There are audible gasps as we watch footage of two women staggering towards a finish line. They appear either drunk or extremely sick. The one in front collapses; the other trips over her, collapsing as well. They’re too weak to get up; it’s almost sickening to watch. Both manage to muster just enough energy to crawl over the finish line, finally completing the 1997 Ironman World Championship. It’s awful footage, in both senses of the word: horrible; awe-inspiring.
Tightly constructed, dramatically compelling, and confidently travels the entire spectrum of human emotion
At 28 years of age, Hannah Nicklin vowed to complete an ‘Ironman’ triathlon the year she turned thirty. Easier said than done. This event (a ‘full distance’ triathlon) begins with a 2.4 mile open water swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, and is nicely capped off with a little on-foot dash — for 26.2 miles. Even in a month saturated with chatter about inspirational athletic achievements, Nicklin’s intimate, innovative story encompassing the limits of what the human body, and mind, can endure stands out.
Nicklin is an amiable host, and a cracking storyteller. Her passion for her subject matter is captivating, even for those who aren't instinctively fascinated by sport (hi there!); when she discusses elements of psychology and physiology she does so with a great knack for finding entertaining, intelligible explanations. The story is tightly constructed, dramatically compelling, and confidently travels the entire spectrum of human emotion, provoking laughter and tears over the course of its hour-long runtime.
The vivid narration is accompanied by a projection of a web browser onto a screen behind Nicklin, with which she creates a kind of live-constructed PowerPoint-surrogate. It seems a little questionable at first; it wasn’t obvious how this would be better than the alternatives. But doubts are swiftly swept aside. Nicklin’s idiosyncratic browser-presentation is seamless, innovative, and dynamic; more versatile than a slideshow, and — in an age where we rarely spend more than a couple hours away from a browser — oddly human, too. One of the most emotionally powerful moments in the show was pulled off in-browser without a single word. It was an utterly striking, unforgettable piece of storytelling.
Even though few people who watch this show will be endurance junkies themselves, Nicklin’s story is universally relatable. Sport is a microcosm of life, after all,the highs and lows of the entire human experience writ small — with added score-keeping. Nicklin’s is a story about a ridiculous feat of physical endurance, yes. But more importantly it’s a parable of mental and physical power, of the nature of limits, and of success; and a tender record of relationships forged and destroyed in the face of adversity.
“The heart is a muscle,” one of the academics Nicklin talked to in preparation for the show said, “and through training it grows.” After watching Equations for a Moving Body, I’m convinced that there's something of a poetic, as well as physiological, truth to that.