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.”
“THE WORLD RECORD ATTEMPT FOR THE FASTEST FEMALE TRANS-ATLANTIC ROW
Two World Records
They were strangers. Now, together they endure seasickness, peeing in a bucket on deck and traversing a boat while being permanently clipped on because at any time a wave could hit and toss their bodies into the ocean’s gaping jaws.
On 7th December these five ‘Row for Freedom’ women from all over the world set out to conquer an ocean. They are the first all female crew to attempt to row 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean unaided. They departed from the Canary Islands and will anchor in Barbados in mid January. Beyond Limits was able to speak with the crew on Day 23, half way through their quest to learn more about their journey so far.
The team consists of Julia Immonen, Debbie Beadle, Helen Leigh, Kate Richardson and Katie Pattison-Hart. This is a team in which bravery is a characteristic present in abundance.
“Sometimes there is an element of fear,” Debbie Beadle admits, “but you get over it. We are doing this because we really believe in the strength of women.”
This mission required a six day week training schedule consisting of several 24 hour rows as well as individual work on both endurance and strength. Throughout the 40 days the crew will row two hours on, two hours off, trying to rest as much as possible when not rowing.
“It is tough,” Beadle said, “We are tired, but our bodies are adapting to it.”
Meanwhile their boat ‘The Guardian’ appears to be crumbling around them.
“We now have to hand-pump for twelve hours a day, use our feet to steer and ration our ever diminishing battery life.” Beadle said, “Then there is obviously the physical element of the row that is a challenge.”
Despite the many adversities, they endure as a team and the voice of Debbie Beadle contains not a hint of fatigue. Instead it is riddled with excitement as she giggles with pride in the knowledge that they will succeed in achieving this Guinness World Record attempt for the fastest Trans- Atlantic row.
Weather patterns will define their progress and ultimately their success. But the team has planned accordingly.
“December is just after hurricane season so it will be calmer and we can get the most benefit from the easterly trade winds and Atlantic currents,” Beadle said, “We expect to arrive in Barbados during its high season, where we will rest up for a week.”
Perfectly timed for a small holiday.
In an adventure marked by mishaps and hard work, the crew agrees that their greatest luxury onboard are the sun hats and soap they might take for granted at any other time in their lives. But, while the crew is grateful for these luxuries, the real beauty of the adventure lies in nature.
“The sky at night, seeing the ocean teeming with life,” Beadle said, “We have seen a turtle, loads of fish, and we are just waiting to see a whale. When I look around me right now, I can see the blue ocean, high waves, two of the girls are rowing and one pumping, the sun is beating down upon us. It is like a sauna.”
Although the adventure alone would make the voyage a worthwhile trip, the crew is quick to remind us that, they row in aid of two charities; ECPAT UK and the A1 Campaign. Both charities work to raise awareness of human trafficking. The public can help support the women by following them on Facebook, Twitter or signing up and donating online at their website.
1.For all those who want to follow in your footsteps, how did you become an expedition manager….university degree/extra curricular activities/work experience…the lot?
In 2008 I formed Team EPIC, a team of mad, bad and dangerous to know adventurers. An initial failure to find sponsorship for a Greenland Icecap race led to a last-minute scramble to pull together an alternative expedition, an independent ski traverse of Greenland. We managed to get everything in place before I realised that I couldn’t actually afford to go. (Funding is the perennial bug bear of all adventurers!) So, much to my dismay, Birdy, Niall and Muzz set off without me while I sat at home and became their one woman support team. After the trip was over I realised that all of the work I’d done to set up the team, coordinate logistics, source kit, set up a website, do PR, manage sat comms and generally try to get everything running as smoothly as possible had potential as a proper job and not just a hobby. I still think that if I had gone on the trip I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today so it was probably a blessing in disguise.
2. You specialise in polar and ocean expeditions, have you tried all the other stuff, running, climbing etc and then settled on your two favourites?
I love all wild environments but feel most at home on, in or near the water and have an incredible draw to the ice that I just don’t have to mountains and deserts. But just because I don’t make certain expeditions a personal goal doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy helping other people with them. This year I’ve done support for a RAAM cycling team and worked with two separate teams on ultra triathlon style events that incorporated cycling, rowing and climbing mountains. I loved every minute of it. After all an adventure is an adventure no matter where you have it!
3.In your job, you plan everyone else’s expeditions, what about your own? Is it a case of all the hardship and none of the fun or is this your inspiration to get out and do your own?
Planning other people’s expeditions puts you in touch with people who inspire you to dream bigger and better for your own expedition. And you make the contacts that get you access to the resources needed for a successful expedition, which makes doing your own so much easier. It also puts you in pole position for some incredible opportunities. Last December I was given a free seat on a pay-per-place Atlantic ocean rowing team after they lost someone to injury just before they were due to depart.
4.What is your favourite part of planning an expedition?
The thing I love the most is helping people find the outer boundaries of what is possible. This comes in many forms. Sometimes it will be advice on logistics so they can reach a certain point during an opportune weather window. Other times it will be sitting down with a map and the seed of an idea and looking at what is the biggest and boldest thing we could turn that idea into. And other times it will be putting them through their paces at 4am in the morning after I’ve already been working them into the ground for the past 24hrs. The common thread is about pushing the boundaries of possibility.
5.Why did you choose to live like you live as opposed to following the more traditional route?
My formative years were somewhat different to most people’s and they left me with very itchy feet and an aversion to the 9 to 5 life. Growing up I was dragged off to an Indian ashram (read hippy commune) most summers. And when I was 10 my parents bought a fold down caravan and a station wagon and took us on a 14-month tour of Australia that involved very little school and lots of fishing. Then, aged 17, I spent a year in Italy on a student exchange programme. And the rest is history.
6.Rowing is quite a random sport (in Ireland anyway) Sell it to me. What is the appeal and how did you get into it?
I started rowing dingys around the bay with my Dad as soon as I could walk so rowing was an obvious sport to choose when I started high school and I’ve been doing it on and off ever since. A proper rowing race has been compared to giving birth. It’s just as painful and just as rewarding. Rowing is about committing to a team, committing to completing a race, committing to training and committing to that awesome feeling you get when you win. There’s nothing like it.
7.I am quickly noting that for a big niche, the adventure sports elite (you, Dave Corn…) all seem to know each other, everyone is linked. It’s pretty awesome to see actually! Do these people (other adventurers) become your core group of friends or is it still people from back home?
Other adventurers, especially the ones who are social media addicts like me, quickly become firm friends. But our relationships with each other are largely virtual and we don’t meet as often as I’d like. The adventurous friends I spend most time with are all ocean rowers and polar explorers who I have been at the start of a race with or planned trips with. But I’m a very social person so I have close friends from all walks of life, not just adventures.
8. I swore I wouldn’t ask the female question but I am caving; how does it feel to be a women in a so called ‘men’s’ area? Or have you ever even noted it like that?
I feel it often. It’s the elephant in the room. Nobody talks about it but all of the female explorers I know feel the same. This is not an equal game. You have to work twice as hard to gain respect from your peers and it’s very hard to be the most resourceful person you can be when our society encourages you to ask men for help at every turn. On my first ocean row everything that could possibly go wrong did and we fixed it all ourselves. Despite this I still find myself looking hopelessly at my male counterparts and asking them to do things for me. I know that if they weren’t there I could probably do it myself and it’s just social norms getting in my way. So women (myself included) can be their own worst enemies. My solution is to do as many expeditions with women as I can so that I can achieve my full potential just as much as I did on that first row.
9.Your CV is mind blowing; The Celtic Crow Conquest, The Trip to Remember, Ride for your Lives etc. Do you ever read it back and think, holy shit I’m good?!
As an ex competitive rower who decided she was up to tackling some of the biggest challenges in the world today I’m not going to lie and pretend I have a small ego. The answer is yes, sometimes I do think that the things I do are pretty awesome. But mostly I’m doing them because I can and not because I want to massage my already over inflated ego. Just because my version of what I ‘can’ do is very different to most people’s doesn’t make me better than them and I hope that everyone has a ‘fuck I’m awesome’ moment every now and then.
10.Is your job just a job at the end of the day or is it your life?
I still work in TV a lot so it’s not my whole life. But when I manage to make some money out of doing something that feels like it should be a hobby it gives me a huge amount of satisfaction. Isn’t that what we all want, to live to work instead of working to live?
11.Heads up, big up in the air question coming, What is your aim/goal in life?
To be good to others and hopefully it will come full circle.
12.How is it working for ‘Big Blue’?
Big Blue is a mixture of hard work and heady enjoyment. We’ve got out first expedition coming up next March and April and I can’t wait to spend a few months in the Caribbean with two amazing crews organising their rows from Barbados to Jamaica to Mexico. Getting it off the ground is taking up all my spare time but every time we sign up yet another incredible crew member I am reminded why I’m doing it. They’re going to have the adventure of a lifetime and I’m making it happen.
13..Do you still have your Aussie accent? -random question but since I moved over here (Edinburgh from Ireland) I’m practically defined for mine it’s so strong.
Yeah mate. Todally. Almost 12 years in and I’m still a true blue Aussie, albeit with a twist of English. Kind of like a good cocktail.
14.Finally, I’m going to ask you the same question as I asked Dave as I figure the more opinions on it the better:
This question may seem rude but that is not my intention. It is just a challenge I am constantly facing and am wondering if you too have ever struggled with it? I am twenty years old and want to get into adventure sports journalism, but I am constantly confronted with people’s scepticism that this is a career that cannot bring about change. That as a smart girl, I should go into politics or war reporting. Change the world. Subsequently I am left feeling guilty about doing something I love? Any thoughts?
Most expeditions do a huge amount for charity. What would you rather do, report on how people are helping the world or how they are blowing it up and killing each other? The answer seems pretty obvious to me. And if the people around you can’t see that then ignore them until you can move to a place where you can surround yourself with people who are going to support you doing what you love and can see the value in it.
If you feel like you’re being selfish with your chosen profession (and let’s face it, what we all do is the ultimate selfish indulgence) then find ways to make it just as much about other people as it is about yourself. Don’t worry about being selfish if you can balance it out. I choose to find this balance by mentoring young people who want to break into adventure and exploration, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do this IV. I also spend lots of time giving people advice and helping them with their expeditions for free.
The most exciting thing you’ve ever done, people hate that question, I hate that question. We hate it because our answer is usually not that exciting and it forces us to admit that. That does not apply to Kyle Farningham. No, his answer made me smile, “The most exciting thing I have ever done would be the ‘The Trip to Remember ‘, a 45mile cycle from Dublin to Arklow, a 90mile row across the Irish sea from Arklow to Portmagdog and a 15 mile hike from Portmagdog to the summit of Snowdon. I suppose that meets the criteria!
Kyle is a personal trainer and Rat Race Urban gym manager based in Edinburgh. This summer he decided to practise what he preached and applied as a crew member on “The Trip to remember” . He credits the owner of the gym he works in with the choice of challenge. “His words, ‘You are mental enough.’ ” However it is one thing applying but a whole other kettle of fish to actually follow through.
On the 8 July 2011 he met his comrades for the next 36hours for the first time. They included Mark Cooper, famed with running Amsterdam to Barcelona, the equivalent of 50 marathons in 56 days. Mark Beaumont who boasts a World Record for his 18,296 mile bike ride around the world and Shaun Quincey, the second person in the world to sail the Tasman sea solo. “As you can imagine, I felt completely out of depth as having only cycled two miles to work and back each day and the furthest I’ve run is the length of my street to catch the number seven.”
To write the distance down does not do the challenge justice. You have got to picture yourself there, dismounting the bike with chafed thighs, rowing for 90 minute stretches at 2am slap bang in the middle of the notoriously rough Irish sea and then hiking a mountain bleary eyed, smelling of crap and drenched to the core. However, do not doubt the appeal, the beauty of these expeditions lie in those rare and magic moments only explorers get to experience. Kyle recalls his pinnacle moment; ” As morning broke the sun beat down on us. The mood lifted due to the sight of the Welsh coastline. This was enhanced when a pod of dolphins guided the support vessel along the water as we listened to the Pogue’s – it was all very surreal.”
He concludes the interview with a classic line, “It started out as The Trip to Remember and it will forever be a trip that I will never forget.”