How rowing an ocean helped me with lockdown

A trio, but a team nonetheless! Team Margot pictured mid-ocean during the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2019. Photo: Atlantic Campaigns

This time last year, I was preparing to take on the biggest challenge of my life so far, rowing thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean in a small boat.

As competitors in this year’s Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge rowing race get ready to leave this week from the Canary Islands and slog all the way to Antigua some 3,000 miles (5,000 km) away, I am reflecting on the lessons I learned from last year‘s event and assess how it helped me cope with lockdown. 

There’s no question that preparing for Atlantic rowing competition is a unique experience. Competitors typically take 35-50 days or so to reach the other side of the ocean, and it’s an ordeal, albeit one that will include many incredible highs as well as some unbelievable lows. 

Coping with severe weather and ongoing medical issues (like blisters, chafing, sea sickness, severe fatigue, and hallucinations), while managing running boat repairs, means that just keeping going is a constant challenge. 

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Atlantic row for the global stem cell register

Training at Burnham-on-Crouch
I’m taking on the challenge of a lifetime next month – rowing across the Atlantic Ocean in a bid to raise awareness of stem cell research, a field of science that might have helped the young daughter of a friend win her battle against blood cancer.

Three of us – small company investor Martin Beaumont, software industry executive Hamish Miller and I – make up Team Margot Atlantic Rowers, one of 30 crews in this year’s Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, a 3,000 mile (5,000 km) race across the ocean starting in La Gomera on the Canary Islands on December 12 and ending in Antigua around 40 days later.

Although I was a mainstay of the GB kayaking team back in the late 1980s my rowing experience is more limited – a season or so at Bryanston School 35 years ago and rather more sessions on the ergometer at my local gym in the past 12 months. My motivation for braving 20+ meter waves and storm-force winds – not to mention six weeks of dubious sanitation – is the fate of Margot Martini, the two-year-old daughter of friends, who succumbed to blood cancer when her parents were unable to find a matching stem cell donor in time to save her.

We don’t want your money. What we’d love is for people to become aware of what the Stem Cell Register is, to click through and consider signing up. It’s easy, it’s safe, it can save lives and help families in terrible predicaments all over the world. You can find out more on the team website at Continue reading

Health collaboration in Russia helped reduce blood pressure, deaths

Tamara Ivanovna Yachmentseva, a patient in the Yaroslavl hypertension projectTamara Yachmentseva had planned a long, happy retirement with her husband. But it was not to be. Shortly after he stopped working he suffered a devastating stroke and passed away, leaving the former kindergarten teacher widowed and alone. Distraught, Tamara’s health declined until she suffered a major heart attack. Continue reading

How a love of sport led to a science breakthrough

Novartis scientist Jeff Weers, whose love of baseball gave him the idea to transform particle engineeringJeff Weers’ passion inspired a new way of getting inhaled medicine past the body’s natural defenses to reach the lungs. He found inspiration for a medical breakthrough in an unlikely place – a baseball field. His passion for the sport led to a big idea: a new way of getting inhaled medicine past the natural obstacle course of the human mouth and throat to reach the lungs and treat respiratory diseases.

“Scientists know that their best ideas do not always present themselves in the lab,” said Weers. “Many of the things you see around you in your daily life can sometimes present solutions to the most intractable problems in science.” Continue reading