Meet Dr fLorence Cotel from Homeward Bound 7, a neuroscientist, entrepreneur, endurance athlete and inspirational speaker who wants to inspire people to realise their dreams and help prevent burnout.
Photo: Dr fLorence Cotel from Homeward Bound 7. Credit: Supplied.
By Diane Nazaroff
As a teenager, Dr fLorence Cotel used to describe herself as “a brain that happened to have limbs”.
“I was definitely not sporty at all.”
But the neuroscientist believes that we can train our brains to achieve anything.
So at the age of 25, when she moved to Copenhagen – known for being a city of cyclists – for her first post-doctorate research post in neuroscience, she taught herself to ride a bike at night when everyone was asleep.
“I had never been on a bicycle. I was a bit ashamed to tell my colleagues and the new friends that I met that I could not cycle, that I had no balance,” she says.
“For me it’s really a symbol of freedom. That’s how my cycling journey started.”
Four years later, she rode 12,000 kilometres from Quito, Ecuador to Ushuaia, Argentina through the Andes on a bicycle she built.
Dr fLorence Cotel at the entrance of Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, in Bolivia. Credit: Supplied.
In 2017, she cycled from the south of France to southern Italy, and onto Slovenia and Austria.
The South American trip made her discover her love for endurance sports.
The amateur runner completed a marathon, then taught herself to swim freestyle using Apps and YouTube videos before she joined a triathlon club and completed a triathlon.
“I love pushing myself to a long distance, not so much for speed…I did an Ironman competition (3.8km swimming, 42.2 kms marathon and 180km cycling) and in the future I will definitely go for longer distances.”
Photo: Completing her first Ironman competition in Port Macquarie, NSW. Credit: Supplied.
Late last year, Dr Cotel rode 3000+ kilometres from Darwin to Adelaide via Uluru.
Her biggest fear on the journey was to have a bicycle part that breaks and not be able to replace it “which was highly unlikely”. She carried a heavy bag of tools.
“Everything includes some kind of risk but if you mitigate it, if you do your part, then you just let life do its part,” she says.
The purpose of the Darwin to Adelaide ride was two pronged: to start raising money for her Homeward Bound voyage to Antarctica, and to raise visibility for her One Dream Down campaign.
fLorence wants to develop a “dream bank” and encourage people “to progress towards they care about through their work”.
“The entire idea of this campaign is to inspire people to realise their dreams,” she says. “It’s a powerful prevention of burnout.”
“Climate action is not about just changing politics, it’s about coming all together as one through a wide variety of actions.
“I’m hoping to inspire people that no matter how crazy their long-term project seems, if they break it down into manageable steps, and they develop a strategy and they structure it, and they do the right training, they can transform any dream into reality.”
Photo: At Uluru, Northern Territory. Credit: Supplied.
This year fLorence founded The Burnout Conversation, a website which has recorded conversations about burnout – a state of complete mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion – with 223 people “who deal with it daily”.
“I aim to give a voice to the entire spectrum of professionals who deal with burnout: Human Resources managers, organisational psychologists, policymakers, insurance specialists, chief financial officers, all types of therapists (dog, laugh, art therapy), scientists…I put all the pieces of the burnout puzzle together to understand the systems that create burnout and what supports individuals’ recovery,” she says.
This new endeavour, she says, will help executives and senior managers pinpoint the factors that trigger burnout in their organisation and offer innovative and very practical solutions to prevent burnout and quiet quitting.
“This will both protect the wellbeing of staff members and save money for the company.”
Photo: Dr Cotel’s camp set up during her 3000 kilometre trip from Darwin to Adelaide.
The neuroscientist’s passion for collaborative leadership was ignited by a decade of volunteer emergency responder work for the French Red Cross.
She completed a PhD in Neuroscience at Sorbonne University in Paris, then worked in Denmark and is now based in Australia.
In 2013, she unravelled why our brains feel tired when we exercise.
Spurred on by her aspiration to help neuroscientists and psychiatrists team up to tackle mental health issues, the neuroscientist founded BLiSS Science and Innovation, a national not-for-profit organisation, in 2016.
The organisation catalyses collaboration between researchers from different disciplines in order to tackle real world problems together.
“I am not a climate scientist but for climate action, the power I can use is my ability to bring people together and inspire them to realise the projects that they care about and tackle the problems that they see and they think they can solve.”
Video: Dr Cotel uses her two decades of experience as a public speaker and personal journey to give motivational talks and inspire children and adults to design the life they want.
Dr Cotel says she is driven by purpose.
“I think I am somebody that can contribute through innovation because I have an ability to forget what I know and identify old assumptions that may not be valid anymore but are still used as the foundations of some reasoning and rewrite innovative solutions,” she says.
“The way I spell my first name is a symbol of that. It’s a symbol that you can challenge the status quo. We don’t actually have to have an upper case for a name that is very well known.”
fLorence changed her name after she did her first Ironman competition four years ago.
“The typical thing is that people do an Ironman and get a huge tattoo on their right calf. I do not have this. I have a tiny tattoo behind my ear…that was my way of imprinting self-confidence under my skin.”
Support fLorence Cotel’s One Dream Down campaign
Read more about fLorence Cotel
Listen to an SBS radio interview with Dr Cotel (in French)
Read a recent article about Dr Cotel