06 Jan, 2014

Anchors Away!

Anchors Away!

In October Alae Brand (28) returned to South Africa for a short holiday after her first six-month contract working in the Caribbean, and while here she finished seventh in the OUTsurance KFM 94.7 Gun Run Half Marathon in 1:29:08, then clocked 1:28:09 to claim third in the Voet van Afrika Half Marathon (a race she has won twice). Not quite up there around her PB of 1:19:50, but not bad at all after just about no proper training for six months on a ship that offers only a gym with treadmills, a short 200m circular running track and splash pools… but Alae still manages to fit in keeping fit.


“I’ve always had the opinion that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Even during medical studies, when I had little time for myself, I still trained in the early mornings before class. While I never thought I would ever be able to run more than 5km on a treadmill, I’m doing it on the ship… but I go crazy running around in circles on the ships’ mini track, so on my days off, I try to go running on land. I also do Pilates, and I swim in the sea when we’re docked in ports.”



Alae studied medicine at Stellenbosch University, then went to PE to do her Community Service year, where she met a fellow doctor who had worked on the ships. “I have always wanted to travel, so I asked her to put me in contact with the people who recruit doctors for the ships, and I was signed up by the Carnival, the biggest cruise line with 24 ships. Normally you go into a bigger ship with two doctors on your first cruise, and start as junior doctor to learn the ropes, but fortunately Carnival had enough confidence in my clinical knowledge and skill to start me on a one-doctor ship.”


She says the medical team have to know how to deal with medical emergencies, medical outbreaks and disaster situations, such as bomb explosions, natural disasters or collisions, and they have monthly drills for both medical and general emergencies. “Ship’s medicine is totally different to medicine on land, because we have a limited amount of drugs and we just have the basic things like X-ray, portable ventilator, cardiac monitors, and we can do basic blood tests, but we cannot do CT or MRI scans, ultrasound or other blood tests. The company has put ultra-sound in some ships, so we can check for appendicitis, etc, but most ships still rely on clinical diagnosis. That said, we can contact the medical ops manager any time, plus we can get a helivac, or the ship can turn around or speed up in case of emergency.”


“It can be hard to do everything on your own, and if things go south, it’s just me and three nurses. I’m literally on call 24/7, and always have a phone and a radio on me for emergency calls. And with the typical passenger, everything is an emergency! Luckily the nurses are well qualified and can handle much of the first aid, but for prescription of medication, procedures like suturing, and for guest accidents like falls next to the pools, the doctor needs to see the patient, including crew members.”



At school Alae did gymnastics, earning provincial colours and ending sixth at the SA Champs, but at 16 she changed her focus to athletics. In her matric year she finished seventh at the Schools’ Cross Country Champs, then at varsity she earned Western Province colours on road and in cross country. In 2008 she took up cycling to help with an ongoing hip injury, which led to duathlon, and she duly won the under-23 age group at the SA Champs and represented SA in the World Champs in Italy. In 2011 she was second at the SA Duathlon Champs and once again went to the World Champs (in Spain), then in 2012 she won the Eastern Province Road Cycling Champs, the Eastern Province Duathlon Champs as well as the Big 5 Challenge in Knysna.


Looking ahead, Alae say she wants to move into more trail running and multisport events, and also wants to get into paddling, but in the next 18 months she has signed up for various cruises in the Caribbean as well to Australia, Alaska and Hawaii. “After that, it will depend on how long I can keep up this lifestyle. I think I will miss training and competitive sport too much to do this too long!”