Extreme Physiology 2015 – Attack of the Jumping Cholla!

Tucson, we have arrived! Tuesday, January 6th was a travel day for all of us. The weather was warm, the sun was setting, and the cacti and mountains took our breath away as we observed the beautiful landscape of Arizona. The journey from the airport to our house was relatively short. We rolled over dips in the road that we were soon to recognize as the road home. The house is beautiful, with a breathtaking view of the entire mountainside.




We looked on in awe as the sun completely set, wondering if the scene was truly real, and not just a mirage – we are in the desert, you know!


We prepared lasagna for dinner and picked out our rooms.


Full from the delicious meal and exhausted by our travels, we were asleep by 10:00PM. We woke up at 7:30AM on Wednesday to the sunrise. After a quick breakfast and lunch preparation, we headed to the University of Arizona for our first lesson of Extreme Physiology.









Dr. Doug Keen’s lecture focused on VO2 max and adjustments that the body makes during aerobic exercise.


The VO2 max test is a measurement of physical fitness. The test we were to perform was a treadmill test. The subject runs at a predetermined speed, based on his or her physical activity, increasing the grade by 2% every 2 minutes. Data, including heart rate and perceived exertion, was taken every minute. The subject runs until exhaustion. An oxygen mask and tube apparatus measured expiration, which determined oxygen consumption. At the end of the test, the subject’s % saturation and blood lactate was taken. Each person in our group performed the test.


image1 - CopyThe 2015 girls had the highest VO2 max average yet, at 50.1 ml/min-kg body weight, and the boys had an average of 55.5ml/min-kg. Upon finishing our testing, we caught our breath and ate our lunches. We bade Doug goodbye until tomorrow, when we would perform the Wingate Test.




We left the University and walked into 75 degrees of pure Arizona sunshine. We hurried home, gathered our camelbacks, and headed to Tucson Mountain Park for our first hike.

XTREME 194Traversing the Golden Gate Trail, we observed the various cacti and cholla: Saguaro, Teddy Bear, Prickly Pear, Barrel, and the group favorite, Jumping Cholla.

XTREME 113XTREME 190Dr. Sweeney pointed out that Native Americans use the needles on the Saguaro for sewing. The hike was beautiful. We found ourselves torn between looking up to take in the scenery and looking down to avoid tripping. The view is indescribable. The air makes you feel fresh and alive.

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We arrived at a Cairn, a pile of three rocks that point in the correct direction of the trail.XTREME 161

Marissa looked down to a Jumping Cholla perched on her hiking boot. If you brush by the cactus, a portion pops completely off and attaches, sinking its needles in. It is used as a defense mechanism against animals.





Just as Marissa recovered from her run-in with the Jumping Cholla, we got temporarily lost and so, took a group selfie of course.image2

XTREME 203We pulled up a map on a phone and re-oriented ourselves. Dr. Sweeney was the Jumping Cholla’s next victim. His attack was at the leg. He, too, recovered and we began our journey back to the beginning of the Golden Gates Trail.
Blaire and I hung back to take a few pictures of the sun that was beginning to set.

XTREME 184We hurried to catch up to the group. Arms swinging and head swiveling, I was looking everywhere and at everything. Suddenly, my left hand caught on something. I heard Blaire yell “Ohhh!” I felt a pinch and looked down to none other than the infamous Jumping Cholla sticking out of my fist.Dr. Sweeney flicked the cactus off with a stick and pulled out the remaining pieces later on at the house. And so with little blood and many pictures, I survived the Jumping Cholla.


The rest of the trip was successful. Upon returning home, we made barbecue salmon with rice, zucchini, garlic, and red sauce. Again filled with delicious food and exhausted by a fun-filled and exciting day, we headed to bed after a short presentation of the next day’s lecture. We are looking forward to 23 more days of the X-treme experience. Lesson of the day – watch that cactus.

Love, Maria and the X-TREME DREAM TEAM




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