A PORTADOWN classroom assistant, who describes herself as a novice rower, will be taking on the might of the Atlantic Ocean when she and five other girls attempt to cross the 3,000-mile stretch of water in record-beating time.
Kate Richardson (22), vice-captain of Portadown Ladies Hockey first 11 squad, is more accustomed to terra firma than expanses of sea but she isn’t letting that stand in her way as she and the team embark on a double world record attempt to highlight the issue of human trafficking.
The team of ‘ordinary’ girls, who will make the ‘Row for Freedom’ in a tiny carbon boat, The Oystershack, is not only aiming to become the first six-woman crew to cross the ocean but also the fastest female crew to achieve the feat.
They will set off from La Gomera in the Canary Isles on December 4 and estimate it will take between 35 to 45 days before arriving at the finish in Barbados.
The rowing challenge is the brainchild of Julia Immonen (31), founder of Sport Against Trafficking, who works for Sky Sports News. She is aiming to harness the positive power of sport to raise public awareness and money for projects to tackle human trafficking, which encompasses child soldiers, child workers, domestic slaves and victims of organ trafficking.
Kate, a psychology graduate who is working as a one-to-one classroom assistant at the nursery unit in Portadown Integrated Primary School (PIPS), met Julia through friends and when asked if she was interested in joining the team, the Armagh Road girl had no hesitation in joining up.
She said, “I couldn’t let an opportunity like that pass me by. My parents (Mark and Marina Richardson) were also completely supportive. They have been foster carers for eight years and I know how vulnerable children are, especially children in the care system, so the issue of human trafficking is one that I feel strongly about.
“I have always been involved in sport - I used to be a fitness instructor at One Fitness in Portadown Rugby Club - and had rowed a bit before but I would have considered myself a novice.”
She’s not alone there, since only two members of the six-woman team have rowing experience.
Since February, however, Kate has been in training to build up her stamina and endurance. She has taken crash courses in lake, river and ocean rowing and has been training at Portadown Rowing Club, which opens its new boathouse today (Friday).
She has also received invaluable support from One Fitness who have given her free use of the gym, where she has been getting in a lot of practice on the rowing machine, and from PIPS who are firmly behind her extraordinary endeavour.
The double record bid is part of the Woodvale Challenge, the world’s toughest rowing race. The girls’ boat has two tiny sleeping cabins and no bathroom facilities - just a bucket.
Three girls will row at one time while two are in the front cabin and one at the rear, with each girl rowing for 12 hours per day – two hours on and two hours off – including through the night.
Christopher Columbus followed a similar route when he discovered America in 1492 and later in the 1800s the Atlantic was used to transport millions of slaves to the USA.
Said Kate, “We are leaving on December 4, when the weather conditions are at their best. We are close to the Equator so it’s going to be very warm and we are also hoping for a choppy sea so we can ride the waves.
“It’s scary but exciting at the same time. I am looking forward to seeing parts of nature I would not normally see - spectacular sunrises and sunsets and lots of wildlife.
“I also like working as part of a team and this is about everyone pulling together for a very worthy cause.”
The other team members are model and TV presenter Katie Pattison-Hart from north Yorkshire, Debbie Beadle, a youth worker from London, Andrea Quigley, a learning and professional development co-ordinator from Colorado and Helen Leigh, from England.
Each girl has to raise £15,000 and over the coming months Kate will be organising a series of fundraising events, including a Walk for Freedom. The 10-mile north coast walk, which starts from the Giant’s Causeway, will take place on June 26. Its £10 to take part and everyone is welcome.
Kate and Julia will also be taking part in the annual regatta at Portadown Boat Club, as part of the Sport Comes to Town weekend at the end of June.’ During the weekend, Unify Global Sport (UGS) and Sport Against Trafficking will hold a fundraising event, ‘Ordinary 2 Extraordinary’, on June 24. Richie Smith, UGS, said, “Not only will this be an opportunity to raise awareness and funds for Row For Freedom but it will also be an opportunity for all to be inspired and challenged by the speakers to do something extraordinary that can positively impact the lives of others.”
Anyone wishing to support Kate and the team’s challenge, should contact Kate via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.