Monday, 27 September 2021

Olympian rows Channel for charity

FORMER Leander Club captain Debbie Flood helped raise more than £300,000 for charity by rowing from

FORMER Leander Club captain Debbie Flood helped raise more than £300,000 for charity by rowing from London to Paris in six days.

The double Olympic silver medallist, of Deanfield Road, Henley, was one of 24 people who undertook the 520-mile challenge for the Donna Louise children’s hospice in Staffordshire.

She was asked to take part by Adam Moffatt, rowing coach at Shiplake College and a relative of a supporter of the charity.

Also taking part were television comedians Hugh Dennis and Nick Hancock and entrepreneur Mo Chaudry, who appeared in Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire.

The participants were divided into two teams of 12, each of whom rowed non-stop in alternating two-hour shifts in a six-seater Cornish gig. There was a seventh seat for the cox and they took turns to volunteer for this role during breaks from rowing. The boats set off from Tower Bridge on May 25 and followed the coastline down to Eastbourne before crossing the Channel.

The teams reached the Seine estuary at Le Havre then followed the river upstream to the Eiffel Tower, their final destination.

The gigs were followed by a support boat which rowers periodically boarded to eat high-calorie foods such as flapjacks and instant noodles and rest in sleeping bags.

Flood, who was the only rower with previous experience, said: “We were struggling not to fall asleep and to keep our coxes awake.

“I actually coxed several times because some people were physically broken by the challenge and needed more time to recover.

“When you finally got a chance to rest, you’d pretty much just climb into your sleeping bag and shiver for a couple of hours.

“The waves were pretty scary at night but also incredible. You’d sit there coxing, watching them roll towards the boat with nothing around you except the water and the moonlight.

“The waves also made it tough to get on the support boat as the gigs wouldn’t stay steady. They were crashing around all over the place.”

As the boats passed Dungeness on the first day, the crews encountered strong winds and tides so made no progress for eight hours.

The conditions improved as they crossed the Channel but they had to watch out to avoid tankers.

Flood said: “We were still crossing into the shipping channels, although we were using the less busy sections. Those humungous tankers might look slow when you see them from land but they’re actually travelling pretty fast.

“They’d come bearing down on us and we’d have to wait until they had passed. We couldn’t cross their paths because we’d never have made it in time.”

When the boats arrived on the outskirts of Paris, the crews moored up and took a four-hour break before finishing.

Flood said: “We all felt a mix of emotions. We were relieved that the physical challenge was over but we’d become like a little family.

“We’d spent a week making each other Pot Noodles and asking how our blisters were so we’d bonded really well.

“We all got to know each other and a developed a really supportive team atmosphere. Everyone got tired or grumpy at different points but we kept each other going with humour and silly songs.

“There was a lot of banter between the boats as well because we were constantly overtaking each other. I think that kept both teams going.

“I’m so glad I did it now â?? it was hard work but a fantastic  experience.”

Flood returned to Henley and was training as usual at Leander Club’s gym 48 hours later.

She said: “It would have been nice to have some time off afterwards but I’m taking part in the Henley Women’s Regatta this weekend and the royal regatta so I had to get straight back into preparing for that.”

To make a donation, visit /debbieflood

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