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The Unstoppable Bianka Mičke

Bianca studies the gut microbiome at the Department of Physiology, Faculty of Science, Charles University, and works as a lab technician. This March she won two silver medals at the World Championships in wing, which is a wind sport, where the racers sail with the help of an inflatable sail.

I first heard about wing earlier this year thanks to you. How did you get into the sport and in which countries is it most practiced?

Wing is quite common in Scandinavia and also in America and Canada, where it has historically been used as long-distance transport. When the wind is right, one can travel hundreds of kilometres a day using a wing. The boom of wing as a sport is mainly due to the fact that sometime around 2019, inflatable wings that are easy to pack began to be produced. Until then, racers had to use solid constructions with a sail.

I learned about it while preparing for exams, when I was doing everything but studying, of course. I was watching a lot of YouTube videos and found one of some people skiing and also jumping quite high thanks to the wing. I really liked that and thought I'd like to try it. Coincidentally, this was in 2021 and the inflatable wings were new on the market. When I found them online, it didn't take long for me to get one.

Bianka Mičke at the World Championships in Finland, photo: Enda Parisma (B.Mičke archive)
Thanks to the wing you can sail in the wind and jump into the air, photo: Magda Křelinová


You are very active and you do many other sports besides wing. For example, you run well-known obstacle races such as the Gladiator race and the Spartan race. In March you represented Charles University at the University Cup in rowing, where you won a gold medal. Just after that, you caught the flu and left sick for the World Championships in wing. What was going through your mind at the time?

It was terrible. At first, I thought it was just some allergy, but then it got much worse - a sore throat and a terrible cold. I started taking all sorts of medication that even during the covid I didn't take that much stuff and in that amount, when I exceptionally have to take some medication I usually take the lowest possible dosage. I always try to deal with illnesses without drugs with just herbs, positive thinking that I am healthy, and taking some time off. But this time I needed to get out of it quickly and reliably, so I took the medication and hoped it would work as soon as possible.

I was completely exhausted and when we arrived in Warsaw and the boys (my boyfriend Honza and my friend Patrik Kasala - ed.) went for a walk around the city, I couldn't even go with them and just slept. Then when we got to Riga, luckily I felt a bit better. I took a shower and suddenly I could breathe normally through my nose, I had a luxurious breakfast in the hotel and finally I felt so good that I could walk around the city with the guys.

Then we arrived in Finland, where the weather was so nice that I immediately did twenty kilometres on cross-country skis. I went slow, took breaks, talked to people who were making bonfires right on the ice and checked out the place where the championships would be held. After this short training session, my breathing started to get worse again, and when I did a simple lung test of inhaling and exhaling, I was completely hoarse. At that point I had to put on Symbicort (an inhaler used to treat bronchial asthma and inflammatory airway diseases - ed.), which I had never taken in my life. Fortunately, it helped me to heal in two days and I was able to race. I have to say, though, that every time I went skating with the wing in my hand, I felt like I would rather crawl into bed than go racing. I think if I had admitted in my head the fact that I was sick and mentally surrendered to it, it would have been a classic flu for at least two weeks.

How many days in advance is it good to arrive at the race site? I suppose the competitors need to adjust, test the conditions and most importantly not get out of shape on the long journey.

If I were treating the championships as an important sporting event, I would want to be there about ten days in advance so that I could get a good look at the race site. We drove for three days and wanted to see the main cities on the way (the boys had never seen Warsaw, Tallinn and Riga), see the sights and stop wherever we liked the scenery or a landmark - we discovered the beautiful beaches of Latvia this way.

We arrived at the race site about five days beforehand, which gave me plenty of time to take a peek and check out the weather conditions, snow, ice and the race site. In the Czech Republic, the conditions are not good for a proper training, so it is important for me to arrive at the race site quite early.

How do you train for wing when the winters in the Czech Republic are getting warmer and there is not so much snow and ice?

This year the winter was a bit better and, for example, on Litovice pond in Hostivice there was about eight centimetres of ice for quite some time. But I was working at the time and I didn't get to the pond until about nine or ten in the evening. Professor Černý always gave me an echo to see if there was still ice and I could train, but I still wore a wetsuit because I was afraid I would fall in.

In the summer you train mainly on inline skates or a longboard. But you can ride anywhere and on anything - skateboard, skates, skis, water (on a paddleboard or a foil). Any sport where the middle of the body is strengthened is also suitable for training. I've been rowing since I was a kid and I have a very solid mid-body, which gives me an advantage over other racers because I can sail without trapeze in different inclines and I can pull a lot with my arms. This allows me to move better upwind.

Location of this year's World Championships and competitors waiting for the start; photo: Markus Kontus (archive of B. Mičke)


The World Wing Championships has three disciplines - course race, short track slalom and marathon. Could you explain what they are?

In the course race, the competitors climb upwind to a buoy about one to two kilometres away, which they go around and come back. The short track slalom is a rce between buoys on the ice. The slalom is a high contact discipline and the start is crucial, because you have to be fast, reach full speed as soon as possible and catch the wind. That was a challenge for me because skating is not my strong point. I've worked on it a lot this year and it's definitely helped, but I still have room for improvement. The third discipline is the marathon, where competitors have an hour to go around a given course as many times as possible, which is mostly perpendicular to the wind. The winner is the one who completes the most laps.

Last year it was so cold that except for you, only men competed in the marathon and many of them withdrew during the race. You finished the race with slight frostbite on your fingers. How do you rate this year's championship compared to last year?

Last year was generally warmer than this year. The problem was that the conditions changed very quickly. Half the day it was above zero, the sun was shining, and then suddenly the frontal interface came in and it got cloudy, windy and really cold. This year it was minus thirteen degrees some days, but last year the temperature felt much lower during the marathon, and when the wind picked up it brought ice and snow with it.

At this year's championships, the marathon was supposed to be on the last day, but unfortunately the day before the snow and ice started melting. Suddenly there were big puddles of water and the organizers decided to cancel the marathon. For me it's a bit of a shame, because it was after all a world championship and either you go carefully and don't sail into the water too fast, or it's the responsibility of each competitor how much risk they are willing to take. I think that the snow was so soft that you couldn't even get there fast. Plus, we were all considerate of each other, so I think it would have been fine without any major injuries.

Short track slalom, photo: Markus Kontus (archive of B. Mičke)
Female medalists of this year's World Championships in wing, photo: Kuvakeskus Hynninen (archive of B. Mičke)


You are a PhD student at the Department of Physiology, Faculty of Science, Charles University. Your research focuses on the gut microbiome and metabolome. How do you manage to combine your studies and sport?

So far it’s quite OK. In my research, I'm studying the gut microbiome and metabolome and how they change in response to opioid use. For my master thesis I focused on morphine, and now I'm studying the effects of methadone. I am the only one focusing on this topic at the department, and it helped a lot that I had enough time to study everything and fine-tune my methods during my master's studies.

I had some crisis situations, like when I was finishing my thesis, and some lady was supposed to help me with data analysis, but in the end she didn't have time. At that moment I didn't know what I was going to do. But everything always worked out in the end. Now I have finished most of the research for my dissertation and now I have to analyse the data and write the manuscripts. I still have a lot to learn, for example statistics, but I'll manage somehow. I have to say that it's hard to start with research that no one else is doing, but if I were doing a topic that someone else had already researched before me, it wouldn't be challenging enough for me.

Are you able to organize your work and time for study and sport better now that you are doing your PhD? I imagine that in a master's degree, when you have a lot of lectures, it can be quite complicated.

It's definitely much better now. The analyses are very much linked to the computer, so I am the master of my own time. I can work from anywhere and practically at any time. I find it most comfortable to work at night, when I can think well, I can use better words and phrases, I get into a kind of "flow", I don't have to eat or drink, and the writing comes naturally.

Do your supervisor and lab mates support you in your sporting endeavors or do they just tolerate your absence?

It has to be quite difficult with me, because every now and then I go somewhere and usually for a longer period of time - maybe a week or a fortnight. When it's windy, my friends call me to ask me if I want to go with them and I often need to arrange something urgently. I work as a technician at the lab, so sometimes I need someone to cover for me from one day to the next.

Fortunately, they tolerate me and try to help. My supervisor knows that if I have any downtime due to sports, I'll catch up with everything in a few days or weeks, and if we set a deadline, I can stick to it. I'm a bit of a workaholic in sport and at work as well, so I have to work until the task is done even at the cost of working sixteen hours straight. If I had to drive three or four hours to work every day, it would be a crazy waste of time for me to travel. I'd rather work all the time and then take maybe three days off to do sports. I use my time efficiently and I work to the maximum, I have every day exactly planned out.

Bianka Mičke before the race, photo: Honza Beránek (archive of B. Mičke)
New wings from Hawaii arrived for Bianka at this year's World Championships, photo: Patrik Kasala (archive of B. Mičke)


In an interview for kitelife, you said that studying the gut microbiome has influenced your diet. We talked about you being able to eat normally for a fortnight and barely eat for the next two weeks. Could you elaborate a little bit on how you eat?

I'm always busy and I don't think about food much. When I'm hungry, I eat a lot, but I try to eat as healthy as possible. Now in Finland I did indulge in sweets, sausages and all sorts of things, but that was more of an exception and otherwise I eat in moderation and mostly listen to my body. That way I don't have the reward system activated in my brain where I stuff sugar into myself - I feel good, dopamine and serotonin pour out and I need more sugar. Sometimes it happens that for two weeks straight I'm basically not hungry. I'm always busy, and the moment I get hungry, I start looking for food. In history and in human evolution, there was not the abundance of food that there is today and man had to make some effort to find food. So when I start to get hungry, I still try to make some effort, and only after that I eat. At that point, I can get by with quite a small amount of food, but it has to be good quality.

It is also important not to stress. I used to be permanently stressed out about the little things and permanently sick. I used to get so stressed out about races that I would sometimes even cancel. I got really nervous for my chemistry final, and then I told myself I have to start working on it. Diet and mental state are tightly intertwined. That's why I think those modern fasts where people are coaxed and forced into them are completely wrong. Especially if they're clocking when the two days of fasting are over. Moreover, if you are used to eating all the time, the body and the gut microbiome suffers terribly when you fast, it's a stressful situation for the body and a sudden forced fast can be quite harmful.

I came to my current way of eating automatically. When I train, I eat more and when I don't train, I usually eat a lot less. I do the same thing with training. Sometimes I have days that suck and I'm tired. At that point, the training might even hurt me, which is why I don't train at all for maybe three or four days, preferring to crawl into bed with my computer and enjoy the free time. If I have an injury or a cold, I also skip training altogether, because then I’m in danger of getting hurt and I don't want to risk it. This year's championship was a bit of an exception because I went there with a waning flu. But the World Championships were the highlight of the year for me, so I took a risk there.

Interview with a wing sailing lesson took place at Letná, photo: Magda Křelinová


Last but not least, I would like to thank my sponsors Eleveight Kites, FIVE-O-WindSports, Harfasport, Mibcon DIMA, Praha 6, Salomon and Snowboardel for their kind support. It is thanks to their generosity that I had the opportunity to take part in the Ice and Snow Sailing World Championships again and have an unforgettable experience. Thank you, I appreciate it!


Published: Apr 22, 2024 04:10 PM

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