PARALYMPIC rower Naomi Riches passed through Henley on a record-breaking row along the length of the River Thames at the weekend.
Riches, a five-time world champion and 2012 LTA mixed coxed fours gold medallist, became the fastest woman to complete the 165-mile journey from Lechlade in Gloucestershire to Gravesend in Kent, finishing in just under 48 hours.
She reached Marsh Lock at about noon on Saturday, where dozens of people lined the banks to cheer her on, including members of Henley Rotary Club and her father who had made a surprise visit from his home in Yorkshire.
The 33-year-old, who is registered blind, used her break in the lock to refuel with biscuits and was visibly emotional as she spoke to her support crew.
She then rowed downstream to Leander Club where she stopped to meet Henley Mayor Julian Brookes and Joy Arnott, president of Henley Bridge Rotary Club.
Riches has cone dystrophy, meaning she has no colour vision and is sensitive to light, and nystagmus, which causes her eyes to move involuntarily.
She took on the challenge to raise money for charity IN-vision, which supports people with nystagmus and a bucket collection was held at Marsh Lock.
Riches said: “For the first 24 hours I was finding it surprisingly easy but by the second night it was incredibly challenging. The sleep deprivation was quite powerful and I was seeing all sorts of weird things!
“Going through London was one of the most exciting bits, passing under the bridges during rush hour. The last four or five hours were the hardest as there were no reference points like locks and bridges to look out for and I was rowing against the tide.
She crossed the line in 47 hours, 59 minutes and 54 seconds, which will be a new world record if it is ratified by Guinness.
Riches said: “I was so delirious when I crossed the line. I’m happy with the time but there’s always the athlete in me that says if I hadn’t had those weird spells I could have been a couple of hours quicker.
“The support was amazing - every lock had somebody and people came along who I hadn’t expected, like my dad. I can’t get over the amount of people cheering me on along the route, It was phenomenal.”
Riches has so far raised about £30,000 towards her £165,000 target.
To donate, visit www.mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/naomirichesmbe1