Ross has been interviewed on the Reverse Rett Podcast by the charity’s founder Rachael Stevenson! It’s a great interview and answers a lot of questions we’re often asked about the challenge. Give it a listen by clicking on the button below.
During the conversation, Ross and Rachael chat about what’s actually involved in racing across an ocean in a very small boat with four other people, and the motivation to do this for his 9-year-old daughter, Eliza, who has Rett Syndrome. Ross shares how the challenge came about and how the team continue to prepare to set off later this year despite the ongoing uncertainty around the pandemic.
Reverse Rett is our chosen charity as you know, and they host an annual fundraising dinner at this time of year. Ordinarily this is in a fancy London venue and everyone gets dressed up for an evening’s food, entertainment and enriching spirits. This year they decided to take this party online rather than cancel it altogether, and hosted a really successful evening featuring musicians, a magician, interviews and stories, Matt Smith, Romesh Ranganathan, Russell Howard… and us!
We agreed to donate the prize of a day trip with us on our ocean rowing boat around the beautiful Firth of Forth where we live, and they asked if we could be interviewed as part of the show. Of course we agreed and you can watch our section from the show below.
The Big Night In online was a huge success – instead of the 500 guests they are limited to by the venue, there were 2000 tickets sold for the online show and some amazing prizes on the silent auction and prize draw. We were amazed by how much was bid to spend a day with us and are delighted that we could support the evening.
As I write this the finally tally for the evening hasn’t yet been finalised, but by the end of the show itself the total was already over £53,000 which I think is an astonishing amount for an online show!
Much to everyone’s relief, the 2020 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge will be going ahead as normal, with the race starting 1 month from now (squeaky bum time)! Atlantic Campaigns who organise the race have been working hard to ensure that competitors are able to stay as safe as possible during the pre-race run up in La Gomera and it looks like most of the crews will still be competing.
Sadly for some crews, travel restrictions have meant they’ve had to postpone their campaigns for a year or even two. We’ve been chatting to The Pacific Boys from the USA, who should have been racing this year, but had to defer, and were on the waiting list for our race in 2021. The great news for them is that they’ve had their place confirmed, so we’ll (hopefully) be able to share some beers with them in La Gomera next year!
Having to delay is far from ideal when you’ve spent so much time building up fundraising and fitness, and mentally gearing yourself towards the challenge, so we really feel for the crews who haven’t been as lucky at securing places yet and really hope that the pandemic doesn’t adversely affect our crossing.
Because of crews like The Pacific Guys coming into the fleet, our race is now full with 37 boats taking part! It’s going to be some race! Seeing the crews we’ve been following on social media making their last preparations is just about giving me heart failure with the amount of work we still have to do before our race starts in 13 months time.
But at least we have some big news on our race boat coming very soon!
Ross has started writing a blog for our chosen charity Reverse Rett to keep everyone involved with the charity up to date on our progress. There’s a copy of his first entry below but you can also stay up to date with the blog on the My Challenge of a Lifetime section of the Reverse Rett website.
My Challenge of a Lifetime
By Ross McKinney
Ross (2nd left) and the Five in a Row team
Four years ago, and nearing the age of 40, I took up rowing for the first time. I never rowed at. University or even gave it much thought in my youth, apart from maybe a pootle around a duckpond on holiday. Living by the sea in North Berwick is a blessing and there are loads of amazing opportunities to get out on the water. After my first outing in a St Ayles skiff (a four-oared wooden rowing boat), I was hooked. What started as the odd social row soon became competitive training, racing at regattas and even taking home a bronze medal from the Skiffie World Championships.
Fast forward four years and I am now part of a 5-man crew aiming to race across the Atlantic Ocean!
Five In A Row has entered the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge and will be competing in the 2021 race from the Canary Islands to Antigua. It is 3000 miles across the ocean and we will be racing 24/7 for 5-6 weeks. It is going to be a huge physical challenge and is also going to test our mental strength not to mention our friendship, as we will be living in extremely close proximity! What keeps my focus is that my personal challenge is nothing compared to what my daughter, Eliza, has to go through every day. If I ever need inspiration at sea, it will be her strength to fight Rett Syndrome that keeps me going.
Ross and Eliza
Four of our crew (Duncan, Ian, Clive and myself) are based in North Berwick and actively involved in the local community and the Scottish coastal rowing scene. Fraser is based in Perthshire, many miles from the sea, but is a keen adventurer and sportsman. During the long days of lockdown, we have had the welcome distraction of planning for the event.
The race does not start until December 2021, but our campaign is already underway! There is a huge amount of preparation – from sourcing a boat, kitting out the boat, planning our meals, working out our rowing schedule, completing safety courses…..and of course lots of physical training!
The other major challenge is how we are going to fund all of this and get us to the start line, as well as raising as much as we possibly can for Reverse Rett! My emotions going into this campaign have been all over the place, from excitement at the challenge ahead, fear as to what the ocean may throw at us and not to mention what the impact of Covid-19 may mean for our plans.
It is also an incredibly selfish adventure to take on, as it will mean leaving Catherine, our four young children and two dogs for about two months (and overChristmas!). In fact it was Catherine who told me to go for it in the end and has been incredibly supportive of the whole venture – for that I am very lucky! I’m also extremely proud to be able to support Reverse Rett. The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge attracts a huge following and media coverage, so I am very keen that we can use this to raise awareness of the charity and the amazing work that they do.
We have a huge range of both corporate and personal sponsorship options for anybody who would like to support us, including becoming a “stowaway” on our boat for £250 and having your name or even your child’s name on the inside of our boat, so they can accompany us across the Atlantic!
We are looking to establish regional ambassadors to support our campaign and help our fundraising for Reverse Rett. If you think you could help with contacts or fundraising, please get in touch via email@example.com or via social media.
We enjoyed our first World in a Day event so much we agreed to do it again this week, but this time some of the participating rowers online suggested that doing only 20 miles when just another 6 would take you to a full marathon was just a wasted opportunity!
The response from our crew was that the guys were keen and if they couldn’t do it on the day (taking around 3 hours out from home-schooling and work may not be popular!) they would get a full marathon knocked out asap. Fraser still hasn’t got access to a rowing machine so has to sit this one out, but we will be reminding him of his obligation as soon as that changes.
Once again it was difficult to know how to pace it, but after last week’s 32k at least we had a better idea of what we were in for. I had no target other than completing the distance in one go without my arse falling off, and I’m pleased to say the whole thing felt pretty comfortable and my average split was faster than last week’s.
Four of us have now completed our marathons as you can see above. Much like the row itself I think this was as much as test of mental fortitude as physical capabilities, and seeing the evidence of my crew-mates’ efforts only reaffirms the faith that everyone is willing to push themselves to conquer these challenges.
Lockdown is a real problem for training. There’s the obvious lack of opportunity to train as a crew, but the bigger issue (at least for me) is trying to maintain the motivation to jump onto that ergo and row. Clive, Dunc, Ross and I all compete on the Scottish Coastal Rowing circuit and we, like many others, are staring down the barrel of an entire season going by without ever stepping into a boat. It’s not good for your head.
Dunc messaged the group to say he’d found a lockdown ergo challenge for us to do and we signed up immediately. Anything that breaks from the current norms and gives you a challenge to get your teeth into has got to be good!
World in a Day is the brainchild of Mark Beaumont, cyclist and adventurer extraordinaire, who wanted to recreate his epic Round the World record by covering the 240 miles that he’d cycled each day during that challenge, but this time on his turbo trainer. His aim was to get another 79 cyclists to do the same so that between them they could cycle the whole world in one, very sweaty, day.
The first session, hosted on a massive live Zoom call last Thursday, was a great success and on the back of that John Davidson (of Mad Giraffe Atlantic Rowing) decided to get in on the action and recruit 150 rowers to help him cross the Atlantic in one day. It meant rowing 20 miles or 32k each which would easily be the longest any of our crew has ever sat continuously on an ergo.
What a fantastic day! The online peloton (Zoom chat) meant you could see and chat to the other rowers and cyclists taking part, and periodically Mark brought on special guests to be interviewed, including Jamie Maclean of the Broar brothers who rowed Talisker last year and Laura Penhaul of the Coxless Crew (their documentary Losing Sight of Shore is on Netflix) who rowed the Pacific in 2015.
There was no competition mentality and since it wasn’t a distance any of us had tried before it was quite relaxing to just find a rhythm and stick to it. The other guys all had childcare and homeschooling to deal with, so split the distance into manageable chunks, but I had decided to do it in one go, reasoning that I might not want to get back on again if I stopped! I started fairly conservatively to make sure I didn’t blow but by the end had found my stride and was ticking along very nicely. I finished in 2 hours and 15 mins and had a little trouble standing up after the finish, and my crew mates all put in big finishes for their last sessions. The video below is of our post challenge reactions. We’re all in surprisingly good form, which probably explains why we’re going to do it again next Thursday!