Credit: Seastheday2022

Students tackle world’s toughest row

By Craig Smith

Physics students Miriam Payne and Nia Hunter spoke to The Glasgow Guardian about their upcoming attempt to row the Atlantic.

Everyone has fanciful dreams and ambitions, I doubt there are many of us who do not get lost in the idea of conquering challenges which in reality we will never bother to throw ourselves into, New Year’s resolutions which are quickly disregarded, or marathon ambitions thrown by the wayside. Miriam Payne was different; not only did she dream bigger by wishing to row the Atlantic, but she was determined to fulfil her dream. All she needed to do was find a partner in order to thrust herself into the challenge of completing what is known as the toughest row in the world. It was a casual conversation that led to Payne finding a partner who could help her do what many of us fail to do: achieve her dream. On the way back from training at the Glasgow Green boathouse, Payne posed the question to her fellow rowers, she told me: “One of the girls in the car said absolutely not, I think that’s the worst idea ever but Nia said that sounds interesting so I messaged her that night … and the rest is history.” Nia Hunter, another intrepid adventurer, decided to join Payne’s challenge, with the personalities of the two third-year Glasgow University students complementing each other perfectly. Payne shared: “I would say we’ve got different personalities and that way we can maybe complement each other, I can be a bit more serious at times and then Nia makes me calm down a bit and vice versa …. we complement each other very well.”

The duo is set to commence their 3,000-mile charity row from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Caribbean in December 2022 as part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, a race first held back in 1997 under a different name. According to The International Rowing Society, just over 300 individuals/teams have successfully managed to row the Atlantic. When putting the size of this challenge into context, this is almost half of the number of people who have been to space. Incredulously, however, the women want to go further, as they are seeking to become the youngest female pair to cross an ocean, and to become the fastest female pair to cross an ocean with the current record standing at 50 days, five hours, and 53 minutes. 

Their ambitions appear to know no bounds but the difficulties with completing this challenge go beyond the physical and mental challenges which the women will experience on the high seas. Payne explained: “There’s always so much to do and I think one of the things we didn’t realise before we signed up is how much preparation and planning it takes to get to the start line.” The task of finding corporate sponsorship to cover the costs of buying a boat has proven particularly troublesome due to the pandemic. Hunter described their current situation as involving, “lots of sending emails, lots of contacting people, lots of being told no”. In spite of the difficulties which they are currently facing, I suspect that the pair will overcome this hurdle given the passion and drive the pair exude.

If the pair manages to secure corporate sponsorship to purchase their boat, it means they could sell the boat later to raise further money for charity without dipping into the money raised so far for their two chosen charities, Wellbeing of Women and Mind UK. Hunter explained why mental health is so important just now: “At times like this where it’s really hard just to get by due to all that’s going on in the world, there couldn’t be a better time to support mental health charities.” 

Hunter also shared why they had chosen Mind UK in particular: “Mind UK support a charity called RHTM which is about rowing and bringing people together through sport and this is obviously a message we can both really get behind.” The avid rowers also want to support a charity that supports gynaecological cancers with Wellbeing of Women proving to be the perfect candidate according to Payne: “Wellbeing of Women do so much research and are at the forefront of science when it comes to the health of women and babies and for our own personal reasons we think it’s so important to try highlight the issues there.”

Fears surrounding drowning appear to have been put to one side by the women with the safety protocols put in place by organisers giving them confidence. On the other hand, an unusual and scary incident in this year’s edition of the race has made Hunter aware of another potential danger: “There were some pictures from one of the teams rowing [the challenge] this year and a Marlin spike had gone all the way through the boat and through the mattress where someone was sleeping but thankfully it went in between his legs so he didn’t get hurt.” Marlin attacks are a danger inherent in rowing the Atlantic but the rarity of such incidents combined with the organisers’ attention to safety means Payne’s fears are not about her safety: “I think I’m more scared of not completing it which probably sounds a bit nuts … it’s been a dream of ours for a good few years now so I think that’s the overriding factor at the moment.”

By December 2022, the pair will already have done a mountain of work with much of their preparation, ranging from the struggles to gain corporate sponsorship to having to train apart from one another, being affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The difficult circumstances that have confronted them will place them in good stead for the adversities which they’ll encounter at sea. It is a bold challenge but it is being tackled by a bold pairing who seem well equipped to deal with whatever the Atlantic throws at them. To learn more about or donate to Miriam and Nia’s challenge, visit their website, or social media: @seastheday2022 on Instagram and Twitter, and “Seas the Day” on Facebook.


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