Last Woman Standing

Not only is Natalie a kettlebell lifter, she is also a keen cycler, rock climber and long-distance runner and was even crowned an adult champion dancer at the age of 18.

Geordie Natalie has only ever left the UK twice, for weekend breaks to Europe. How will she cope on a round-the-world journey that will take her to some of the toughest places of earth?

She says: “I’ve never been anywhere that’s needed sun factor.”

Although Natalie admits that she is a bit scared of training in the heat, she adds: “I’m just gonna have to try and push through the pain barrier if I can, which I am well known for doing.”

Natalie was keen to get involved in Last Woman Standing because she was intrigued by the challenge and adventure of travelling the world and competing at new sports.

One of Natalie’s high points comes during the Water Rafting race: she is really daunted going into the competition as she has a real fear of water so she feels as though she has really overcome something when she manages to complete the training, especially when their raft capsizes.

Natalie finds the way that different cultures treat their animals pretty difficult and, for her, that is one of the lowest points of the trip.

Since she was a teenager she has wanted to be a firefighter because that meets her fitness and sense of community interests. But, since the travelling experience, she is also looking at other options.

Adrenaline junkie Anna challenges herself to some of the most extreme and dangerous water sports on earth, such as kite surfing, driving power boats and wakeboarding.

Born in Kenya to an ex-pat family, Anna was sent to boarding school in the UK at the age of 12. Although she might sound posh, don’t be fooled by the accent as she is not afraid to challenge herself.

Anna says: “I think being well brought up or having a privileged background doesn’t necessarily mean you haven’t had to fight for the things you’ve got.”

Anna has a love for travel and a competitive streak, so Last Woman Standing appealed to her straightaway.

Anna explains: “When this opportunity came along, I realised that the chance to visit six incredible corners of the world doesn’t come along every day. The sporting aspect of the programme sealed the deal as I have always played competitive sport and I always challenge myself to be the top of the game.”

For Anna there are several highlights during the trip, but she is especially proud when a smug local tribesman challenges her to hit the target during buffalo training, because he thinks she can’t do it. Anna, gives it her all, and manages to score a hat-trick.

“Right! I thought, show him what us Last Woman Standing girls are made of. I hit it! Three in a row! I drop my whip on the spot and run to meet the guy in the middle of the field, and he throws me onto his shoulders as the locals cheer.”

Anna enjoys her stay with the Xavante tribe in Brazil. She finds the community interesting and embraces their traditional way of life.

Anna says: “…the entire culture of the Xavante tribe has been with me ever since my stay and plays a part in many of my decisions and thought processes today.”

The youngest of the competitors, Alex has many strings to her bow. At only 19 she has qualified as a personal trainer, competed at pole fitness, and body-building. Alex also loves horses and competes in show jumping, cross country and dressage.

Alex says: “People say I’ve got little woman syndrome, that I feel I have to go out to prove something and maybe that’s right, but I think it will be good to show everyone what I am about.”

Despite all this she is still very girlie – her Chihuahua is called Jimmy Choo after her favourite shoes! As she says: “I think a lot of people underestimate me when they see me, they think I am all hair, nails and handbags and it’s gonna be nice to show them what I can do.”

Having just finished college Alex really wanted a new challenge, before going to university. She saw Last Woman Standing and knew it was right up her street. Experiencing the travel, competing with the local people and testing herself physically, as well as mentally, offers the ideal opportunity to prove to people that she is a strong girl inside and out.

Alex’s high point comes when she finishes a run whilst living with the Xavante in Brazil. She doesn’t consider herself a good runner so training really takes its toll, physically, to the point where she becomes ill.

“It was the hardest week of my life,” she recalls, adding: “The feeling I got when I crossed that line was amazing. Knowing I had done it despite everything really showed me what I am mentally capable of.”

In contrast, training for the Kali in the Philippines, Alex commits to the trial and lives, breathes and trains Kali for five intense days, before the Kali Master Rommel announces that she can’t and isn’t ready to fight.

This is a hard knockback for Alex, for someone to take away her hard work is tough to accept. Instead of getting upset, Alex turns her mental attitude around and tries to understand the reasons and accept the decision.

One of the most memorable moments comes in Brazil when the women take part in a festival which is a celebration of the forest. It’s the beginning of the women taking power festival, so they dress as tree spirits and then dance through their huts to drive out any evil spirits. Alex recalls they had to disguise themselves with leaves and describes the tradition as a “really fun celebration to give thanks to the forest.”

Joni has played rugby for Richmond and Ulster and has also represented Ireland at sailing and Northern Ireland at netball. Joni is well known for her sense of humour; she is very competitive and determined to win. She doesn’t take kindly to anyone moaning, giving up or foolish enough to suggest that women are not as good at sport as men!

“I’ve always been a tomboy. Whenever I was younger, I’d be climbing up trees and falling out of trees and things like that, and I never had a pain threshold, so I was through the roof because I’d never ever been hurt,” says Joni.

Joni wanted a challenge and, following a friend’s suggestion she should apply to take part, she knew straight away she wanted to be involved.

An extreme competitor, Joni says her high notes are “Whenever I win!”, adding: “The Water Buffalo race is the best, it feels a bit more relaxed because it is as much about determination and focus as it is about luck.”

With the Xavante tribe in Brazil, Joni is training for the log race when she finds her determined attitude starting to slip and feelings of vulnerability begin to show.

“The families are quite hard to get to know, I wave or smile and they do nothing, just look blankly at you,” she remarks.

“It’s just the way they are but it’s hard not to let that affect you.”

Joni finds it tough to integrate into the culture and the tribe. She also finds some of the traditions hard to comprehend – in the Philippines, training for the Kali, Master Rommel and his family, who have led the pekiti tirsia kali fighting system for generations, carry out a tradition that involves dripping fresh chicken blood onto the athletes’ heads, a ritual that is believed to drive away any evil spirits they may have brought with them.

Joni says: “It’s hard to understand the reason for doing it and to accept it, even though I respect the fact that different cultures have different beliefs.”

During the endurance trials for the Kali, Joni faces another blow when an injury looks set to thwart her chances to compete. As the family take care of her, while she tries to recover, this set back proves to be a huge frustration as she is desperate to compete.

Joni now plays for Team Northumbria Ladies in the Rugby Union Premiership.

 

Lesley began training at her local boxing club four years ago in a bid to keep fit. Now she is the Amateur Boxing Association National welterweight women’s champion, and in 2008 she won the gold medal at the European Championships. Lesley hates to lose and relies on power and tactics when she competes.

Lesley says: “As corny as it sounds, boxing chose me. Growing up as a teenager I wasn’t off the rails, but I used to smoke and drink. As I got older I thought, I wanna get fit, but I hated the gym, so my dad’s friend, said, you know, why don’t you try the boxing club on the High Road? And I went and I remember talking to people and they’d be going like four, five times a day, and then I became one of those people!”

Despite missing out on this year’s British ABA National and European boxing championships, Lesley knew that Last Woman Standing would give her the challenge she needed.

During the trip Lesley finds one of the toughest but most rewarding sports to be Water Buffalo Racing, in Indonesia. The environment is intense, and emotions high, which adds to the pressure of competing in the race. Mexico proves to be a hard test on every level and a low point when Lesley struggles with the cold, her health and the local community.

One of the most poignant moments is in the Philippines, when one of the families invites the athletes to their daughter’s wedding ceremony. The bride is surrounded in a circle by her family and friends in a sign of protection and the groom has to break her free.

“It is really symbolic,” Lesley says, “And it is almost as if the groom has to prove that he really wants to marry her and that he is strong enough to fight for her.”

Since returning to the UK, Lesley has been asked to attend the first Female Team GB Olympic 2010 selection camp.

Five female athletes from the UK travel across the globe, live with tribes and remote peoples, and take on local women in some extremely difficult and indigenous sports – all wanting to be the Last Woman Standing – in a new series on BBC Three.

How will a group of very Western girls cope when they take on local women at sports they’ve been practising since they were children? How will they handle the rites of passage and the rituals, the harsh conditions and the reality of the ultimate life changing experience?

From Huka Huka Wrestling in Brazil to Bamboo Raft Racing in the Philippines and from Water Buffalo Racing in Indonesia to Tarahumara Mountain Endurance contests in Mexico, all five women are setting out with one aim – to return with their pride and bodies in tact.

Over the course of their journey the athletes will be tested physically and emotionally… but by the end of the series only one Westerner will have the honour of being crowned the Last Woman Standing.

The challenges

Huka Huka Wrestling – Upper Xingu region, Brazil

Huka Huka Wrestling is a test of power and skill which takes place once a year. The Kamaiura women and men of the Upper Xingu region of Brazil trade their traditional roles for one week. This festival climaxes with a punishing wrestling match. This is a gruelling contest, immersed in strong belief, ritual and custom that each athlete will have to face.

Xavantes Log Race – Mato Grosso, Brazil

A relay race like no other, the Xavantes log race is an exhausting competition between the tribe. Men and women compete separately in “log races” in which teams of runners hold logs on their shoulders and pass them to one another. Two teams are selected and each of the athletes will have to earn their place in the team. This game will be played out in the blistering Brazilian heat and will be a true test of the athletes’ strength and stamina.

Kali – Luzon, Philippines

Kali is a martial art with blades, sticks and hand-to-hand fighting which was traditionally performed by Filipino women as a form of defence whilst their men were away hunting. Kali is all about resilience and technique, and the athletes will face the harshest week of their lives learning the discipline of stick fighting in a remote martial arts training camp. According to kali tradition, in order to fight well, the athletes must be able to cope with pain and face their fears. Before training can begin the girls will have to prove themselves during a series of endurance trials, which will push them to their limits. They must demonstrate that they have the strength and will to fight, even after they are exhausted.

Bamboo Raft Race – Coron, Philippines

The Tagbanua tribe live harsh and isolated lives gathering fish and seaweed from the waters in the region of Palawan. The women learn to work on the sea from an early age and they soon become masters on ocean-going bamboo rafts that are held together with nothing more than twine. The athletes will be taking part in a tough 12-kilometre race across the open seas against some of the toughest seafarers on earth. They have just seven days to master the art of rafting, learning how to keep afloat, balance and row in the rough, choppy water. This raft race will be a test of skill, stamina and, above all, sheer determination… only the mentally strong will have the will to win.

Water Buffalo Racing – Sumbawa, Indonesia

For this high-octane race the athletes will need nerves of steel – each of the girls will have to drive a chariot drawn by two water buffaloes. This is no mean feat as these animals have been bred and trained for racing and reach speeds of more than 30mph. If that wasn’t tough enough, they must go over two jumps as they fly down the course. The athletes will have to battle their nerves, race over a distance of 300m and learn to control their buffaloes if they are to reach the end of the course.

Tarahumara Mountain Endurance Race – Mexico

The Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre in northern Mexico call themselves the Raramuri which literally means “those who run”. Over generations they have adapted to the thin mountain air and their extraordinary lung capacity and stamina puts them among the best endurance runners in the world. The athletes will be taking part in a special race known as Arihueta – a long distance run, at an exhausting high altitude, through the treacherous Mexican mountains. While they are running they will have to hurl hoops with a stick and, as is tradition, their shoes will be primitive sandals made from old car tyres.

The series will culminate as the athletes go up against each other in the ultimate altitude endurance event.

Of the five competitors that began this gruelling journey, who will be the Last Woman Standing?

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