Kelda Wood to row Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge
Kelda Wood aims to be the first adaptive solo rower across the Atlantic Ocean and is passionate about raising money for young people facing trauma
In 2011 Kelda Wood climbed Kilimanjaro and she reached the summit, despite having to hobble along because she has a fused ankle. The experience made her realise that it was still possible to achieve extraordinary things, despite the condition of her leg and the trauma of two life-changing accidents.
Seven years on, Wood is passionate about inspiring youngsters suffering from physical and mental trauma to challenge their comfort zones and focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t. In December, she’ll be pushing her own comfort zone yet again by rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic alone as part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, to inspire young people to give things a go. If she succeeds, she will also be the first adaptive rower to complete the race as a solo competitor.
“I wanted to show people that their life isn’t over if they have an injury,” she says. “I’ve been on a huge journey myself since my own life-changing injury in 2002: a journey that’s included being a member of the GB Paracanoe squad, setting up the charity Climbing Out, and summiting Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America.
“I now want to support others to find the same confidence and self-belief that I’ve found through my journey and that’s why I’m going to row the Atlantic!”
She plans to share a different person’s story on social media each day on her row to spotlight as many young people as possible.
The first day of her journey will be in memory of Jordi McCole, who died of leukaemia in 2017, aged 21. A poem called ‘The Dash’ by Linda Ellis was read out at his funeral – the dash being the dash between your birth and end date. It’s about living your life as fully as you can.
“This poem really resonated with me,” says Wood. “This was how I wanted to live my life, and wow, how amazing would it be if we could encourage, inspire, motivate others to live their life in this way too.
“The toughest day on the ocean won’t be anything as bad as what some of these young people have been through.”
I wanted to show people that their life isn’t over if they have an injury
Wood has endured plenty of highs and lows herself during her 45 years. She grew up playing netball and dreamed of riding horses at the Olympics. Her ambitions were put on hold when she was badly injured in a lorry accident and her horse was killed. She eventually carried on riding but then, in 2002, a huge hay bale fell on her. It caused a compound fracture in her leg, severely damaging her ankle and she thought her leg might have to be amputated.
After several operations, her leg is intact, but she is unable to flex her ankle and it’s frequently incredibly painful.
“It’s a challenge because people can’t see my injury so I look normal – but I can’t run and it’s painful to move my ankle.”
Being unable to do the sports she loved had an enormous impact on her confidence and self-esteem until Kilimanjaro changed her perspective. She came home, trained as an outdoor instructor and set up a charity called Climbing Out, which runs activity courses to help rebuild self-esteem in young people, who have been through life-changing illnesses.
Learning to row has been tough because of her ankle but she’s had great support from her local club, Shropshire Adventure RC – “they have been incredible” – and Porthmadog RC and Conwy RC.
If you'd like to take part in adaptive rowing, you can find out how here.
“I went to Pengwern BC and John Shaddock has been a legend there. He’s worked with me on ergo technique and how to minimise the impact of my leg.
“I have to lift my heel so the foot stays at the same angle. As I do the drive back, I have to really protect the ankle so if the seat gets thrown back unexpectedly because of the waves I’d be done.
“So we looked at adjusting the footplate but then suddenly came up with a much easier and cheaper solution. We’ve attached a cord to the footplate to restrict how far the slide can move backwards. It’s simple, so cheap and easy to fix in the middle of the Atlantic!
“I can also row arms-only if I have to, if my leg can’t cope with it. I’ve put my pelvis out three times during training because I drive more with one leg than the other.
Wood has enough supplies for 90 days based on 6,000 calories a day. But the row could take anything from 60 days to over 100, especially if she has to row arms-only.
But she’s keeping her focus on her main goal.
“I want the row to be judged by the number of young people we inspire rather than the number of days,” she says.
You can read more about Kelda Wood here.
An edited version of this article first appeared in Rowing & Regatta magazine. Find out more here.