A firefighter from Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) is preparing to undertake the endurance challenge of a lifetime for charity and is looking for support from kind-hearted members of the public and local businesses to help him do so.
Firefighter Darren Taylor (known as Billy), from Whitley Wood Fire Station’s Green Watch, is hoping to set off from Monterey Bay in California on 4 June and row approximately 2,700 miles across the world’s largest ocean before reaching Honolulu in Hawaii. Billy will be rowing in the Great Pacific Race as part of a pair with Alex Flynn, an old school friend he has known for 25 years.
Billy successfully completed the race as a member of a crew of four in 2014, when his team came second by 13 hours, after 45 days at sea, scooping an impressive two world records in the process. This year, there will be even more pressure on Billy and Alex, as theirs will be the only team representing the UK in the event.
The epic row is expected to take around 40 days, depending on the weather, and the pair will be competing against teams from across the world. No sails or engines are allowed and each boat is powered solely by the muscle of the crew pulling on the oars.
Billy and Alex will be taking part without a support team, so everything they need to complete the race (such as food, water, first aid equipment, emergency gear and spares) will need to be on board when they cross the start line. The pair will be rowing in two-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, with one rowing while the other eats and sleeps, meaning that they will never have more than 90 minutes sleep at a time. As if the race wasn’t challenging enough, this also means that they will effectively be rowing solo, only seeing each other briefly to hand over any important information before the other one takes up the oars.
Alex was pivotal to Billy deciding to take on this gruelling challenge in the first place, as he explains: “Alex was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease (YOPD) in 2008, when he was just 36 years old. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition that causes tremors, leads to muscles becoming rigid and affects people’s movement. It is very much seen as an older person’s illness but it can also affect young people – it is believed that the youngest person to be diagnosed with YOPD was just eight years old.
“There has been relatively little research into YOPD and it is often confused with other conditions, so one of the main reasons for deciding to take part in this challenge was to raise awareness about it. We also want to raise as much money as we can for Spotlight YOPD, a new charity that aims to improve the lives of everyone living with the disease and to provide research data to advance medical understanding of the condition.
“Being diagnosed with YOPD can be devastating but Alex is living proof that it doesn’t mean that your life is over. One of the key things we want to do is demonstrate that exercise and nutrition can be fantastic tools to help delay the onset of and manage the symptoms that people living with YOPD experience. Alex has embraced this wholeheartedly and is an absolute inspiration – through him, we are hoping that other young people with a Parkinson’s diagnosis will see that it doesn’t matter what cards life may deal you, it is always possible to turn a negative into something positive.
“The Great Pacific Race is going to be the ultimate test for us – in fact, it’s known as the world’s leading human endurance challenge! As a firefighter, I have to train regularly to ensure that I’m fit to do my job but I’m under no illusion that this race is going to push us to our absolute limits. We are now training hard and are both looking forward to the challenge, albeit with some trepidation!
“Our biggest challenge at the moment however is raising enough money to be able to enter the race. We’ve raised around half of the amount we need but have still got a way to go. We hope that local businesses looking for an opportunity to help support a new charity will sponsor us and members of the public will be kind enough to support us so that we can raise awareness of YOPD through the row, whilst raising funds for Spotlight YOPD at the same time.”