It’s all starting to get very real


by Ross McKinney

The countdown is really on now until Five In A Row set off on our ocean rowing adventure. Our five-man crew are taking on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge in December and will be racing from the Canary Islands to Antigua. We are aiming to raise lots of funds for Reverse Rett and also see just how far we can push our bodies in the process!

We have already come a very long way in the campaign so far. As a crew – myself, Duncan, Clive, Ian and Fraser – have built strong bonds through training together and spending a lot of time understanding how we each think and operate. When you are stuck on a 28ft by 5ft rowing boat for 5-6 weeks, you need to be sure that you are in good company and with likeminded people who will all pull together when anybody needs support.

We have been building up for this race for 18 months or so and we are now reaching a critical time, making sure that we are prepared for the crossing. Once we are out there, we are on our own….the race is unsupported and we need to carry all our food and be able to repair the boat and deal with any medical issues whilst at sea – lets hope that isn’t needed too often! To say the organising and planning has been intense would be huge understatement!!

Ross and the boys in action

We recently took our boat to Yorkshire to meet up with a couple of other crews and also the race organisers. Our kit was all laid out beside the boat and the safety team from Atlantic campaigns went through everything to make sure we had it and also, more importantly, that we also knew how it worked.

We have also now completed our classroom courses, including Seamanship and Essential Navigation, First Aid at sea and also a Sea Survival course. These are all important skills to have but let’s hope we never need to use them on the crossing.

Physical training has also become a constant part of daily life and we are preparing our bodies for the demands of rowing 24/7 in 2 hour shift patterns. It will be a test of endurance and perseverance and trying to consistently perform shift after shift, day after day, despite aching muscles and blistered hands.

We are now out on the boat for one or two days at a time, building up experience and getting used to rowing through the night. Getting used to the shift pattern and also how we adapt to living on the boat is every bit as important as the rowing itself. Preparing food, washing, tidying the boat and trying to get some sleep in the cramped cabins all need practice, so we can work out the best and safest way to move around on-board.

We have heard many people say that the challenge is more mental than physical. With this in mind, we have been preparing ourselves mentally for what lies ahead of us. We have been fortunate to work with Katie Warriner, one of the UKs leading Performance Psychologists, who has prepared us for the challenges we are going to face. We will have some tough days when we don’t want to go on, and need to support our crew mates and think about how we define success in the event. This has been an awesome experience and has provided great skills which we are already using in everyday life.

Sponsorship opportunities are still available

From the outset, the main thing that has kept me grounded and focused is my daughter Eliza and her struggle with Rett Syndrome. One of the main goals is to raise awareness for Reverse Rett and fundraise to support the ongoing research to find Eliza a cure, or treatments so that she can have a better future. Even with this huge driving force, there is anxiety building as the race grows closer with the enormity of the challenge we have set ourselves and the self-doubt kicks in from time to time. Am I crazy taking on this row? Am I strong enough? Am I prepared enough? It always passes, and I can re-focus on what we want to achieve. I am excited to see just how far I can push myself both physically and mentally to succeed and do well in the challenge.  

If you would like to find out more about our challenge or support us in any way, please contact me on Costs for the boat, navigation equipment, training, food and transport will be in the region of £100,000 and any funds above this and from the sale of the boat and equipment after the race will go direct to Reverse Rett. We also have a page for personal donations

Ross McKinney is a father of 4 from North Berwick on the south-east coast of Scotland, near Edinburgh. Eliza is his second oldest child. “My daughter, Eliza, is 10 years old and I barely remember her voice. Although born seemingly perfectly healthy, she lost the ability to talk before she was 3 years old, and we then watched her slowly lose the ability to do almost everything else. She is mostly confined to a wheelchair and unable to participate in almost all of the activities that her three siblings enjoy. Her diagnosis of Rett Syndrome was followed by the complications of epilepsy and at one point she was having more than 10 severe seizures every day. Her life is far from easy and she relies on 1:1 support to do the simplest of tasks. My family and I are dedicated to fundraising for Reverse Rett until a cure is found for Eliza and others like her.”