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On how I met Toma Coconea for an interview, but I forgot to record it

coconea bun

Toma Coconea (left side) and Daniel Pisică (right side) form the Romanian team for Red Bull X-Alps, the toughest adventure competition in the world. In the picture, I am smiling excited for having such champions by my side, but also because, at the time, I did not realise I did not record the interview.

It is 10 AM, I am having coffee at the Romanian Red Bull Headquarters and I am waiting to meet Toma Coconea for an interview. As I sip from the cup, I have no clue about what questions to ask a man that repeatedly flew and walked for hundreds of kilometers just because … he can. I have read previous interviews Toma Coconea gave and I know he does not talk much and when he does he reffers to his successes in few words such as „when you really love what you do, it is easy to achieve big things„. So, as you can see, he says the same things I would say if someone asked me why I do what I do, „out of passion”. But as I try to figure out what kind of story I want from this guy, the only Romanian participating in one of world’s most difficult competitions and one of the 30 competitors, I hear my name called: „Andreea, come and meet Toma”.

*

„Congrats!”, I tell Toma as we shake hands. „Thanks”, he replies back and honestly I don’t know what to say to him. There is a mix of excitement and nervousness, but then again Toma keeps smiling and his relaxed appearance – t-shirt and jeans and messed up hair – sends me a clear sign to just chill out. So I do this and all three of us go back into the room I previously had coffee in. We sit down and I take out my recording device which I remember clearly it’s working by the time I ask the first question so I just let it lay down on the table and never worry about it until the end of the interview.

*

When Toma runs in the mountains or flies over them, he thinks happy thoughts, thoughts that are not at all related to the competition. „I stay focused, of course, but I am out of myself”, says Toma. If he were to be very into himself, he wouldn’t have the strength to get as far as he did in all of the 6 editions of Red Bull X-Alps. I mean, he finished the trip in time and this must be mentioned as many competitiors do not finish it. „So, what do you think about when you’re all alone?”, I ask. „I think of how happy I will be when I land in Monaco, I think of future plans and of things that make me happy”. Daniel Pisică, Toma’s supporter, agrees. „When we’re together, I try to move his attention from the difficulty of the competition to something else”. Does Daniel trick Toma? Not at all. He just tries to be a good friend. Daniel and Toma know each other for 20 years and are 100% fair to each other, the kind of fairness most friendships do not contain. Daniel and Toma do not protect each other, they always underline each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They are very united and you just know that nothing can tear them apart because they have been together through too many events to simply quit each other because of some harsh opinion.

*

5000 competitors apply to get into Red Bull X-Alps. Only 30 make it in the competition, best of the best and Toma is one of them. Besides being fit, one must know mountains very well and also be licensed in flying. „There is no one else in Romania that can do what Toma does. Maybe there are good climbers, but they cannot fly, maybe they can run for kilometers, but they cannot climb, whatever the combination is there is no other person besides Toma, in Romania, that has all the required qualities for such a competition”, Daniel says. The competition is of course based on competitiveness, one must mind one’s own business and not care about what others do. But in real life, fairplay is more important than that. „Definitely fairplay is more important”, Toma and Daniel agree. „Honour is more important than winning”, Daniel thinks and he says winning has no value if someone has to suffer. He gives the example from some years ago when Toma helped out a competitor thus giving away some valuable time that he could very well used into having some competitional advantage. „He could have just ignored the guy in need, but he didn’t”, says Daniel.

*

Toma was almost at the finish line this year when a bunch of Romanians started to cheer him and run along to support him. „This gave me a lot of energy”, says Toma. But then Daniel completes: „There were around 30 people and it was funny because as kilometers went by, fewer and fewer were to be seen next to Toma”. While those people slept in a warm bed the night before, Toma had been running for over 100 kilometers that day by the time he met the fans. I guess this is how determination looks like, a place in yourself that cannot be described in words, but only felt as some kind of fuel that keeps you going no matter what.

*

Neither Toma, nor Daniel think people should do what they do. But they both believe in the power of movement and exercising. „We get most toxines out of our body through pee and sweat, so why not move more?”, thinks Daniel. They are preocuppied with the lack of interest into physical education here, in Romania. „In Austria, for example, you can see people of all ages being into sports, you see them in gyms, in the streets and when competitions such as Red Bull X-Alps take place, they are very interested into knowing everything about what’s going on”, says Daniel, who is also a sports teacher.

*

In 2013, Toma Coconea participated in the 6th edition of Red Bull X-Alps Competition. He ranked 10th place after running and flying 1031 kilometers in 13 days. „Rank is not important”, says Daniel after I ask what happened that day when Toma was on the 2nd place and the next day when he was on the 10th. „This ranking issue is more complicated than people think”, then Daniel explains me how this ranking works, but it is just too complicated to explain it here.

*

As I walk down the street and decide not to grab a bus to work out of a sudden impulse that I have to walk some kilometers to there, I press play on my recorder because I want to hear the interview all over again. I look up for it through music files and other recordings, but I can’t find it. I eventually realise what I’ve done: I forgot to record the interview! But I kept in mind the most important thing: the voice within is the most powerful whatever it is that you plan to achieve.

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