Shropshire team gearing up for 3,000-mile Atlantic rowing challenge

One boat, four men, 3,000 miles.

Preparing for the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge are, from left, Stuart Shepherd, Martin Skehan, Stuart Richards and Gary Richards.
Preparing for the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge are, from left, Stuart Shepherd, Martin Skehan, Stuart Richards and Gary Richards.

That is the challenge four men from Shropshire have set themselves – to row across the Atlantic and raise thousands of pounds for Severn Hospice and the RNIB.

The Wrekin Rowers have already begun their training for the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, which gets under way on December 12, 2021.

The team, made up of brothers Stuart and Gary Richards, 51 and 54, Martin Skehan, 59, and Stuart Shepherd, 56, are all members of the Shropshire Adventure Rowing Club (SARC).

They are planning to do the challenge, dubbed the World’s Toughest Race, to raise money for Severn Hospice after the charity looked after several of their close friends and family members.

“We are all from the Wellington area,” said Stuart Shepherd. “When we were thinking which charity to support during the row, there was no discussion, we all knew it had to be Severn Hospice.”

And they have chosen their other charity, the RNIB as Stuart Richards is visually impaired and Martin works as a community optometrist for Specsavers.

Mr Shepherd added that the team have a novel way of training – by Zoom calls.

Each Saturday morning, they dial each other up and, after Martin has set the pace, off they go on their indoor rowing machines.

Preparing for the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge are, from left, Stuart Shepherd, Martin Skehan, Stuart Richards and Gary Richards.

“We have been able to get the boat out on to Bala Lake a couple of times, and now that lockdown has lifted, we are planning some more trips over the coming weeks,” added Mr Shepherd.

“It’s great being able to train at home but we really need to be out on the water in the boat.

“We are friends first and foremost; we are training very hard and we are planning on being as well prepared for this race as we can be.

“We are going to make our way through it. It’s fair to say that we are not going to enjoy it all the time but that’s not what it’s for. If we are prepared enough, it will be ok.”

Every year, the race begins at La Gomera in the Canary Islands with the finishing line at English Harbour in Antigua, where the sailors are met by TV crews, journalists, along with their relieved friends and families.

Along the way they will have battled angry seas, rowed more than 1.5 million oar strokes, burned 5,000 calories a day and shared a bucket for a toilet.

“We hope to finish the race in under 50 days,” added Mr Shepherd. “Low points may be at Christmas Day when we won’t be with our wives and children but there will be many other new experiences along the way.”

The Wrekin Rowers have bought the boat, called the Noah SARC, themselves and self-funded the trip, so any money they do raise will go directly to their chosen charities.

They have set themselves a target of raising £100,000.

Phenomenal

“It’s a big amount,” said Mr Shepherd, “but I’m hoping that everyone in Shropshire gets behind us for two great charities.”

Hannah Gamston, Severn Hospice’s area fundraiser said: “What the Wrekin Rowers are doing is absolutely phenomenal.

“It is hard to imagine what it will be like at sea for them. They will have to overcome so many obstacles: from 20ft waves to sea sickness and blisters.

“And to think they are doing this to raise money for us is astounding. We were proud to be able to be there when they needed us most and delighted that they chose us as their local charity.

“But this really does go above and beyond giving something back to us. We can’t thank them enough.

“They’re amazing and we wish them all the best for their training and for the eventual race. We’ll be keeping in close touch with them over the coming months and supporting them each step, or oar stroke, of the way.”

Anyone who would like to donate to the fundraiser can text the word Atlantic to 70520 to donate £10 or Atlantic5 to donate £5.

Alternatively people can go to www.wrekin-rowers.com/donate to donate online.

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