Episode 40 - Brian Smith

March 06, 2019 14 min read

Episode 40 - Brian Smith

   

  

In this episode, Brian Smith from Africa Roar, Walk in the Wild exclusive tours in South Africa joins us as we talk about his interesting story on competing in triathlons in his early 40s, transitioning from a corporate job to starting his company Africa Roar, and managing his Type 1 Diabetes while doing both sports and travel.

In this episode we cover: 

  • His journey from working for a large company to starting a new business venture and also becoming an older athlete.
  • His memorable experience during one of his Ironman races.
  • Discovering and managing his case of Type 1 Diabetes.
  • Effects of workout intensity and endurance efforts on his insulin levels.
  • The story of his transition from corporate to starting African Roar.
  • Managing diabetes while travelling and changing his diet.
  • Brian shares a funny story from one of his African holidays.

Links

Transcript:

FELICITY:

This is episode 40. Welcome to the All Torque podcast, where each episode we interview an inspiring person to share their story with you. I'm your host, Felicity Dales, managing director of Body Torque.

I have here today Brian Smith from Africa Roar, Walk With the Wild exclusive tours in South Africa. Brian's background includes working for Shell Refinery for nearly 30 years with contract work. He began as an electrician, and then kept studying to do instrument drafting, and then finally, engineering in safeguarding systems for refineries.

After finishing up with Shell, Brian and his wife, Denise, started Africa Roar to create truly intimate and personal trips to Africa, to experience the majestic and natural beauty of Africa. Their trips are for exploring, engaging, and immersion as you experience the present, the history, and the culture.

Brian started doing triathlons in his early ‘40s with Jared Evans, when he first started coaching and had no prior sporting background. His coach Jared taught him to swim, and three years later did his first Ironman race at Forster in New South Wales. Brian had to get on stage with the prize-getters and received an Ironman wetsuit for being the last out of the water.

Welcome, Brian.

BRIAN:

Hi, Flick. How are you?

FELICITY:

I'm good. Thanks for joining us today.

BRIAN:

Pleasure.

FELICITY:

Tell us about your journey, from working for a large company, to becoming an older athlete, starting a new business venture, Africa Roar, and how all that came about.

BRIAN:

All right. I first come down to Geelong probably nearly 30 years ago. I'm a Melbourne boy. I started working at the refinery as an electrician and enjoyed the environment. I just kept going to school, moved onto instrument drafting, and kept going to school. It ended up I was their process safety engineer, so in basic terms, stopping refineries from blowing up by putting in safeguarding.

FELICITY:

Excellent. Just what everyone needs.

BRIAN:

Yes. That's how I came to be in Geelong. Whilst in Geelong, I guess because it's such a great environment down here to be outside, and even though I was a bit late, I started doing triathlons in my '40s. I got involved in that by a guy, Jared Evans, who now happens to be the American Olympic team coach for triathlons. He started off at Waterworld Geelong, and I was actually going there at the gym.

He just come up and said, "Ah, mate. Do you want to do triathlons?" I was in me '40s and thought, "I'll give it a crack. You're going to have to teach me to swim." That was how it all started. Then actually it got addictive and I got into it. Like I said, he had to teach me to swim, I'd never swum before.

After about 12 months he called me in, as everyone that was under him, and asked what my goals were. I'd come up, I'd just seen the Hawaiian Ironman, and said, "Oh, I wouldn't mind giving that a crack." That was my reply to him and he goes, "My god, you're the first one to ever say that." I happen to be his first Ironman..

FELICITY:

Athlete.

BRIAN:

Athlete, yeah, which was probably one of the biggest events, if anyone's ever done one.

FELICITY:

It's massive.

BRIAN:

It's a big day out, and especially for me. I guess the story I should note, that you've probably said, is that not a very good swimmer. There's good and bad with that. It took me over two hours to do the swim, so I just got in before the cutoff time. Or else they were going to pull me out of the race, but the great thing is, is once I run out to the bike racks, it was easier to find me bike, it was the only one there.

FELICITY:

Good point, Brian.

BRIAN:

Out of a couple of thousand competitors, I found mine, no problem. Yeah, so as I said, ended up having a good day after that. It was a long day but I finished the race, which was for me, a great achievement.

When you look at me sporting background, which was just about nil, and as I said, the funny thing that night, Normann Stadler won Forster that year, and he had to get up on stage and throwing his arms around. The next minute, little Brian Smith got his name called out, and he had to get up on stage as well to get presented with his Ironman wetsuit for being the last out of the water to finish the race, so I was in the photos too, right with Normann.

FELICITY:

Absolutely, and that's very memorable. You'll never forget that.

BRIAN:

No, it's funny times and great times. It was a great experience and I think anyone that's done Ironman, I've got the little tattoo on me ankle, and I've done a couple since, but I've met people all around the world, and they just sidle up and go, "Where'd you do yours, mate?", and start talking, so it's almost like a club, which is good.

Yeah. That's my story about my intro to sports, which I still don't compete in Ironman anymore, but it sort of gets in your blood that you still run and ride. It's just part of my life now. I'm into me '60s now and still do it, and still love it. I think it's just part of me.

Then I guess it's introducing the next phase in me life, which was a bit dramatic, was I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which for my age is very rare. It's mainly kids up to 30-year old, so for me to get it at my age was something unusual.

FELICITY:

Definitely. How did you discover that?

BRIAN:

It was interesting. I'd dropped about 12 kilos, and everyone with diabetes will relate to this. I just kept going to the toilet all night. I've got to say I felt okay otherwise, I was functioning normally day-to-day, but that was the main thing, I was wasting away.

I ended up having a blood check, went in. "Yeah, you're a Type 1”. Went into hospital because of me blood sugar count, which is a big part, as everyone knows, for a diabetic. Blood sugar count is just critical. You've got to look at it every day and mine was in the high 30s at that stage. It should be around 6 for a normal person.

The hospital got it down in a couple days and then since then, I look after myself. Type 1 is insulin-dependent. What I've got to say is, and what I've worked at talking to other people, other sports people, is everyone's different. There's no textbook case, you've got to manage it yourself. That's the important thing.

FELICITY:

How do you manage that, Brian? What's it like?

BRIAN:

I've done a lot of research because I'm that sort of guy. Of course, diet plays a big part. Two of the things I've had to cut back, because I used to be a coffee and cake guy. Now I'm just a coffee guy, because sugars are bad and a lot of carbs is bad. My meals, I've had to proportion it right back so carbs would never be over 30%.

I keep talking about this honeymoon period because I've had it for two years, but my diet, I can have a look at my readings and if I'm getting up close to 10, I'll just go out for a run for an hour and it brings me back.

FELICITY:

Really?

BRIAN:

I don't use a great deal of insulin but I do check regularly. Like I don't discount it, I just keep a check on it and manage it that way, through diet and just exercise. For me, and so far, so good. I've got to say, I feel great. Everyone goes, "Oh, how do you feel?" I go, "I'm on fire." I can go run for an hour and I'm great. So in that respect, it's a bit of a pain that you've got to check, but for anyone that's got it, and everyone's different, you've got to work out how you manage it yourself.

Life still goes on. My sporting life still goes on. I still go for four or five-hour rides, no problem. I go for an hour run, no problems. It's just you've got to manage it and want to manage it. It shouldn't deter you from doing anything, I don't think.

FELICITY:

What about the intensity, Brian? As you're in my ergo class, we're in the same ergo class, and sometimes that can be quite intense, especially when we're doing strength and endurance efforts. Does that affect your insulin levels? How does that affect you?

BRIAN:

Yeah. It's interesting you say that. After those sort of sessions, everyone's sugar is low. That'd be an interesting exercise, to do other people's there on the night. I guess that's why our Coach Donna always has the lolly jar there. It even goes back, and you'd know this too, when you're going for a long, long ride, a six-hour fairly decent ride, you need something in the back pocket to keep you going, because your blood sugar levels, they going to take a dip.

Back to your question, I know prior that I'm going to Donna's, so I'll have something at home, maybe a shake or something an hour out, and then once again, just over the time I've worked out that if I have this an hour out, I'll smash it like I've always done for the last 15 years.

Once again, managed again, and I have a couple of lollies afterwards along with everyone else. Yeah, I think it'll be fine.

FELICITY:

You stabilise it that way.

BRIAN:

Yeah, yeah, but everyone is different, so everyone has got to work out their way of managing it. Yeah.

FELICITY:

Yeah, so you really need to know your own body and then work with that.

BRIAN:

Yeah. I also think, and I have a checkup every three months here ongoing, and what the experts are telling me it was good to be in a good place, being fairly fit is while managing it not too bad now. I think the important thing is whatever age you are, keep moving. Whatever happens down the future, if you're in pretty good nick, you're going to get through it a lot easier.

FELICITY:

Absolutely. Yeah. How did you start Africa Roar? Transitioning from corporate life, tell us about that. How did you get into doing that?

BRIAN:

All right, so now I've got the best job in the world. I actually went over to Swaziland probably seven years ago. I was up at a friend's birthday party up at Byron Bay, and a friend, William, who was born in Swaziland, come up and said, "I'm taking some friends back to see me dad's farm in Swaziland. Do you want to come?" I went, "Ah, yeah. No worries, William. That'll be great," and then had to go home and Google, “Where is Swaziland? I'm going to Africa. That’ll be nice”.

About 10 of us went over and did a bit of a trip, and I just fell in love with it from the word go. Sitting around the fire at night as you do, maybe having a couple of drinks, talking about what you've seen that day. I just said, "Ah, William. This place is magnificent. I love it." He said, "Ring the manager up, you might get a place near it."

I had a couple of red wines so I did. I rang up Matt and said, "Hey mate, I'm a friend of William's, I love this place," and 12 months later I built a tented lodge in a privately owned park in Swaziland. Then from there, took family, took friends over, and then word of mouth I was getting calls from people all around Australia saying, "I hear you go to Africa."

"Yeah, do. This is where we go," so I set up an 18-day itinerary. "Here's the price," and just started taking people over, and Africa Roar was born.

FELICITY:

Fantastic.

BRIAN:

I just floated into that, which I've got to say, I just love it to bits. Yeah.

FELICITY:

You don't just stay in Swaziland, do you? You go to other areas as well?

BRIAN:

Nah, we travel right around for 18 days, so we start off in Johannesburg, fly down to Swaziland, up to Sabi Sands, which is the private part of Kruger National Park. Fly down to Cape Town, and then this wild train trip back to Johannesburg, so it's pretty full-on. The last three trips, we've got an add-on to Victoria Falls, which is just stunning, in Zimbabwe, so we go up there as well.

FELICITY:

Ah, beautiful.

BRIAN:

Yeah, it's an excellent trip.

FELICITY:

Being in a different environment, and obviously a Third World country, how do you manage your insulin or your diabetes there with a different diet and all the travel?

BRIAN:

Yeah, good question again, and for anyone travelling with diabetes they’d know, I had to learn.. and so far everything's gone well.. when travelling, you always take two lots of insulin and keep them separate, just in case, because as you said, you're going to Africa. I reckon I could get it over there but it would be difficult, so I always take two lots. One lot's in me hand luggage, the other lot's in my suitcase.

The interesting thing, and a bit on the side, is my blood sugars are a lot better over there than here. No one can explain why. Usually I take a Lantus, an overnight insulin, which just steadies you out. Most of the time over there I'm on nothing. I gradually wean off over the three weeks, and it's not until I come back here that I need to get back onto it again.

Definitely travelling, your diet's always a priority, I find. That's what affects me the most, so I'm still very careful on what I eat, and it's easy to do over there. Everywhere we stay is four-star, and they'll cater to whatever you need. Yeah, once again, keep checking. Always keep checking your blood sugar levels and look at your diet, and it's great.

Most of the places we go to have some sort of gym, and I find even if I get on the elliptic machine for an hour, every morning before everyone gets up, it steadies me out during the day, too, so that probably plays a part as well, and you're active. When you're over there, whether walking to have a look at the animals, or in a truck having a look at the animals, or walking around the site.

Yeah, for the three weeks you're pretty active.

FELICITY:

Quite active. Right, so you really find that makes a difference. How do you feel in your body? How do you know if you're not quite right?

BRIAN:

Yeah, and once again, you figure it out. I think everyone would be the same. If I'm too high, you know when you say you don't feel right, you're still slower, if that's the expression of it. Even in your thinking, and if I give myself a check I go, "Oh, wow. I'm up to 10," I either go for a run or take some insulin, whichever I can do at the time.

It's part of your management, part of you knowing yourself, and I think if you're in tune, and everyone should be, you'll get to feel it. Of course, if you go too low, which I've had once, which is a hypo, where your blood sugar gets too low, so you might get around two and a half, three, I start getting the shakes. It’s always, so always carry jellybeans with you.

If you're like that, two jellybeans, a couple of minutes, you're back to normal, but if you're not, you could be in big trouble. Especially in Africa, if you're in the middle of nowhere.

FELICITY:

Absolutely. Yeah, that's a good tip.

BRIAN:

Yeah. A baboon's not going to bring you a jellybean.

FELICITY:

No, that's right. Are there any funny stories that you can share with us, Brian, from your African trips or holidays?

BRIAN:

How long have we got, Flick? My life is full of funny stories. I'll give you one. I was talking to me wife, Denise, earlier. This one that sticks out with her, we were in Swaziland a couple of years ago with a mate Ronnie, and it was just him and me. I've got great friends over there now. They're all black in Swaziland.

This guy, Smart said, "Oh, Brian. Do you want to come to the local beer festival tomorrow?" I'm going, "Ah, yeah, mate. That'll be great." He goes, "Oh, it's going to be great. The king's there, and it's a real festive thing, and we get to drink the beer, the homemade beer." I'm going, "Okay, we'll give it a crack."

I picked him up in the morning, went out, had a look at this beer festival. It was amazing. It's a big, probably the size of a rugby ground. It would've been 10,000 Swazi ladies, singing and dancing for the king with no music, and it was just awesome, sitting there listening to it.

Then during the day, my friend Smart takes us around to the different groups he knows, and I had to drink this homemade beer. This is white, gooey stuff. It would never sell in Australia, I can tell you, but they love it over there.

It's a big weekend, these people camped there, and as I said, we're sitting right beside the king, and it was real festive. About 11:00 that night I was just sitting on the back of a ute and was thinking about going. This big, tall Swazi guy walks over with all the traditional stuff on. He introduced himself and he was a prince.

We started talking and he goes, "And you are?" I said, "Brian from Australia," so we're talking about Australia. Yeah, we're probably talking for about 10 minutes. He was a really nice guy. He goes, "Oh listen, Brian. I've got to go, but great talking to you." I said, "Oh, thanks for stopping for a talk. It was really interesting. What made you stop and talk to me?" He goes, "Well, Brian. How many people do you think's here at the festival?" I'm going, "Oh, I don't know. At a guess 15-18,000 people." He goes, "Yeah, you're about right," and he goes, “How many white people would you think are here?” I go, “I don’t know.” And he goes, “Just you and your mates, so I had to come up and see what you were doing here.”

So it was a nice intro into Swazi culture..

FELICITY:

Lovely.

BRIAN:

..and they’re very friendly over there and they just want to find out.

FELICITY:

They’re curious.

BRIAN:

What it’s like in Australia and yeah..

FELICITY:

That’s a lovely story and you stood out so you’re easy to spot.

BRIAN:

Yeah, apparently.

FELICITY:

Well I’d like to thank you for joining me today, Brian. It’s been fascinating to learn about your journey from your corporate days to your athletic days and then also becoming s diabetic and how you managed that. To find out more about Brian’s trip to Africa, you can visit the website which iswww.africaroar.com.au.

We’ll have all those details in our show notes on our website, on the Body Torque website. They’re also on Facebook at Africa Roar and Instagram, so you can check out those details there. They also help those in need, they support grass roots organisations in Swaziland to provide food and education for children orphaned by AIDS. So yeah, if you’re interested in a trip to Africa, why not check out their website and I look forward to hearing more about your adventures coming, up, Brian.

Thank you.

BRIAN:

Thank you, Flick and everyone have a great day.

FELICITY:

Thanks for listening to the All Torque podcast. We'd love it if you would leave us a rating and review on iTunes. This helps us to deliver content you want to hear about. Please take a moment to share it with your friends and family on Instagram and Facebook. I'm Felicity Dales, see you next episode for another story of inspiration and motivation on the All Torque podcast.


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