Man Rows Across The Atlantic By Himself To Raise £100,000 For MS Research
If someone mentioned crossing the Atlantic, most people’s minds would probably go to a long-haul flight. For Gareth Reynolds, it would more likely invoke thoughts of a rowing boat, a water maker and 51 days spent at sea.
On February 1, 32-year-old Gareth, from Pembrokeshire, arrived in Antigua after successfully completing his unsupported, 3,000 mile row from the Canary Islands.
The experience is considered to be one of the most brutal physical and mental challenges out there, with more people having scaled Everest or travelled to space than having successfully crossed the Atlantic in a rowing boat.
See the moment Gareth completed the challenge below:
Despite being such an epic venture, Gareth’s decision to attempt it wasn’t spurred by a longtime love of rowing, or a dramatic effort to embark on a life-changing journey of discovery. Rather, it all stemmed from when he was sat at home on a cold, dark winter’s day, scrolling through YouTube.
While he was browsing, the 32-year-old came across a video of a team of rowers who had just completed the crossing, and having ‘always fancied the idea of doing a big challenge’, the idea stuck in his head.
Gareth had never rowed before, but his family owns a boat business and he and his family previously sailed across the Atlantic – though he admitted that was a ‘much more relaxing experience compared to a row.’
Speaking to UNILAD, Gareth explained that he ‘always get[s] a bit fed up’ in the winter, so deciding to take on the challenge gave him something to focus on when he was ‘having a bit of a down time mentally’.
Gareth started training in December 2018 before signing up with organisers Atlantic Campaigns the following April. He focused on strength training and trying to make his body ‘injury proof’, while also trying to get used to the concept of living on a tiny boat for weeks on end.
With his determination flowing, Gareth decided to use the challenge to raise £100,000 for the MS Society to contribute to its ongoing Stop MS Appeal, which aims to raise £100 million in ten years to find treatments for everyone living with multiple sclerosis.
MS has affected a number of Gareth’s close friends and family, and he noted that he didn’t realise how common the condition was until he started raising money for it. Fundraising for the challenge started off well and Gareth received support through corporate sponsors and local businesses, but when the coronavirus outbreak prevented fundraising events and forced businesses to close, things became more challenging.
Still, Gareth prevailed and at the end of November he travelled to the Canary Islands to prepare for his weeks at sea. He recalled there being a ‘very, very nervous energy down on the marina’, but after two years in the making, Gareth was just keen to get going.
I was quite happy that day… I was just so excited to get going, and the first week out on the water was really nice. All the stress of the hundreds and hundreds of emails back and forward daily just stopped because your phone goes out of signal.
Once Gareth left the Canary Islands, he was not allowed to stop or receive any support. He had a water maker to convert salt water into drinking water, and relied on solar panels to charge the electric items he needed on board.
After getting off to a good start, Gareth got stuck in ‘a patch of really bad wind’ for four or five days. He described himself as getting ‘hounded’ by the breeze, and said the need to continue rowing through it was ‘probably the biggest mental struggle’ he faced during his trip.
He explained: ‘You’re probably rowing on average 16-18 hours a day, trying to squeeze in an hour of sleep here and there, and trying to pace it and keep yourself [and] your motivation going is difficult.’
The challenges didn’t stop there, and at 2am one night, in the ‘pitch black’, Gareth was hit by a wave which caused his boat to capsize. He described himself as being ‘at the wrong place at the wrong time’ as the wave caught him wrong and sent the boat backwards, causing him to become pinned in the corner by his oar.
Thankfully, the rowing boats are made to roll, so the boat righted itself within a couple of seconds and Gareth came away from the experience unscathed, aside from a bruise across his stomach from the oar.
Recalling the experience, he said: ‘Everything that goes wrong is always in the middle of the night.’
When asked if he ever felt like giving up, Gareth said that from the moment he signed up to the challenge to when he arrived in Antigua it ‘never really crossed [his] mind to stop’. It’s fortunate that he felt this way, as Gareth noted: ‘When you’re out there you just know there’s no way you can do anything but carry on.’
You haven’t really got much choice. At the middle point you’re as far away from anywhere else on the planet as you can be. It’s a weird feeling being out in the middle and thinking, ‘the only way I can get there is to keep on rowing’, even if it’s the last thing you want to do.
Gareth decided to take his trip five miles at a time – as that was the furthest away he could ever see. His five-mile bubble continued to move along as he rowed until finally he clapped eyes on land on his approach to Antigua.
While being out in the middle of the Atlantic might spur feelings of total isolation, Gareth was able to keep in touch with loved ones via his satellite phone. Plus, while the rest of the world was dealing with a global pandemic, he admitted that being so far away from everything was actually quite a nice place to be.
Explaining that he ‘didn’t really struggle mentally’ with the solitude, he said:
I think I’d built up to it and I was just so happy to be away from the world. It couldn’t be a better time.
I didn’t miss Christmas or New Year, and while it was was really hard to get to the start line because we didn’t run any of the fundraisers that we’d planned, actually getting out there it couldn’t have fallen at a better time.
After more than 50 days at sea, Gareth said he felt a ‘weight lifted’ when he finally spotted Antigua. Having decided to embark on the journey two years earlier, his arrival felt like the culmination of all of his work and preparation, rather than just the weeks he’d spent rowing.
He admitted that he doesn’t ever think he’ll beat the feeling of seeing the supporters waiting for him in Antigua, though he’s willing to try as just one day after returning to Wales he was ‘already thinking about what’s next’.
Still, Gareth has some recovery to do first, like getting used to his ‘land legs’ and falling into a sleeping pattern that doesn’t involve waking up every hour to row.
Having been running the entire time he was at sea, Gareth’s online fundraiser had reached almost £40,000 by the time he returned, compared to just £10,000 when he left. He plans on contributing some of the money from the sale of his rowing boat towards the cause, and hopes to hold a big fundraiser to raise more money when restrictions allow.
As well as raising money for the MS Society, Gareth has been using the challenge to raise awareness for the Pembrokeshire-based mental health charity Get The Boys a Lift, which offers free counselling sessions to those in need.
Although his plans to raise money and awareness were thrown into disarray with the coronavirus outbreak, Gareth said he feels lucky that he was able to ‘go out and do something’ for charity while other methods for raising money were put on hold.
As for his next challenge, Gareth has promised himself that he ‘wouldn’t do anything for six months to give [himself] a bit of time to recover’, but he hopes to find something that will beat the feeling of arriving on dry land after almost two months on the water.
You can donate to Gareth’s online fundraiser here.
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