Row for Freedom train
Row for Freedom with PM
Row for Freedom
An incredible row for freedom
One year ago, founder of Sport Against Trafficking, Julia Immonen had never seriously rowed. On December 4th, she will, along with five female team mates, embark on an incredible three thousand mile unaided trans-Atlantic row from the Canary Islands to Barbados. The Row for Freedom team aim to become the first all woman crew to complete the challenge and, in doing so, raise a million pounds for charities working to combat the trafficking of women and children. It’s also a massive awareness raising venture and, on the day that I caught up with Julia to talk about the row, Sky Sports News were showing hourly footage of the ladies training at Henley with Matthew Pinsent.
Julia set up Sport Against Trafficking two and a half years ago after seeing a video made by the A21 campaign and being determined to make a difference against “the injustice of human trafficking”. The statistics are harrowing: an estimated 27 million people are slaves with half of this number being children. Working for Sky Sports, Julia felt that the Sports World could play its part and the charity not only raises money by “investing in things that are already working” but also “uses sport as a preventative measure...the kids on estates are vulnerable”. The charity and the Row for Freedom challenge has received a groundswell of support from sports stars with Dame Kelly Holmes being just one of the team’s champions.
The money raised by the row will be split between the A21 campaign and, lobbying organisation, ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) UK. It has a striking urgency as London moves closer to the 2012 Olympics and Julia explained that a visit to a Cape Town Safe House, set up at the time of the World Cup, made it clear that a large sporting event means that “demand for everything goes up”. “There’s 10,000 people working on the London construction site...it places a demand for victims and girls are brought in internally... there’s a statistic that prostitution has something like doubled in the past year”.
The idea to build a team of six women to row the Atlantic came to Julia and a friend as they were out for a run. Her friend had to pull out but the trans-Atlantic row had taken hold of Julia – “I just thought what an incredible pioneering idea”. The team is diverse: Andrea the onboard Skipper has over seven years experience, Debbie works for ECPAT, Helen “the athlete of the gang” had been looking to row the Atlantic, Kate is a recent graduate and qualified gym instructor and Katie, who Julia met in Dubai, was on a break from a high flying banking career and looking for the right challenge.
The task in front of the girls is gigantic. They will be rowing two hours on and two hours off, continually as they race with around eighteen other boats to complete the trans-Atlantic Woodvale Challenge (known as the world’s toughest rowing race) and break records including the fastest women across. They are aiming to complete the race in “sub 40 days”.
The training regime has been all-consuming: “each of us has an army of support including a Strength and Conditioning Coach and a Rowing Coach”. The team has been training between one to three sessions a day, six days a week, either on the water, on the rowing machine (to work up to the continuous ninety minute row) or carrying out Strength and Conditioning training.
The row will burn 12,000 calories a day and the team’s diet has had to change to prepare for this. Julia explained that she is now “17 lbs. heavier in muscle” and has been eating “loads of carbs and protein”. On the boat they will be eating “high calorie dehydrated expedition food” and snacks of nuts and raisins whilst drinking desalinated water and carb and protein shakes”. The boat (named The Guardian) is sleek and all food and equipment will be on board meaning that living conditions are cramped and there’s not a toilet or anywhere to wash. The end of each rowing shift will be heralded with vigorous baby wiping to try to shift salt from the skin.
I asked Julia if the race was dangerous. “No-one’s died yet but the risk of capsizing is real.” They will be battling “up to 50 ft waves and southerly trade winds...there’s wildlife – whales and sharks” and also dealing “mentally with isolation and no land”. The most difficult part is the home stretch as they get closer to Barbados because of the coral and the current. “We all have a healthy respect for the sea”. The routine of two hours on and two hours off (“the boat will never stop moving unless there’s bad weather”) is really tough in itself “the first five days is supposed to be hellish and then you get into a routine. I’m most scared of sleep deprivation”.
Julia is spending the next couple of weeks training every day in England and then will leave for the Canary Islands, visiting a Safe House in Greece on the way. The team will join her in the Canaries where training will taper off before the row starts on the 4th December. Christmas and New Years Day will be spent on the boat, rowing in the usual routine (although the team will be speaking to Sky Sports live on Christmas Day), as these six “ordinary” women complete one of the world’s toughest challenges for an incredible cause.
You can show your support for Row for Freedom and the fantastic charities (A21 Campaign and ECPAT UK), working to end the trafficking of women and children, that the team is fundraising for by making a donation at www.rowforfreedom.com.