“Coming from a maritime background, I’d always held a certain desire at the back of my mind to cross the huge expanse of water between Europe and the Americas. When I lost my sight, I decided I should try and make this dream a reality, and become the first visually impaired person to row across the Atlantic. It was a huge undertaking, and at the outset one barely knew where to start. They often say that the hardest part of the whole endeavour is simply getting a boat to the ‘start line’, since an attempt has to largely be put together from scratch. I had no boar, little funding and aside from some extremely limited rowing classes in the Navy, little in the way of rowing experience.
However, my guide and I – through a comnination of hard work, the support of many friends and a good deal of luck – managed to construct Gemini, our 2 man ocean rowing boat in time for an attempt in early 2008. Om 11th January, we set off into the vast expanse of ocean from the island of La Gomera in the Canaries, and set out on what was to be a tough and frustrating voyage, marred by poor weather, technical failures and unfavourable winds.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the row was the immense distance involved, and the accompanying knowledge that the crossing could take anywhere from 60 to 120 days. Mentally, it was crippling too not have an exact end date on the horizon, but we supported each other with mutual banter and the vessel’s limited chocolate supplies. In the event, we reached Barbados after 85 days, 3 hours and 20 minutes, setting a new Guinness World Record and raising over $80,000 for charity. It’s not something I’d be keen to do again in a hurry, but the accomplishment of a goal I believed my sight loss had put out of reach was both life affirming and a huge boost to my belief that determination can triumph over adversity.”
Marathin Des Sables 2007
“I was actually in the process of signing up for the Marathon Des Sables (MDS), the infamous 151 mile ultra-marathon across the Sahara Desert, when my sight began to fade. With things falling apart around me, I decided I would maintain my plans to run the race and use it as a means of channelling all the frustration I felt at my diagnosis into something more constructive, The MDS is acknowledged as one of the world’s toughest foot races. Competitors run a staged ultra-marathon whilst carrying all of their food and equipment on their backs in a competition lasting 6 days and taking place under the searing Sahara sun.
My guide runner and I finished the race with shredded feet and the feeling of having legs rubbed raw with sandpaper. It was however an incredible experience, and coming so close to the aftermath of my diagnosis, was a huge confidence boost.”
Polar Vision South Pole Expedition 2012
“I linked up with 2 colleagues and the highly experienced polar explorer Hannah Mckeand to ski nonstop from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole, a distance of over 600 miles. The ‘Polar Vusion’ expedition was intended to support Sightsavers International and Guide Dogs for the Blind, whilst also acting to inspire visually impaired children and students. In contrast to rowing the Atlantic, we were at least on a solid footing, but the frozen wastes of Antarctica provided their own challenges.
We finally reached the Pole after 39 days, a little bruised and a little lighter than when we had set off, but nonetheless overjoyed to have completed a mutual ambition. Although shorter in duration than the lengthy crossing of the ocean, the constant threat of frostbite, and the mental and physical exhaustion we all felt at the end of each day made this a gruelling experience. However, the privilege of being on the last uninhabited continent, hearing the total silence of a windless day and – even with my limited sight – being aware of the beauty of Antarctica are elements of the expedition that will live with me forever.
As with any undertaking of this scale, training and preparation are key, and the whole team dedicated the 6 months prior to the expedition to developing their polar skills and cold weather endurance. This included a frigid 10 day training camp in Northern Canada, and closer to home, the daily and well proved polar exercise of hauling truck tyres behind you to replicate the heavy sleds.”
Swimming the English Channel
“For the past 18 months I’ve been gradually building myself up for what I anticipate to be the hardest challnenge I’ve ever attempted. Not being a ‘natural’ swimmer, I’ve found it tough to refine my technique to the level needed to conquer the channel. I’ve had to utilise some novel means of being guided in the sea, whilst gradually pushing out my speed and endurance. Whilst I’m still a little way off being ready for a full solo, this year I’ll be attempting a relay of the 22 mile crossing as a precursor to a future attempt. I am aiming to become one of only a handful of visually impaired swimmers to compete the endeavour, and in doing so support a series of sight related charities.”