Thursday 26 April 2018

Video: Soldiers close in on unique rowing challenge

Ryan Hooper

Four soldiers who have spent the last six weeks battling atrocious conditions in a 3,000-mile rowing race are on the verge of being reunited with their families - and their prosthetic limbs.

Two members of the Row2Recovery team were forced to undergo major surgery after suffering serious injuries while serving their country in Afghanistan.

But Trooper Cayle Royce and Corporal Scott Blaney did not let their disabilities deter them from taking on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, dubbed the world's toughest rowing race, in which they have overcome high seas, extreme sleep deprivation and their tiny vessel capsizing.

Their task was made all the more remarkable considering they had to leave their prosthetic limbs on dry land, to avoid causing further damage to the joints.

Now the families of 27-year-olds Tpr Royce and Cpl Blaney, and able-bodied captains James Kayll, 34, and Mark Jenkins, 31, are heading to the finishing line in Antigua ready to celebrate - carrying the fake limbs among their hand luggage.

Amy Lee, whose fiancee Cpl Blaney lost his right leg after an IED blast in 2007, said she "can't wait" to see him again for the first time since December 4.

The 25-year-old, from Nuneaton in Worcestershire, said: "Scott's an above-the-knee amputee and also has blast wounds to his right elbow, but he can't wear the leg on the boat due to the salt getting in it and due to losing weight.

"It's difficult for him to get around the boat so he has to go around on his bum, which is not ideal."

Tpr Royce's mother Bronwyn said she was "a little apprehensive" when her son, from Dartmouth in Devon and from the Light Dragoons, said he wanted to take part in the challenge, little over a year after waking from a coma when he also stepped on an IED.

She said: "One of the first things he said when he came out the coma was: 'Mum how am I going to cope? How am I going to live life?'

"I just said: 'I don't know how but somehow you're going to get up and do more than before you were injured.'

"He always had an adventurous spirit and I'm glad it hasn't stopped."

The team, raising money for the Help For Heroes charity, have had to live off dried rations - although some of their supplies were lost when they capsized before Christmas.

Rowing in pairs for two-hour shifts, it also left little time for sleep. Some days they were forced to strip naked in sweltering conditions, while others saw them wrap up in full waterproofs to battle the high seas that batter the boat.

Teacher Stephanie Jenkins, whose 31-year-old brother is Capt Jenkins, a physiotherapy officer from Brighton and with the Royal Army Medical Corps, said morale on board team Row2Recovery has improved as they edge closer to the finish line.

"They have a satellite phone on board and when he initially called for the first time he sounded quite jaded," she said.

"It must have been a big adjustment for him to get used to it and the sleep deprivation. In recent weeks he has sounded much more buoyant as the miles tick down it becomes a more positive experience."

Alex Mackenzie, a former Army officer from Troon in Scotland and a previous challenge competitor, said life on board the cramped vessel would be "very demanding... hot and uncomfortable".

He said: "This crew has had a particularly tough opening few weeks - extreme head winds, very high seas, they were capsized.

"They say when you're serving (in the armed forces), the most dangerous part of the patrol is just before you get back into camp. You still have to be focussed on safety, you can't relax until you get there.

"But to finish it is incredible - indescribably amazing. It is life-changing."

The group are poised to finish in the top three, having spent nearly 50 days at sea.

To chart their progress, visit www.taliskerwhiskyatlanticchallenge.com/race-tracker. They are due to return to land early next week.

Press Association

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