Adventure, Rowing

Row 2 Recovery

Published in BeyondLimitsmag 13 February 2012

Everyone who walks this earth has a story.

Some are routine and dull. Some will take your breath away. But the sad truth is most will never get told.

You may have heard this story before or perhaps you may have not. I am going to tell you regardless, because these five men have a story worth telling and I plan to tell the world.

Lieutenant Will Dixon , Corporal Neil Heritage, Corporal Rory Mackenzie, Lance Corporal Carl Anstey, Ed Janvrin and Alex Mackenzie step up to the stage.
All are former servicemen. Three are amputees. One walks with a permanent brace. All have seen the realities of war. All rowed 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to bring about change. They rowed themselves to recovery.

Co-founder Alex Mackenzie explains why they entered the legendary Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, “We wanted to raise money to support the wounded and their families and to send out a positive message that inspired those who had been injured and galvanised and also to the general public to challenge what is possible in life whether wounded or not.”

I offer you the facts bluntly and once read they are not easy to ignore.

In two years the number of British service personnel undergoing single amputations has doubled. The number needing multiple amputations in that period increased six fold. Even when servicemen escape the physical ailments, war will switch tactics and consume their minds, filling it with nightmares, flashbacks and depression – “The scars you cannot see.”

“One word which summarizes our post-conflict view of the world is perspective. There is always someone worse off than you and that is something that motivated us in the difficult days of the row,” says Mackenzie.

If you donate to a cause you want to know where your money actually goes. Battleback, funds wounded soldiers return to support. Army Recovery Capability funds the whole life-cycle of recovery from rehabilitation to professional retraining. Quick Reaction Fund supports the families with short notice funding to cater for the particular challenges that they face when their family member has been wounded. It is for the families standing behind the uniformed men. The people who the world never fails to forget. Row2Recovery has totted up £782,770.00 for these organizations to date and is still counting.

The crew is adamant about the reasons behind this challenge. They are like all rowers of oceans, an elite but modest few. They shy away from the credit that the world is attempting to push on them.

“The elite group in our view are invisible, they are the wounded and their families who go through incredible challenges every day and are so rarely in the public eye,” MacKenzie says.

The crew embarked on this mission to suffer. They were not to be disappointed. Each day they rowed twelve hours on, twelve hours off.

Mackenzie says “Routine is critical in tackling one of the greatest challenges: psychological exhaustion. Finding the dogged determination to continue under extreme physical pain, sleep deprivation and severe weight loss can be difficult.”

The expedition was designed to push the participant to their absolute limits. The men could handle this, their boat on the other hand could not. First the watermaker gave in and then with 500 miles left to row, the rudder failed. Yet, somehow they endured, completing the 3000 mile journey in 51 days.

After fifty-one days on the water they have returned to real life, their family, their friends and their day jobs. They walk amongst us once more but beneath their facade their thoughts are stained with memories of those fifty-one days when there was nothing more important in the world than the oars they held between their hands.

McKenzie’s advice; “Think big and go for it, even when people tell you that something is not possible.”

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Adventure, Interviews, Rowing

Interview with Alex Mackenzie – Row2Recovery

1.What a story you guys have to tell. How did you decide to finally go out and start telling it to the world?

We always had 2 priories for the campaign, 1. To raise money to support the wounded and their families, and 2. To send out a positive message that inspired those who had been wounded and galvanised the general public to challenge what is possible in life whether wounded or not.

2.How have your war wounds changed your life – the way you think/see the world?

I am not wounded, but my friends have been wounded and killed and I think for all of the crew the one word which summarises our post-conflict view of the world is PERSPECTIVE. There is always someone worse off than you and that is something that motivated us in the difficult days of the row.

3.I don’t know if you’ll answer this question but Il ask it anyway, after all that has happened to your crew and what you have seen, are you all still pro-war?

Courtesy of Row 2 Recovery

We are a campaign that is focused on fundraising and inspiration. We are focused on the positives of human endeavour and inspiring the wounded and are not involved or engaged in politics or any view on the conflicts themselves.

4.Why did you pick rowing as the expedition sport?

It was the hardest thing that we could find that had the infrastructure for us to build the campaign around without having to go it alone (as a volunteer effort we did not have the time or resources for something like a polar expedition)

5.You’ve raised £721,195.00 so far for injured soldiers. What does that money actually go towards…equipment etc?

3 key areas:

Battleback – this funds wounded soldiers return to support.

Army Recovery Capability – this funds the whole lifecycle of recovery from rehabilitation to professional retraining.

Quick Reaction Fund – this supports the families with short notice funding to cater for the particular challenges that they face when their family member has been wounded. This covers anything from short notice visit expenses to adapting the family home.

6.”More than 4,000 people have climbed Everest. More than 500 people have been into space. Only 473 people have ever rowed an ocean.” – How does it feel to be a part of an elite group?

The elite group in our view are invisible, they are the wounded and their families who go through incredible challenges every day and are so rarely in the public eye.

7.The route was Canaries to Barbados, – How did you choose and plan the route?

The route is planned around 1. The best weather and currents, and 2. As part of a wider race organisation. Look at www.taliskerwhiskeyatlanticchallenge.com

How long have you being thinking and planning this?

The campaign is 2 years in the making.

Courtesy of Row 2 Recovery

8.Is Row2recovery affiliated at all with the Row4freedom women or was that just pure coincidence you  were going at the same time?

We entered the same race, we are good friends with the girls but our mission and objectives are different.

9.Whats next – more challenges or back to life before the row?

Most of us will be back to our day jobs, but there will no doubt be some more challenges on the horizon. I am doing the Haute Route bike race from Geneva to Nice in the summer.

10.Did you get to go swimming? If so, what was that like?

All of us swam and when it was going well it was a really great moment, an amazing feeling to have 2 miles of ocean underneath you.

11. – Best moment at sea?

The end!

-Worst moment at sea?

It was the watermaker  breaking, but then that was overtaken by the rudder breaking! With only 500 miles to go we thought this might be the end.

12. What sports did you do before this?

Ultra running, Kalahari desert marathon, Devizes to Westminster canoe race, Ironman and similar.

13.What was the daily routine like – how many hours of rowing, hours of sleep…?

12 hours of rowing, 12 hours of resting.

14.On the expedition, you had to live very simply, back to the basics. I bet you learned a lot from that? But now, back in reality, how do you hold on to those lessons, changes of perspective…?

I think that most of the lessons we learnt reinforced our military experiences rather than dramatically changed our outlook.  We all felt that it was very powerful to have a cause and a sense of purpose beyond the individual and that is something that many of us will continue to live by.

Courtesy of Row 2 Recovery

15.What is the most important thing you took out of this experience?

Think big and go for it, even when people tell you that something is not possible. …

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