My chosen career is â€śadventurerâ€ť. To date my three greatest feats are rowing theÂ WoodvaleÂ Atlantic race twice and trekking to the South Pole.
I completedÂ my first Atlantic crossing in 2007 and early 2008 with a friend,
Bill Godfrey.Â Bill and I rowed in shifts:Â one-and-a-half hours on and one-and-a-half hours off, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 50 days and 12 hours. There was not one second on that boat that one of us wasnâ€™t rowing exceptÂ forÂ Christmas day when we both took half an hour off to eat our Christmas lunch together and to make a satellite callÂ backÂ home to our wives. We enduredÂ fourÂ radical storms during the race. TheÂ finalÂ oneÂ lastedÂ forÂ four days and we rowedÂ acrossÂ the finish line as it ended, thoroughlyÂ trashed and lookingÂ like undernourished prisoners of war.Â Emerging fromÂ the storm andÂ crossingÂ the calm lagoon to the jetty whereÂ weÂ were greeted byÂ hundreds ofÂ spectators,Â includingÂ South AfricanÂ friends and familyÂ whoâ€™d flown all the way toÂ support us,Â was one of the greatest highs of my life. We had endured incredible hardship in the pursuit of our dream,Â which was to not only row across the Atlantic, but toÂ defy all odds and win the race â€“Â which we did! On the quayside that evening I promised Kim, my beautifulÂ and long-sufferingÂ wife, that I would never do that againâ€¦
In 2010 I did it again, but this time I was on my own.Â I rowed in shifts of one-and-a-half hours on and one-and-a-half hours off, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week â€“Â for 76 days. The obvious differenceÂ second time aroundÂ was thatÂ wheneverÂ I went off shift there was no Bill to take over.Â One of myÂ biggestÂ challengesÂ was keepingÂ the boatÂ headedÂ in the right direction as much as I could while I rested.Â Harder than you think.
Itâ€™sÂ difficultÂ to compare the two rows, butÂ aÂ feature thatÂ distinguishedÂ the second oneÂ from the first was the incredible weather.Â There was that one beast of a storm â€“ which endowed me with a real sense of my frailty and smallness in the greater scheme of things â€“ but it was just the one.Â As hard and lonely asÂ the rowwas, it was also a beautiful life-changing experience.
In December 2011 I took part in a very different type ofÂ event.Â I joined up withÂ Braam Malherbe â€“Â known forÂ runningÂ the entireÂ length of theÂ Great Wall of China; allÂ 4,300 kilometresÂ of it â€“Â andÂ together we formed a two-man South African team to take part in the Amundsen-Scott Centenary race to the South Pole.Â First came theÂ 120-kilometreÂ
And yet, for all the painful miles I have travelled and the hardships Iâ€™ve endured, Iâ€™m really just a normal person.Â I was never a great athlete at school. IÂ didnâ€™tÂ winany racesÂ or captain any teams.Â I am tall and skinny, and when people meet me they often cannot believe that I have rowed acrossÂ an oceanÂ (twice!)Â or trekked 500 miles to the South Pole.
When I signed up to do the race across the Atlantic with Bill, I had never rowed a stroke in my life before. When Braam and IÂ got togetherÂ to race across AntarcticaÂ the coldest temperature Iâ€™d experienced wasÂ -16Â°C andÂ IÂ had never cross-country skiedÂ â€“Â let alone skiedÂ in -45Â°CÂ whileÂ pullingÂ a 100-kilogramÂ sled.Â People would often tell meÂ I was boxing above my weight. Some thoughtÂ â€“ and toldÂ usÂ â€“Â that what we were trying to achieve was impossible and that weÂ were doomed to failure. They were wrong.Â Bill and I wonÂ ourÂ race across the Atlantic and Braam and I made itÂ all the wayÂ to the South Pole, one ofÂ only threeÂ teams to do so from seven that started.Â And they said we couldnâ€™t make it!
Although I need to be physicallyÂ fit and strong to do what I do,Â theÂ key to successÂ isÂ alwaysÂ what happens inside my head. Your body is an incredible thing. It can get used to almost anything andÂ itÂ can go on forever. Itâ€™s your mind that stops you, that gives up long before your body does.
I experienced aÂ classic example of thisÂ during both Atlantic crossings.Â I was always at my lowest point aroundÂ 4am.Â The graveyard shift.Â I would be absolutely exhausted, slumped over my oars and thinking thereÂ was no wayÂ I couldÂ endureanother 24 hours like the previous 24. I wouldÂ have toÂ really hang in during that shift.Â ButÂ I knew I had two thingsÂ toÂ look forward to that would motivate me duringÂ the darkest hours. The first wasÂ my breakfast, which was not the usual freeze-dried foodÂ but actual cereal. And the second,Â most importantly,Â wasÂ thefive-minut
Now hereâ€™s the point. After feeling like I could neverÂ survive another dayÂ like the previousÂ one, I would speak to Kim, the sun would come up and I would have breakfast. The next shift in daylight, only one-and-a-half hours later,Â was completely different and I would feel like a new person.
So whatâ€™s the difference between thatÂ timeÂ during the last shift when I think I cango on no longerÂ to whenÂ I am rowing like a beast again?Â Physically nothing.Â The sun has come up, I have made the call home and I have had breakfast, thatâ€™s all. The change has happened in my head.