carnegieXchange: School of Sport

Epic Atlantic rowing challenge a success

Leeds Beckett University is celebrating the safe return of Ian Rivers, a former SAS soldier who has just completed the challenge of a lifetime and become the first person to row from New York to the Isles of Scilly on his own and without GPS. Ian has rowed a small boat 3,100 miles across the Atlantic Ocean with only the stars to guide him – it’s taken him 85 days.

Image of Ian Rivers rowing

Ian, who is 55 and a qualified ocean yacht master, approached Leeds Beckett for help with the challenge after working with the university previously when it supported the British Army’s attempt to summit Mount Everest via the West Ridge in 2006. He was given expert advice from academics from the Carnegie School of Sport and the School of Health on various aspects of the challenge.

He originally estimated that the crossing would take him around 95 days but against all the odds and many tough days at sea he completed the journey early. He left New York on 31st May and was out of sight of land in the middle of the ocean for three months. During that time, he has  capsized three times, and during a force 10 storm he was trapped upside down with his cabin filling with water which he described as an utterly terrifying ordeal. He also had to battle on despite sustaining injuries including hitting his head, back and shoulder and breaking ribs.

Before leaving for the challenge, Ian was assessed by a specialist team at the brand-new state-of-the-art Carnegie School of Sport building and seen by experts in physiology, psychology, nutrition, physiotherapy and strength and conditioning. Each expert used their knowledge to support him in his preparation and during his time at sea.

Professor John O’Hara from the Carnegie School of Sport is one of the team who helped Ian: “Ian came to us for advice and guidance on preparing for such an immense challenge. We used experts in various areas to look at Ian’s training and nutrition plan and offer help where needed.

“We started by assessing his overall condition and establishing if there were any injury risks, particularly to his lower back and shoulders. We then looked at his musculoskeletal function, specifically related to rowing to make sure he had a good range of movement, function and strength. We then assessed his rowing specific endurance capabilities to understand how much training would be needed to get him to where he needs to be to be able to undertake the challenge.

“We measured his body composition using our dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry which takes precision measures of fat and lean mass. We needed to make sure that as Ian increased his training, he wasn’t losing muscle mass.

“We especially needed to make sure he was going to be in peak condition to take on the amount of rowing that was needed and that he has enough muscle mass to keep him going.

“We looked at his nutrition plan and the resources available to him at sea for preparing food and fluid intake. Our key focus was ensuring he was well fuelled and hydrated, as well as maintaining his muscle mass and staying illness free.”

Dr Mariana Kaiseler, a Senior Lecturer at the Carnegie School of Sport and another member of the team said: “In the run up to the challenge I had weekly video calls with Ian to help him prepare for the challenge. During the challenge while Ian was at sea, we communicated weekly via email and WhatsApp. This was mostly around Ian’s progress at the time, the challenges he faced and the impact on his physical and psychological wellbeing as well as strategies to overcome any problems.

“I am delighted to see Ian’s triumphal arrival at St Mary’s Harbour. A massive well done and respect for all his commitment, courage, resilience and dedication he has shown throughout this epic journey.”

Ian is no stranger to adventure and challenges. He joined the army and fought in theatres of war across the world and was a member of 22 Special Air Service Regiment for more than a decade. In December 2012, whilst working for an American news network, he was kidnapped in Syria. He escaped his captors and managed to find his way to safety using only natural indicators.

Before he set sail, Ian explained what attracted him to this extreme challenge: “I’d describe myself as an adventurer. I’ve always been drawn to the ocean, ever since I was a kid. I’ve wanted to attempt this challenge since I was in my 20s.

“I’m looking forward to the calmness, the equilibrium of being alone for a long time. If I’m honest I don’t like my own company so it’s the ultimate challenge for me to be on my own for that long.”

Ian has been raising money for two charities during the challenge - the SAS Regimental Association’s Sentinels programme and St Michael’s Hospice in Herefordshire.

To find out more about the support we provided to Ian visit Sentinel Rowing Challenge | Leeds Beckett University

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