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From shoulder injury to trans-Atlantic row in 6 months: a story of mental and physical endurance

In September 2017, George Randell – one half of the Oardinary Boys rowing team – approached ESPH to help him get ready for the gruelling Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, which he was planning to complete alongside rowing partner Oli Glanville.

The row, which was being undertaken to raise funds for The Against Malaria Foundation and Alzheimer’s Research UK, covers more than 3,000-miles and is a battle of endurance described as the premier event in ocean rowing.

Sounds tough enough in itself, right?

Wrong.

George, it turns out, was adding a bit more spice into the mix in the form of substantially decreased mobility and strength following extensive shoulder surgery in July 2017. Luckily, ESPH physiotherapist Luke Hogan and personal trainer Alexandra McMillan are fans of complex, logistically sensitive rehab assignments and, so, we said OK: challenge accepted.

Pre-race status:

Post injury recover monitored by Luke, George had a lot of work to do in the gym with some of his initial eGym strength scores pegging him as someone in his mid-60s (he is, in fact, 22).

Luke’s assessment before George set off: “It was great meeting George and working with him to achieve his goals. He certainly presented us with a very complicated and interesting task. Trying to simultaneously rehabilitate a serious shoulder injuring requiring surgery, and train for a massive endurance event was always going to be very challenging considering we only had limited time before he set off”.

 

“Overall George progressed extremely well with his shoulder rehabilitation under supervision from both myself and Alexandra McMillan. He was very dedicated to his gym programme and his strength is now at a point where he is confident in using his shoulder functionally. While we were hoping to increase his overall rowing volume to higher levels than those that we achieved I believe that, given the amount of time he is as best prepared as possible to tackle the monumental task he has set for himself.”

Alexandra worked extensively with George in the gym and he made quick progress. Of the pre-training experience, George said: “I feel pretty good, and coming from a rowing background I sit reasonably well amongst the participants in terms of muscle endurance and general fitness. Ideally, I’d like to be heavier. Despite putting on 10 kilos over the past few months I’m expected to lose up to 20% of my body weight. Saying that, the challenge is above all mental- the body is not really equipped to last for 60 days of rowing. The rest is grit and determination, and meeting the other crews is a reminder of that. One of the military vets on the boat next door lost a leg in Afghanistan.”

So, with a few additional hurdles to overcome, but, in general good health, George and Oli set off to the Canary Islands in December, ready for the mental and physical challenge ahead of them.

And they smashed it out of the park!

On 20th January, just 1 hour and 36 minutes behind the winning, world record breaking pair Row to Recovery, The Oardinary Boys  crossed the finish line of the 2017 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge in a time of 37 days, 9 hours and 46 minutes. They placed 10th overall and hold the second fastest time in history for the pairs, trans-Atlantic row.

Here’s the low down from George:

“We came second in the pairs, following an epic battle with Row 2 Recovery, two military guys. We both smashed the previous world record by 2 days and after 3,000 miles we were separated by just over an hour!”

 

Once George had a chance to take a breath, he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the experience…

What was the most unexpected thing that happened to you and Oli throughout the race?

“A couple of unexpected things happened. At sunrise we’d often find the boat’s deck covered with dead flying fish and, on one shift. I was hit in the face by a squid soaring out the water. We also rowed alongside a 12-foot shark and a humpback whale far bigger than our 22-foot boat”.

“My partner Oli struggled to adapt to the sleeping pattern so hallucinated through all his night shifts. As a result, he would regularly wake me up in the cabin to tell me that we were coming into land”.

What was the high point?

“There were points in the race where Oli and I were obsessed with beating Row 2 Recovery- our showdown was the closest the race has ever seen. The race is about so much more than competition though, and seeing the Humpback whale, dolphins and pilot whales continually reminded us why we were out there. Some sunrises (and moon rises!)  we’ll never come near to beating. There were also moments of euphoria when you realise that you have overcome all that nature can throw at you: storms, 40ft waves, sweltering heat…”

And the low point?

“Adapting to the conditions at the start was miserable. Everything in our cabin was soaking wet, and sea sickness meant we could only manage to eat 1,000 calories a day, even as we were burning 10,000. My partner Oli lost 12 kilos in just over a month”.

“Also, the conditions meant that all our electronic items bit the dust. Knowing you have three weeks of night shifts left with nothing but your delirious mind for company is a horrible feeling. On the plus side, I now feel I can handle the boredom that any long tube journey or hospital waiting room in London can throw at me!”

How about injuries?

“Amazingly, my shoulder gave me no problems throughout the crossing. However, there is no way that the race can be described as anything but a pain contest. Everything on board becomes covered in a layer of salt, which acts like sandpaper on your skin, and pressure sores soon develop in delicate places. In addition, having no more than 1.5 hours sleep at a time means nothing really repairs or recovers. All you can do is to manage your physical decline through the race.”

“From gripping the oars day after day my hands can’t close and are stuck open like claws as a sit here typing in Antigua. For now, they act as a good beer holder though!”

Define the experience in one sentence:

“Living in two-hour shifts has taught me that short term thinking can help you achieve difficult long-term goals.”

 

Of this fantastic result, Luke commented: “After hearing about his achievement, the thing that has impressed me most about George is his mental toughness! Considering George had a major shoulder surgery (which takes most people 1 month just to easily put a shirt on), and began his rehabilitation just 3 months prior to starting the race it is incredible that he was even able to finish. I am blown away by the fact that he was able to break the previous world record and come second by as little as an hour. He outdid all of my expectations.”

Alexandra added: “An outstanding achievement for George and Oli! George committed himself through the post rehab/pre-event training to build his strength while rehabilitating his shoulder. I can’t even begin to imagine the mental challenges they went through. It was a pleasure to work with George and be part of helping him towards this outstanding achievement. Huge, huge congratulations George & Oli, absolutely amazing.”

An amazing achievement. From everyone here at ESPH, we just want to say: congratulations!

The team’s fundraising page will remain open until 31st March 2018. You can access it and make a donation here.

There is one comment:

  1. Charles - February 6, 2018 at 9:52 pm

    Thanks Luke and Alexandra from George’s proud Dad. It’s simply amazing how quickly he recovered from his operation under your care!

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