OLYMPIC champion Katherine Grainger took to a rowing machine for the first time since her success at London 2012 and helped raise £435 for the Millie’s Dream appeal.
The 37-year-old rower, who won gold in the women’s double sculls, was part of a combined effort to row 10 miles in two hours on the ergo in Henley market place last Friday.
She was also trying to raise awareness of the appeal, which has now bought two of the 10 defibrillators it aims to have installed in 10 schools in the Henley area.
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Grainger, who is vice-patron of the appeal, was joined by the Mayor of Henley, pupils from Rupert House School and their parents.
Children used buckets to collect donations from passers-by and a demonstration was given on how to use a defibrillator.
Sarah Roberts, 44, of King’s Road, Henley, wants to raise £15,000 to equip seven schools in Henley as well as the primaries in Sonning Common, Crazies Hill and Checkendon with the life-saving equipment. She was inspired to launch the appeal by her six-year-old daughter Millie, who suffers from a heart and lung condition and will need corrective surgery when she is older.
Miss Roberts said: “It was a fantastic event and the children did us proud. This was mainly just an awareness day and to add a bit of fun in light of the fact that our vice-patron has done a few rowing strokes in her past.
“At the same time we had a demonstration of defibrillators so people could have a feel of them and listen to the instructions. This allows them to realise that if they come across someone who has had a cardiac arrest they have nothing to fear if they’ve got a defibrillator. The machine will do it all.” Millie’s Dream now has a total of £11,000 in donations and pledges.
This includes £2,350 for the two defibrillators bought by Henley business owners Caleb Southwell and Barry Newton and £1,830 in cash donations.
David Nimmo Smith, who represents Henley on Oxfordshire County Council, has pledged £1,000 from his locality budget and appeal vice-patron Lord Remnant has pledged £500. Rupert House, where Millie is a pupil, is to donate the proceeds from its Christmas wine fair.
On Friday, a man gave Millie a £50 note and a woman handed over a cheque for £100.
Miss Roberts said the support for the appeal since it was launched in the Henley Standard three weeks ago had been “phenomenal”.
She said: “We’re well on our way to making our dream come true.”
Grainger said using a rowing machine for the first time in more than a year hadn’t been as bad as she expected.
She said: “For international athletes the rowing machine is seen as a slight torture machine so when you’re not rowing it’s what you avoid.
“I haven’t missed it but for the first time back I was expecting more of a shock, although I was on it for a reasonably short time.”
She said Millie’s Dream was important, adding: “The amazing thing is that it has been set up by a local mum and is a cause that’s very close to her heart.
“It has been getting a lot of local support because it’s about trying to make people better within the community. It’s also encouraging people to get fit and stay healthy and for me that made it an important thing to be part of.”
Grainger would like to see the appeal extended beyond schools.
“The idea is to hopefully reach out into sports clubs like Leander as well as businesses and villages,” she said. “The great thing is the machines aren’t hugely expensive and they save lives.”
Suzanne Stickley, who will be providing free first aid training to the schools that receive the equipment, used a training defibrillator to demonstrate how the machines work.
The former paramedic, who now runs First Aid Matters, said they provided the best chance of reviving a heart if it went into an irregular rhythm.
Mrs Stickley, from Stoke Row, said: “It’s so important that a defibrillator is brought to a patient very quickly, particularly if they have had sudden cardiac arrest. The problem is we live rurally and a long way away from an ambulance station, with the nearest ones in Didcot or Reading.
“Ideally, you need to get a defibrillator here in eight minutes but we live 20 minutes away. If there aren’t any community responders or paramedics and it’s a busy time of the day then you aren’t going to get someone here with a defibrillator very quickly.”
The Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak spoke to Miss Roberts about the possibility of a having a defibrillator installed outside the town hall.
He said: “I think Sarah and Millie are an inspiration and trying to get these defibrillators into schools is a real plus.” The Mayor joined in the row and said: “I’m glad I wasn’t doing it full pelt or for any longer.”
Lord Remnant, of Northfield End, said: “Sarah has got quite a personal family challenge so to be turning it around and using it in a way that benefits the whole community is just marvellous.” To make a donation, send a cheque, made out to “Millie’s Dream”, to: Barclays Bank, 10 Hart Street, Henley, RG9 2AX. The account number is 83990389 and the sort code is 20-39-53. There are also 24 collection boxes in shops, hairdressers, GP surgeries, Henley leisure centre and pubs in the area.
For more information, visit www.milliesdream.org.uk