So when Melanie Williams of The Donna Louise Children’s Hospice suggested that Gabrielle could become a company sponsor and participant in the showcase expedition that formed the pinnacle of the hospice’s Year of the Challenge, of course she said yes.
That was in August 2014 and when Gabrielle found herself rowing along the South Coast and in heavy seas around Dungeness, she probably regretted her decision to participate. Sea sickness, exhaustion and very sore hands were just a part of the privations suffered by the 24 participants (companies, celebrities, students and physios) who set off from Tower Bridge in London to row the 450 nautical miles (518 land miles) to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Gabrielle and team mates (Mark Orpe, Louise Mason, Amy Houston, Travers Wallett and Mo Chaudry) rowing up the Seine. Photo taken by Steve Burgess (he was coxing at the time) using Mark Orpe’s iPhone!
A total of seven days rowing, 24 hours a day, 2 hours on and 2 hours off takes its toll. In the two hours off, the rowers had to eat, sleep and freshen up – needless to say, there was little time for any of those activities. Gabrielle’s experience was that she slept only one or two hours in the whole of the first three days. So, when the little boats (Cornish gigs) reached Le Havre on the French coast, most people were grateful that stormy conditions enforced a 24 hour lay-over.
From there, the teams, in their two boats of six rowers and one cox, ploughed their way upstream on the river Seine – a mighty river that is home to vast ocean-going barges, cruise ships, tankers and container vessels. Another two days of rowing faced them as they struggled against the current, shepherded on their way by the constant attentions of the three support vessels and the land support team who pursued them by road.
The entry into Paris however, made all the pain worthwhile. Crowds of well-wishers had seen them off from London and no lesser crowds were waiting for them as they triumphantly rowed under the Pont d’Iéna, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
Why did they do it? What motivated Gabrielle to take all that time out of her life? It’s simple. The hospice provides care and respite to the families it supports in Staffordshire and South Cheshire. The children they look after have serious and life-limiting illnesses that mean that a family’s life can never be quite normal. Sleep deprivation is constant and the need for respite, change of scenery and new activities and friends is only part of what sends people to the hospice. It needs a lot of money to run – an awful lot – over three million pounds at the last count. So the challenge’s massive contribution of well over £300,000 is a huge boost to a valuable local service.
As for Gabrielle, she’s back steering the ship called ExtraMile and you better believe that she has a firm hand on the tiller! If you want to help further her contribution to the fund, you can donate here. Alternatively, why not visit the Tower to Tower website (donated by ExtraMile) and read the news stories which unfolded each day? You can also see the #TowertoTower slideshow on Youtube.
Nick Evans from ExtraMile