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Working out  life on a  Malaga beach

Working out life on a Malaga beach

Ida chose to stay in Malaga when the pandemic hit in 2020.
Ida chose to stay in Malaga when the pandemic hit in 2020. / SUR
  • Ida Otstavel. The former professional heptathlete has become well known in Malaga city because of her group workout sessions

It was over 18 months ago that Ida Otstavel, 26, left Finland with one suitcase to write her dissertation in Malaga, making the most of her opportunity to work remotely. She had been to the city a few times previously and had a "hunch" that it was the right place for her, but she had not expected to still be here now with that one suitcase.

"I just met so many amazing people and fell in love with the city and started feeling really at home," she told SUR in English. "Then the pandemic hit, and my options were to stay here or go back home."

Preferring the sunny southern climes, Ida chose to linger and set about establishing herself as a sports performance coach and group trainer, drawing on her training in physiotherapy and experience as a former professional athlete.

Destined for the sportswoman's life because of her boundless energy as a child that could only be satisfied with exercise, Ida was first attracted to athletics by the pole vault, which she saw as an "adventure", although it was the challenging heptathlon that became her forte.

"The variety of the heptathlon, and the amount you get to train, stuck with me," explained Ida, who began competing in international competitions at the tender age of 15. Some of her best results included coming second in the national championships and fourth in the Nordic Championships, though perhaps the highlight of her athletics career was participating in the 2015 European Cup.

"To put on your national team clothes and represent your country and go on a big stage like that and compete with people who really are pros or the best [...] - it was amazing," recalled Ida with a smile.

Of the heptathlon's seven disciplines - 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin, 800m - Ida enjoyed the hurdles most because of its speed and intensity. Over time, however, even this adrenaline rush lost much of its charm as the pressure of scoring well in competitions began to dominate her life.

"The thing with sports is, if you want to do it at a high level, it's kind of an all or nothing situation," said Ida, who also wanted to travel and pursue other hobbies in her free time.

"It also came to a point where it was more about performance than pure enjoyment, unlike when I was younger."

Ida eventually made the incredibly tough decision to end her athletics career at the age of 24. Although she believes it was for the best, she still looks back on this period of her life fondly, cherishing it as an enriching, formative experience.

"Sports has given me the best moments in my life - also the hardest," said Ida. "But it's true that I've learnt a lot of things about life in general. I see it has given me a real gift."

Since changing career and moving to Malaga, Ida has rediscovered her passion for sport and begun to explore it from a different angle, as she runs workouts six times a week on the Malagueta beach. Not only has helping people to pursue their fitness goals been gratifying for her but forming a tight-knit community has also proved personally fulfilling.

"Something that brings me a lot of happiness is seeing the friendships and the relationships that are born out of these workouts, because we have both Spanish people and international people. And we have all kinds of ages, from teenagers to 60-year-olds and everything in between."

Over the past year, Ida's hunch that Malaga would be an ideal city for her has turned into a conviction. What she relishes most is the combination of the sea and mountains, which she deems a "huge privilege" for an outdoors person, but other key perks of the Costa del Sol include the food, the work-life balance and the people, whom she describes as "warm like the climate".

"The easy-going nature of the culture and the people are very different from where I grew up, so it took some adjusting," said Ida. "But once you're adjusted, it's great."

Building on the success of her group workouts, Ida is currently setting up a personal training business and expanding her physiotherapy work.

Malaga and Andalucía, it seems, have worked their magic on the Finn, as they have on so many others, and Ida now plans on staying for "as far as [she] can see into the future."