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Aiming high and letting go.

Submitted by on Wednesday, 21 May 2008No Comment
Aiming high and letting go.

Dr Kym Morton is CEO of KLM Consulting Services and advisor to the water affairs and forestry minister. She tells DAVID GEMMELL how she copes with stress on the ground and in the air.

What time does your day start?

At six thirty. I live on a plot and have to get up to let the staff in, as well as to get my daughter ready for school. Sometimes I take my dogs for a walk – it’s just so lovely where we are, out near Lanseria airport. Then I take Guinevere to school and get to work by about eight.

Are you a late night owl?

When I have to be. If I have work that has to be finished I stay up until it is done, but I have no particularly regular bed time.

I believe you are a keen pilot?

Yes I have both my commercial, instructors and instrument rating, all of which are current and I have more than 8,000 hours flying time. I have been flying since 1983.

How come?

When I first started working I was at Rossing Uranium near Swakopmund in the then South West Africa, and I used to have to drive 24 hours to get there and 24 hours back. After two years in the bush, and enough driving to last a lifetime, I had saved sufficient money to get my private pilot’s license and it just grew from there. Most of our clients are mines which have their own airstrips and we have operated a company plane since 1989; which initially I flew myself. As the company grew we have had to hire company pilots, because working underground all day and flying back through thunder storms at night, became a bit much. It also meant I was out of duty time.

Surely that can’t account for all your hours?

As a hobby I also ran self-fly safaris up to the equator (Entebbe), Mozambique, Luangwa valley in Zambia, Zanzibar, Serengeti in Tanzania and the Okavango. Private pilots from all over the world would come to experience flying in Africa which sometimes can be quite interesting.

You are a Consulting Hydrogeologist, what does that mean?

I predominantly deal with underground water and I specialise in mine groundwater control. My main focus is on dewatering mines so that they can mine steeper in the case of open pits; and safer in the case of both pits and underground mines.

What are your biggest stresses?

I suppose the normal business stresses everyone goes through. Although we have just had our telephone lines stolen for the umpteenth time, which has to be a business stress no-one should have to go through. But most of my stresses seem to be caused by people not doing either what they said they would do, or not doing what they were supposed to do. I find it more and more difficult to rely on other people.

How do you deal with pressure?

I don’t. Sometimes I feel incredibly helpless but I suppose I just get on with it, do what I can about a particular problem, and then try and let go.

I believe you had quite a stressful flying incident last year?

Yes, last year while flying back from Botswana with a plane full of clients, one of the motors shut down on me and I had to make an emergency landing at Gaborone airport on one engine. The passengers only realised something was wrong when they saw the fire engines and ambulances racing along next to us when we landed. So obviously I had kept calm enough; but as I said, I often feel ineffectual.

What exercise or sport do you do?

Walk the dogs. I used to gym but can’t do it anymore it is just too awful. They are full of people posing, you have to worry about your kit, I think they smell and I’d rather take my exercise in the outdoors. And apart from anything else, everybody is in better shape than me… actually I’ve got a gym at home where I’m in the best shape. But I don’t use it very much as I have recently returned to horse riding, which I can do with my daughter. I absolutely love it. We ride in exquisite surroundings at Blair Athol – with 22km of bridle trails, it is quite simply riding heaven. I also ski in France every year, for which we have to get fit.

How do you do that?

An hour on the ski deck carpet in Randburg is equivalent to a full day on the piste. So I usually book a number of lessons there with a Kiwi chap called Lou before I go. Actually it’s quite incongruous, skiing in 30 degrees centigrade in shorts and a t-shirt, in order to be fit to go and play in the snow. But it works for me.

How carefully do you watch your diet?

We eat very healthily. Lots of fresh salads, vegetables and fish with the occasional blow out. I love red wine so drink a bit of that and I am in serious danger if there is chocolate around.

Do you have problems with blood pressure or cholesterol?

Despite having been overweight all my life, (I was built for comfort not for speed), my blood pressure is perfect – it’s never been higher than 110/80 and often much lower. My cholesterol has always been in range.

Have you had any serious health scares that might have influenced your behaviour?

It’s funny, but I have always thought I am a jock, but I’m obviously not. I went sky-diving and broke my coccyx, I fell off my horse and cracked my skull, I crashed my motorbike and smashed my knee, oh yes and I have had my gall bladder removed.

Do you take any medication or health supplements?

I hate taking any tablets, but I use Vitathion for an extra boost when I need it. I haven’t drunk caffeine, which most people use for a lift, for twenty five years, because when I was studying in London, I overdosed on Alert tablets and went orange and got the shakes – so I haven’t touched caffeine since then. I don’t take any supplements.

Did you have a health conscious childhood?

We ate pretty healthily but there was never any discussion about health. My mum is 79 and in great shape, so I suppose something must have been right.

What would your death row meal be?

Anything Chinese – my favourite restaurant is Emma’s Red Chamber. I’ve been going there since it started in 1989 before it was in Hyde Park – so my last meal would definitely be Chinese.

If you could be stranded in one place in the world where would that be?

Benguerra Island in Mozambique. It is idyllic – absolute paradise. The snorkelling is out of this world.

Who in the whole of history would you most like to sit next to on a long flight?

Leonardo da Vinci. He designed flying machines – helicopters and hang gliders, five hundred years ago and to sit in a plane, and discuss his ideas, and show him where it has all ended up would blow my socks off. It would be a fascinating discussion.

You have a PhD (Imperial College London), which you did as an external student whilst working full time. How did you fit it into your busy schedule?

Initially I did it in fits and starts, until finally I knuckled down and used to work every night from 8.30 until midnight, until it was done. It was pretty tough. It affected my health, I had to regularly go to the chiropractor and I’m still trying to lose some of the weight I packed on through the comfort eating I did to reward myself for all the work. And it took a surprisingly long time to get used to not having to sit at my desk every night. I kept feeling I should be working. I still sometimes feel guilty when I go out for dinner or socialise.

How long did it take you?

Nine years, three hundred and fifty nine days – approximately…

That’s remarkably persistent. What would your fantasy other job be?

Something outdoors, like a riding instructor or a ski instructor. I seem to spend my life staring at a computer. It never used to be a problem as I used to do a lot of field work. But over the years that has got less and less and I miss not being outside.

What goals sporting or otherwise do you still want to achieve?

To get a balloon pilot’s license, a float plane rating and to climb the Ruwenzori Mountains on the Uganda /Ruwanda border.

Why them?

Because they have equatorial glaciers – think about it you shouldn’t have glaciers on the equator. Which makes them fascinating and I suppose a bit mysterious. And of course the mountain gorillas can be found there and I’d love to see them.

Tell me something no-one else knows about you?

I fought for Wits University in their JKA Karate team against Free State University and got beaten to a pulp by a very large, farmer’s daughter…

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