Atlantic Discovery by Sue

It was meant to be!!

Despite both attending the Berkshire MS Therapy Centre for 5 years, members Tony and Rose never met. Ask any member and they will tell you that meeting people who attend on a different day is very difficult. But they did meet ….firstly, 2,300 miles away in the Canary Islands and secondly, 4,000 miles away in Antigua….clearly it was meant to be!

Sue, Tony and Rose and at the start
Sue, Tony and Rose and at the start

Here is the story told by Sue, Tony's wife….

‘When the days are short, dark and cold we do like to escape to get a little winter sun but we would never have dreamt we were to become part of the Atlantic Discovery team’s (aka Ben, Cam, Isaac and Jack’s) journey and that we would get to know Rose and Colin Ajayi-Obe and their lovely family. 

When we were in Tenerife in December Tony mentioned that the team were due to start their 3000-mile row across the Atlantic to raise money for a cause that is very close to our hearts.  Tony was diagnosed with Primary Progressive MS in 2012; prior to having MS he was a keen tennis player and golfer and imagined that these would be the activities he enjoyed doing into his retirement.  Unfortunately he can no longer do either and he now relies on using sticks to get about. 

We used our friend Google to work out the logistics and decided the least we could do was to get the ferry over to La Gomera to see them off.

Atlantic Discovery Starting
Atlantic Discovery Starting

By sheer chance I asked Penny Bird (Cam’s sister and Head of Land support for Atlantic Discovery!) if she knew what time the race was starting the following morning. When I told her we were following Atlantic Discovery and #RowforRose she was over the moon to have support from the Berkshire MS Therapy Centre to see the boys off.  We exchanged numbers and she said she would make sure we knew the time they would be leaving so we could meet with Rose and see them off.

We were impressed that Ben himself messaged us early the morning of the race before their briefing.  His message was ‘can’t believe you have come over from the UK to see us off’.  We did respond saying ‘well we did make some effort but not quite that much!!’

Tony meeting Rose and her introducing us to the team with a shout out to the boat saying ‘this is the couple who have come from the UK’ and Ben giving us a big wave was a lovely moment.  It was quite incomprehensible to us how the four of them must have been feeling at the start of such an incredibly long challenge.  We did a mile open swim in Loch Lomond the year after Tony was diagnosed with MS and that very short endurance in the water was enough for me!!

The Atlantic Discovery team rowed off into the distance shortly after 11am and the pride in the faces of the families and friends of all the rowers were was clearly visible and understandably so.  For the incredible quad to have put so much physical, emotional and financial effort into making this become a reality was truly amazing.

After all the excitement of the start of the race Tony and we sat and talked about the challenge they had undertaken. Our thought was if these four ‘young’ men (Cam is maybe a few years more mature than Ben, Isaac and Jack) are willing to have put this much effort in to raise awareness and sponsorship for MS then surely we should try and spread the word and support them.  This isn’t a half marathon, a marathon, an Iron Man this is roughly 40 days and nights out at sea on their own!! Our thought was let’s try and spread the word to thousands of people and if everyone who hears their story could give a little and spread the word that would be amazing.

Our knowledge of social media was somewhat non-existent but we have made attempts to become more au-fait with this method of communication but our greatest areas of success so far have been the good old fashioned method of speaking to people.  Tony used to be a keen golfer so when the Belfry heard the story of the Atlantic Discovery team they were hugely generous and have donated a 4-Ball around the Ryder Cup Brabazon Course for us to raffle for the Berkshire MS Therapy Centre and MS Society.  We will be raffling the tickets at the golf club Tony used to play at, Ben’s Uncle’s golf club and others where we have family and friends. We’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Our hope is that everyone who hears of this story raises awareness and collectively we not only manage to meet the goal the boys set themselves but we actually blow it out of the water.

So now comes the next incredible coincidence; we may possibly be in Antigua when the team are due to arrive in and guess what? That is exactly what happened. 

After waking almost hourly to check their progress to see what time they should arrive in (we became very familiar with nautical miles and knots / hour to do this calculationJ) it was decided they would be arriving approximately 6.30am.  Talking to friends and family of the team before they came in was wonderful and as you would expect Rose was particularly emotional and proud.  Their main sponsors, Nagico Insurances, were there to greet them in and I was blown away by their reasons for agreeing to sponsor them.  As well as it being an incredible physical challenge for the boys they were truly moved by the story of Ben and his mum and the cause they were rowing for.  The islands had encountered two hurricanes in 2017 which had devastated peoples’ homes and lives.  They saw that MS could do the same to peoples’ lives but on a more permanent basis.  They were there in 2017 to help people rebuild their lives after the hurricanes and they are wanting to be there to help raise awareness and sponsorship for MS.  An insurance company who focus on the community and it’s people in the broadest sense is truly amazing, such beautiful people to meet and thanks to Cam and Penny for getting them on board as this dream may never have been accomplished without them.

There was obvious jubilation as the Talisker team announced the boys were rowing into Nelson’s Dockyard.  The boys were freely rowing into the Dockyard and I think it was Ben’s grandad, Norman, who said I hope they have their passports. There was a joyous melia with cheers, applause, yah-hoo’s and then to see them looking so remarkably bright eyed and the vision of health was quite incredible after their 40 days and nights of sleep deprivation and lack of ‘real’ food; quite amusingly I spied a set of scales on the dock and yes they got an official weigh in minutes after being on dry land.  Even though they had been consuming approximately 6000 calories of rehydrated food a day Ben still lost 15 kilos (more than 2 stone in old money!!) that just shows how much physical effort they put into that row.

Watch Atlantic Discovery as they reach land for the first time in 40 days

There was a lot happening when they set foot on dry land but seeing Ben embrace his mum and family, including his brother and sister who were in Antigua to greet him, Cam literally swept his sister up into his arms, Isaac with his mum and Jack reuniting with his mum, girlfriend and Luke, a uni friend who he wasn’t expecting to see there was all very moving.  Jack’s girlfriend had told me earlier that morning that they had been briefed the day before and, amongst other things, warned that the rowers could well row in their sleep for days and weeks to come.  Makes bedtime sound a bit of a hazardous time for their partners!!

After the weigh in and interviews the boys were seated in the centre of the Dockyard and served burger and chips.  You would have thought that eating in front of an audience wouldn’t necessarily be the most relaxing experience but the boys didn’t seem to mind at all and Jack certainly was euphoric when he took his first bite of burger and closed his eyes and concentrated on the sheer joy of eating ‘real’ food.

A few hours after landing Nagico gave a Welcome Ceremony that was one of the most inspirational and moving events we have ever attended.  The words spoken by their sponsors, Kyria and MAC, and the team had certain members of the audience (me included) in tears.  Rose’s sister, Janette, took a video recording so you will be able to hear and see that magical occasion for yourselves.

After the Welcome Ceremony we said our farewells and got a cab back to our resort.  That evening I got chatting to an American couple.  They asked how my day had been and I naturally told them all about the team and their cause; they were so lovely and genuinely interested as this condition impacts people in so many countries and any work done by the MS Society’s research in the UK will be of benefit worldwide; they too will see what progress the team make.

Atlantic Discovery at the finish - credit Ben Duffy
Atlantic Discovery at the finish - credit Ben Duffy

So having never met Rose, Colin, Ben and his family we have now seen them at the start of the race, met them at the finish, shared the most motivational and emotional Welcome Ceremony with them and their amazing sponsors Nagico Insurance and now we are holidaying at the same resort in Antigua – as I said it was meant to be and hopefully we will help them get to their target for this worthy cause and a world with no MS.'