"I have learnt so much more about my condition in the last 18 months, partly thanks to NASS’s research. For this reason, I decided to take part in the Winter Walk Challenge to help raise funds and awareness and as a challenge for myself. I have always enjoyed walking and thought this would be the ideal fundraising opportunity for me, whilst also being able to spend some quality time with my family."Read Simon's story
On 12 December 2023, Jamie, who has axial SpA, will row for 65 days across 3,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean, to raise vital funds for NASS and awareness of axial SpA.
Over the next 5 months, Jamie will share the highs and lows of preparing for such a gruelling challenge.
Read Jamie’s August blog here.
Read Jamie’s September blog here.
Read Jamie’s October blog here.
Read on to find out more about Jamie and this extraordinary challenge.
How does your axial SpA affect you?
I was diagnosed in 2007 after decades of extreme fatigue, violent headaches, and aching limbs – especially challenging during my 6 years in the Army. I was a bit devastated by the diagnosis as I’m very active in the outdoors. But with biologics, the pain has gone away. I still ache around my hips and lower back, but usually only after hours of outdoor exercise. My neck and lower back have fused, but I just adapt. I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, eating and drinking reasonably, but I’m not so disciplined with daily stretches, that needs working on!
What motivated you to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic?
Two years after retiring from farming, feeling a little ‘rudderless, I saw a friend of my step-daughter finish the challenge in Antigua – the seed was sown. I am also a widower, losing two soulmates to cancer. So, I guess, I feel the need to ‘reset’, create a whole raft of new memories, and prove to myself that I can row the Atlantic with axial SpA. Raising funds and awareness for charity gives it real meaning too. Perhaps I’m a bit of an adrenaline and adventure junky too!
How are you preparing for such a physically and mentally gruelling challenge?
I’m training with a rowing and a physical coach – both have rowed the Atlantic. In addition to daily strength and mobility exercises and many hours on the rowing machine, I will spend 400 hours in my boat, ‘Aoifi’. I’ve read and watched every book and YouTube video I can find and talked to previous rowers too.
What are you most excited, and nervous, about?
Previous rowers have seen dolphins, sharks, marlin, whales, turtles and sea-birds, so I hope that happens to me! I will have to clean the bottom of the boat every week, so I’m a bit nervous about large sea-creatures disturbing me! Capsizing from huge waves is almost a certainty. Fatigue, sea sickness and hallucinations are common. One crew this year thought their yellow grab-bag was a roast chicken!
What will day-to-day life on your boat entail?
I will row 12-15 hours per day. Generally, I’ll wake at 4am, row until sunrise, cook breakfast, wash, carry out essential boat maintenance, then make fresh water. Row until lunchtime, rest, rowing some more, cook supper, then finally climb into the cabin exhausted having deployed the para-anchor to stabilise the boat.
How will you stay safe, fed, watered and medicated during your challenge?
You are always attached to the boat with a safety harness. If you are separated from the boat, your chances of survival are slim. Electronic safety equipment will update my position every 4 hours. I will consume 4,920 Kcals per day from mostly freeze-dried Mac and Cheese, Chicken Curry, or Spag Bol mixed with hot water! An electronically driven water-maker will convert sea to fresh water. I’ll take 2 pre-filled syringes of etanercept in a Frio cool bag, anti-inflammatories, and a medical kit. Mood swings for solo rowers are common, so I hope to be in daily contact with my daughter.
How do you plan to achieve your ambitious fundraising target?
I have a JustGiving page. I’m growing my Facebook and Instagram following. My daughter, Kiloran, has built a fabulous website. I’m funding the row myself, so all donations will go to charity. Pol Roger have kindly agreed to donate a signed Magnum of their finest champagne for auction at a reception after the row. I have a Silver Sponsor too – another £2,500!
How has NASS helped you to live with your condition?
Your website is full of information and inspirational stories. Everyone’s experiences are different. You’ve got to keep fighting and keep moving! I frequently resort to the sofa, I’m afraid, and it sometimes takes great strength of mind to get up and go. It’s good to feel that I’m not alone.
If someone wants to start rowing with axial SpA, what are your top tips?
You don’t have to row an ocean! There are rowing clubs all over the country. Try with a coach if you’ve never rowed before. Rowing really benefits my flexibility, morale, and wellbeing. You’ve got to get up and give it a try! Don’t ever think that you are the wrong person for this.
Where should people go to find out more about your challenge, make a donation or keep up to date with your progress?
Visit www.atlanticrowmad.com/ for my Instagram and Facebook, sponsorship and donations pages.
Visit www.taliskerwhiskyatlanticchallenge.com/ for information about the event.
Thank you Jamie for choosing to take on this challenge to raise vital funds for NASS and awareness of axial SpA. Good luck!