attended a weeklong training course in the Austrian Alps. There they got acclimated to the Arctic's minus 40°C temperature, honed cross-country skiing techniques, and boned up on survival skills, including how to navigate with a compass toward the North Pole and how to prevent hypothermia.

The race, divided into three sections, started in April and had Hunter's team crossing bumpy sea ice and rolling hills while hauling sleds of food and supplies. Each day started at 6 a.m., with breaks every three hours to rest and eat. The team also called the race organizers at Resolute Bay twice a day to let them know how they were doing. After about 13 hours of racing, Hunter and his teammates would stop for the night.

"Once we were all in the tents, we would eat, drink, write in our journals, and have some good laughs," Hunter says.

At the end of each section, the teams would stop at checkpoints to rest, have their food supplies restocked, and get checked over by doctors. The team reached the finish line in 16 days.

As difficult as the race was, Hunter says the biggest challenge was fitting back into the everyday routine. "Life in the polar regions is so simple—no noise, no long-term stress," he says. "You become in tune with your body, and your mind is uncluttered."

That's why he's already planning his next polar race, this time to the South Pole in 2009.

"My eyes are back on the poles," he says.

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