Sunday, January 22, 2012

The @RowForFreedom Team - Five Rather Ordinary, Extraordinary Ladies ...

The RowForFreedom Team
On Saturday evening, five rather tired British girls arrived in Barbados.

Not for them the inadequate food and uncomfortable seats of a cramped 747. They chose to do it the hard way - by rowing 2613 nautical miles in a seven metre boat, across the Atlantic.

The girls - Julia Immonen, Debbie Beadle, Helen Leigh, Kate Richardson, and Katie Pattison-Hart, otherwise known as the Row for Freedom Team - joined 16 other teams in the Talisker Whisky Challenge, billed as the 'toughest rowing race in the world' - and arguably one of the hardest physical challenges you can choose to face.

None of the crew had ever taken on a challenge like this before, although all crew members are what you might describe as sporty, but this endurance event required months of training and planning if they were to survive the Atlantic.

Azores to Barbados.
They faced the loss of their skipper Andrea even before departure; They took on 30 foot seas, broken equipment (steering, water-maker and desalinator all failed at different times), a small onboard fire, and yet: after 45 days, 15 hours and 26 minutes at sea, they (and their boat 'The Guardian') arrived at the chequered flag in Port St Charles Marina, for cocktails and emotional reunions.
"More people have been into space than have rowed the Atlantic."
And in the process they have set two world records - Row for Freedom are the first five-woman team to row any ocean in the world; and they have broken the record for rowing The Atlantic in the fastest time by an all-female crew.

Row for Freedom came in 5th place, an astonishing result, with no less than 6 crews having actually pulled out on the journey, and 6 other crews still at sea, including the military crew, Row2Recovery.

And yes - there is just a little pride that they're British. As a nation we've always been very good at this rowing lark.

So what could possibly drive these otherwise ordinary ladies to do this? A just and worthy cause - Child Slavery and Human Trafficking, regarded as two of the worlds fastest growing criminal industries. Row for Freedom is aiming to raise over £1m for two charities, ECPAT UK and the A21 Campaign who fight this worldwide scourge.
"Human Trafficking is one of the largest global organised crimes today, generating £20 BILLION per year. Today there remain more slaves than ever before - an estimated 27 million people. Half of these are children. Last year over 700 victims were identified in the UK."
The Row2Recovery Boys
The other team I mentioned, Row2Recovery, is a team particularly close to my heart, comprised of current serving and ex-servicemen of the British Armed Forces - some of whom have lost limbs on active service, who are raising funds for military charities, such as Help for Heroes, ABF The Soldiers Charity and SSAFA, and also aiming to challenge misconceptions about what life is like for an injured solider.

Row2Recovery are currently 197 nautical miles from Barbados as I write, with a glorious finish scheduled hopefully for Wednesday. (No slacking, boys. Keep that tempo up! Don't let your Regiments down!)

I've been following and promoting this event - and the two teams - since last year, when I met both crews at the Great London River Race, where I was Senior Boat Marshal at the Finish Zone, and the two crews were using the race as a warm-up. Naturally I took an interest in the Military Crew, but I was hugely impressed with Row for Freedom's resilience and determination.

Well, I've done some epic things in my time. I've climbed mountains in weather from 9 degrees below zero to a scorching 112 degrees. I've dived 56 metres deep on trimix. I've done multiple 100-miler cycle rides for charity. And I've rowed, too, for St Georges (but only a few miles at a time.) But nothing that I've done compares with this event.

So ladies of Row for Freedom, I applaud you. And gentlemen of the Row2Recovery Team, I'll salute you (in absentia) when you arrive.

Epic? Inspirational? It's about as clear a definition of both as I've seen.

'The Guardian'
I described these women earlier as 'ordinary'. Clearly they're not. Something within them has driven them to take on this task and beat it, which makes them pretty special.

Else, if they be mortal as us all, then they are clearly proof that we all have within ourselves the ability to do wonderful, amazing things, perhaps things we'd never otherwise dream of.

One wonders that whatever the crew members do with the rest of their lives, whether anything they do in the future, will ever match up to this. Perhaps in their later years they will look back on this event with pride as the single best thing they ever did.

But I doubt it. At a guess, I reckon they have a taste for it now. A few months rest, and what's the betting they think of some other challenge? Rowing the Pacific? Or unicycling across the Mobi desert, perhaps.

And it is proof once again of my favorite motif:
"Pain Is Temporary; Achievement Is Forever."
Update : Montage image and video of the arrival in Barbados : 

You can learn more about ECPAT UK here and the A21 Campaign here.

ECPAT UK's mission statement is to "End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes." They are active in research, campaigning and lobbying government to prevent child exploitation and protect children in tourism and child victims of trafficking."

The A21 Campaign is comprised of individuals, organizations, government officials, and people like you who are committed to abolishing injustice in the 21st century. Their goal is four-fold:
  • Prevent people from being trafficked;
  • Protect and support those who have been trafficked;
  • Prosecute traffickers, and strengthen legal responses to trafficking;
  • Partner with law enforcement, service providers and community members to provide a comprehensive front against trafficking.
Both causes deserve your full backing.