Sunday, 24 October 2021

Barmaid joins all-women Pacific rowing record bid

A WOMAN who has never rowed before has joined the crew of a four aiming to row the Pacific for

A WOMAN who has never rowed before has joined the crew of a four aiming to row the Pacific for charity.

Barmaid Lizzie Williams, 21, of Makins Road, Henley, is the second woman from the town to take part in the bid to be the first or fastest four to row from California to Australia.

She joins 37-year-old teacher Sarah Weldon, who lives off Greys Road, and Kate Gibbs, 29, who teaches at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. None has rowed before.

The fourth member, Michelle Andrews, 26, from Wetherby, pulled out this week and is still to be replaced.

The women, who are known as Fourbirdsaboating, hope to complete the 8,300-mile row in 240 days, beginning in June next year, and will be trained by Leander Club captain and double Olympic silver medallist Debbie Flood.

Miss Weldon decided to take on the challenge to raise money for Oceans Project Georgia, the charity she set up to help improve children’s education in the former Soviet republic where she used to work.

Miss Williams, the daughter of GB rowing coach Robin Williams, met Miss Weldon when she gave a talk about the challenge at Gillotts School in Henley in June.

The pair struck up a friendship and within weeks Miss Williams had been made the team’s reserve before being drafted into the boat in place of 25-year-old Brigid Weir, from Johannesburg, who has pulled out due to a family bereavement.

Miss Williams, a former Gillotts and Henley College student who graduated in English literature from Oxford Brookes University this summer, said: “We went out for coffee together and Sarah told me all about what she was up to.

“I thought it was amazing — she is a very inspiring person and she sold it to me straight away.

“When she offered me the chance to come in as a reserve I thought it was an exciting opportunity that couldn’t be missed.

“I had to consider the seriousness of what I was agreeing to but I went away to think about it and it didn’t scare me off.”

Miss Williams works part-time at the Five Horseshoes in Maidensgrove and trains at least six days a week, running 13km at a time or cycling at least 20km with her 17-year-old brother Mathew. She uses a rowing machine at home and has had some informal coaching from her father, who coached GB pair Helen Glover and Heather Stanning to gold at the London Olympics.

She has also been helped by former GB rower Erica Bodman while the whole four have so far had two training sessions with Flood.

The women’s boat, called Mr Toad, will be 23ft long and made of a lightweight carbon composite.

It will be built later this year at a cost of £56,000. The trip will cost £150,000 in total, most of which will be funded by corporate sponsorship.

The women plan to row from California to Hawaii, then on to Queensland in north-eastern Australia. They will row 24 hours a day in alternating two-hour shifts. Each of them will burn about 8,000 calories a day.Miss Williams said: “I have always wanted to be a bit of a David Attenborough. I did some teaching in Sri Lanka last year so I have got a bit of a feel for travel.

“I enjoy a challenge and have always wanted to try rowing because of what my dad does but until now there hasn’t been a good time. Both my parents were a bit concerned at first but when they talked to Sarah and saw I was serious they relaxed a bit.

“Most of my old school friends think I’m bonkers but nobody has said, ‘don’t do it’.

“It’s all about preparation. There are moments when I worry but, oddly, the more I find out about what’s involved, even all the gritty details, the more I relax.

“I’m not really sure what I want to do for a career but I think this row will open a lot of opportunities. It’s a great thing to be involved with.” Miss Weldon said: “The more I talked with Lizzie about the project, the more enthusiastic she became. We were very sad about Brigid withdrawing but Lizzie was the perfect person to slot in her place. We had 15 other reserves but I knew she was the one as soon as I met her.

“She has a lot to offer — she is very mature for her age and really calm. Being out on the water with her sealed the deal.”

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