carnegieXchange: School of Sport

The Battling Sentinel: Isolation, Illness and Incredible Ian

As he embarks on the final chunk of his phenomenal challenge, Ian Rivers (AKA “Row Sentinel”) finds himself battling more than just the unforgiving elements of the North Atlantic. 

Stock image of man rowing

For the last two months, Ian has dealt magnificently with the isolation that comes with a self-supported row from New York to the Isles of Scilly, and at the time of writing, is less than 1,000 nautical miles from his target destination. Through a combination of supreme physical conditioning and mental fortitude, he has been able to manage the many challenges that come with the unpredictable oceanic environment. However, as if the challenge were not tough enough already, in recent days illness struck in the form of a chest infection accompanied by a range of persistent and debilitating symptoms including headaches.

This is where Ian’s military training, life experiences, and personal qualities have no doubt come into play. Ian’s psychological resilience and ability to retain focus on what he can directly influence have been identified as the foundation of the psychological support work led by Dr Mariana Kaiseler. Of particular note, Dr Kaiseler worked with Ian to create tailored “performance routines” as a means of creating a sense of familiarity and control in circumstances where his environment might seem anything but controllable! Based on recent communications from Ian, especially those which come through his social media account, he appears to be faring incredibly well given the progress he is making and the positive, forward-looking perspective he continues to adopt.

As he wrestles with (and eventually recovers from) illness, it is Ian’s communication with himself and others that will be a key factor in overcoming the associated physical and mental challenges. I know that he and Dr Kaiseler spoke specifically and in detail about the kind of messages he would want to send/receive, and the ways in which he could harness control over these lines of communication. These conversations in the weeks leading up to the start of the challenge were intended to enhance Ian’s capacity to make well-informed decisions about when and where to engage in various communication methods over the course of the row. By identifying when he is most likely to respond positively to certain messages, Ian will have developed a strategy which can minimise apprehension and optimise confidence…whether in sickness or in health. Regardless of when he chooses to utilise such messages over the next few weeks, we trust that Ian knows we are all willing him on as he embarks on the final third of his immense and inspirational voyage.

Dr Andrew Manley

Head of Subject / Carnegie School Of Sport

Andrew is a Principal Lecturer in Sport & Exercise Psychology. He also works as a Practitioner Sport and Exercise Psychologist supporting athletes and coaches from a range of sports and backgrounds.

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