“Remember for Paul every stroke physically hurts, every missed stroke in the rough water hurts more… Mentally he is pushing his body to do things it does not want to do…” Mike Gilbert (Coach).
Saturday 25 May 2019: After twenty-two miles in the world’s busiest shipping lane, adaptive rower Paul Smith is just three miles from the English coastline. Finally it seems as though all that training on ergo and water is about to reach its triumphant conclusion.
Paul is rowing the English Channel to raise funds for Breast Cancer Haven in memory of his friend Marjorie Anne who lost her second battle with breast cancer in 2017. After leaving Dover at 8.05am he’s rowed out to the French border mid-Channel and is now on his way back. The sun’s out. He’s been singing. From the bottom of the boat a photo of Marjorie-Anne smiles up at him.
Then the weather turns…
“By now the wind had got up and it was then wind against tide, with just 3 miles from the finish the consequences were we were now in a force 3 sea bordering on a force 4.” Paul Smith.
Paul has been hit by what he calls a ‘washing-machine effect’; waves about two feet high constantly slamming into his slender single-scull craft, ‘Epona’. Paul can’t scull properly any more – first one oar digs into the water while the other sweeps thin air, then it’s the same again on the other side. Trying to counter the waves and steer is taking a dreadful toll.
From the support boat, Paul’s coaches, Mike Gilbert and Emma Gueterbock, look on with concern. Can Paul hold out?
“Tough times for Paul…this is a battle of heart over Mother Nature. Go Paul!! You can do it!!” Emma Gueterbock.
‘Determination, guts and courage’
This is a man who has survived a head-on car crash, sustaining injuries to his spine, head, hip and upper body and lives with constant migraine pressure in his head 24/7. A man who has raised millions for charity by completing challenges in his wheelchair or throwing himself from an aeroplane. This is his final challenge, only begun at a time when he felt he had no more to give. But he’s suffering now. With two miles to go, Mike Gilbert wonders whether it’s time to call him in.
“Every stroke hurt like nothing I have experienced, EVER, every missed stroke hurt even more! I prayed to God for help, I looked at Marjorie Anne’s photo smiling back at me. Most of all I was NEVER giving up, you may see me struggle but you’ll never see me quit, NEVER!!!” Paul Smith.
Voice over the sea
Mike doesn’t pull the plug. Instead he picks up the megaphone and coaches Paul in. Just another half-mile? Spurred on, Paul eventually finds a stroke and team-work brings him home. Challenge completed!
“I’ve never failed anything except my first driving test and I wasn’t about to give up on this. Not Just because of Marjorie Anne but if I’d failed I would have cheated all the people who have supported me.
“If we can just raise £25,000 that’s twenty-five people who can receive care from Breast Cancer Haven. Marjorie Anne didn’t ask me to do this. I’m just doing this because she was such an inspiration to me. I’ve done it as a thank you. I can only blame myself!
“I’m glad I’ve done it. It was a massive achievement. I’ve now completed challenges on land, in the air and on the sea. Being ex-Navy it seems appropriate to finish on the sea.” Paul Smith.
As a proud supporter of Paul’s challenges for many years, here at Globaleather we’d just like to say: a massive Well Done!
Headline Photo: Karen Horne
To find out more about Paul and his Challenge check out the following links: