You know how I love a good adaptive adventure story! The best part about this one is that it is just a good damn adventure story– adaptive or not! I’ve been following some men in a boat, virtually of course, and it’s been a wild ride including crazy high waves, tropical storms, countless blisters, two hours on, two hours off, sleep deprivation, five prosthetic limbs, one of them broken. These four men comprise Row 2 Recovery, a group of amputees dedicated to crossing the Atlantic, battling high winds, thousands of miles, and 25 other crews, all with just three legs between the four men rowing. When they complete the journey, they will be the first team made up entirely of amputees to do so.
Our friend Nigel Rogoff, an ex-serviceman paratrooper, age 56 from Hereford, England, is one of the rowers. He ultimately lost his leg above the knee in February 1999, following an accident the previous December while participating in a Royal Air Force parachuting display. Our world coincided with Nigel’s years back at Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colorado when he first learned to mono ski. His primary goal was to be able to ski with his twin boys Oliver and Harry. A member of BLESMA, British Limbless Ex-Service Men’s Association, Nigel joined forces with three other amputees to form the first all amputee rowing team to cross the Atlantic, leaving from the Canary Islands just before Christmas and ending up in Antigua over the course of six weeks, roughly. At this writing, they have under 1000 miles left to go.
The boat is led by Cayle Royce, 29, from Devon, England, who suffered a double leg amputation and lost the fingers on his left hand following an IED blast in Helmand, Afghanistan whilst serving in the Brigade Reconnaissance Force in 2012. Former Irish Guardsman Paddy Gallagher, 30, lives in Cambridgeshire and lost his right leg below the knee in an IED blast in Nad E Ali, Afghanistan in 2009. Lastly, Lee Spencer, 46, is from Yelverton, England. After three tours in Afghanistan, Lee lost his right leg below the knee helping to save the life of a crashed civilian motorist back in England. You can learn even more about this amazing group of men by checking out their website at row2recovery.com and follow them on Twitter @row2recovery or @leglessrowers. Nigel’s wife, Sarah, has obviously been one of their biggest fans, and it’s been almost entirely through her posts that my family has been stalking hers. She is one of those lovely women you meet once in your life, and you feel as if you’ve known her forever. The families behind these men are as much a part of their story as the men themselves.
Three thousand miles in a boat with three other guys, with two men rowing at a time for two hour stretches for 45 days or more seems an impossible task. As much as this is a serious physical feat, the mental game of being in close quarters with each other on an open ocean during super hot days is a less than ideal exercise circumstance. However, these men have already illustrated their strength in defeating serious adversity- both in their military service and the way they have chosen to live their lives with their families on a day to day basis. They made the choice to move forward, and now they are focusing attention and funding for programs that help others to do the same.
My husband Geoff has worked with Nigel over the years, and also has just hung out and relaxed with him. “Nigel is a real survivor; he does what he needs to power through. He has tremendous passion and loyalty for what he believes in. He is also a humble athlete, which makes him an incredible teammate in this kind of overwhelming achievement. Following him cross the Atlantic Ocean is amazing. A once in a lifetime experience.”
His ski coach at Breck and good friend, Matt Nestor shared that working with Nigel has been by far one of his favorite coaching experiences. “Nigel was committed from the beginning. He was willing to put his body through anything to learn how to ski again with his sons.” A former paratrooper, he is highly involved with both of his boys’ activities back home. Nigel’s family actually stayed with Matt’s up in North Woodstock when they skied at Loon on holiday. Matt’s wife, Michelle, is always impressed by what a good dad Nigel is. “Nigel is an incredible father– to watch him with his boys is something you hope as a parent your kid will be with you when they are a teenager. His boys actually like to talk to him and spend time with him.”
This crossing is part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, known as the world’s toughest rowing race. In addition to fundraising for groups like Blesma, Prince Harry’s Endeavour Fund, Help for Heroes and Row2Recovery’s inland military adaptive rowing program, these guys are creating an enormous awareness for taking an amazing life time adventure– despite only having three real legs between them.
These are strong men– some of the strongest I will ever read about in my lifetime. They remind me of other strong people in the world- men, women, boys and girls- who face different kinds of challenges every day, whether they are physical, cognitive, or situational kinds of adversity. Our friend, Rob Mueller, has started this cool website concept, and these two stories should also bridge connections. If you loved reading about Nigel and their cool story, check out Mpower Sports and Recreation on Facebook. Their vision is to: “Challenge the status quo of ability, sport and athleticism.” Their solution is to: “Create a disability sports news network for photographers, journalists and filmmakers to report on events and competitions and tell the stories of our community. Lastly, their mission is to: “Resolve the ‘media desert’ surrounding disability sports and recreation and to reduce the amount of time it takes someone to discover their ability through the power of sport.” I love reading Mpower’s newsfeed whenever it is updated; it just makes my day better.
Check out Nigel and his friends cruising the Atlantic at relative warp speed. Send them as many positive vibes and good wishes as you can set free in the surf! Check out Mpower Sports and Recreation for daily reminders about how people are challenging the stereotypes of disabilities. Go Nigel! Go Paddy! Go Cayle! Go Lee! Antigua: here they come!