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Novice sea rower Robin Buttery to row 3600 miles across the Indian Ocean

Sounds like a hook line for an article, so why would you go from a novice sea rower … read more

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Sounds like a hook line for an article, so why would you go from a novice sea rower ‘no-row’ to ‘ultra-row’? I think most people would agree that rowing 3,660 miles across the Indian Ocean is a challenge of epic proportions. What makes this crossing even more testing for me is that I have Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease.  I believe I will be the first person with Parkinson’s to undertake a rowing challenge like this.  Hopefully I won’t be the last.

So, who am I?  Have I always been a keen rower, an athlete, an explorer or thrill seeking adventurer?  The answer is no to all of

Robin Buttery, sea rower, parkinsons disease Robin Buttery sea rower taking on big challenges[/caption]

these.   I have always had an active life both at work and home but my background is furniture design and manufacture.  I work full-time for DeMontfort University Leicester as a technical instructor helping students make and realise their dreams/designs.

Fortunately, I am not foolish enough to think I can do this alone.  I am the fourth member of Indian Ocean Row 2018.  I am quite literally putting my trust and life in the hands of the rest of the crew – Billy Taylor, Barry Hayes and James Plumley, who all have previous experience of ocean rowing and hold a few world records between them.  In fact, we hope to beat the current speed record, which is 71 days.  Less than 20 crews have successfully completed the crossing and there have been many more failed attempts.  Despite this, I am a novice sea rower.

Ocean Rowing Challenge

The next, perhaps obvious question is why would my crew mates want someone with Parkinson’s slowing their progress on a crossing you hope to do in record time?  Well, this challenge is first and foremost about raising funds and awareness of Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. 

It’s also about supporting vital research into Parkinson’s.  Oxford Brookes University will monitor my progress and assess the impact that prolonged exercise has on the disease.  It’s widely known that anyone involved in sport, their motor skills improve with practice and that motor control is affected when you are tired.  According to Professor Helen Dawes who leads the Movement Science Group at the University, the challenge presents a unique opportunity for them to conduct an important piece of research that will help them better understand how the neuro-muscular system copes and adapts to prolonged mental and physical stress.  The findings have the potential to change the way we diagnose and treat Parkinson’s.

 How will you do the race?

There will be no support team and we will be taking it in turns to row two hours on, two hours off, day and night – surviving on a high calorie, three-month supply of freeze-dried food and drinking desalinated sea water.

The boat will be fitted with a tracker so our progress can be followed online.  A media system will allow us to live video stream to schools around the UK so children can chat to the crew about various topics such as geography, oceanography and marine conservation.

So, why do I want to do something that will undoubtedly make my symptoms worse and more apparent in the short-term, be exposed to many of the factors that will bring my tremor on?  The answer for me is simple, with a diagnosis like mine I feel I have a moral duty to help educate and support research, to improve understanding which hopefully one day will lead to better treatments or better still a cure for this disease.  I want people to know that life doesn’t have to stop with a diagnosis and they can still achieve anything they put their mind to.


I hope you will join me on this incredible journey.

To support Robin and Parkinson’s, donations can be made at

About Rebecca Caroe
Rebecca is the host of RowingChat podcast and is a masters athlete and coach. Passionate about helping others enjoy the sport as much as she does. View all posts from Rebecca Caroe

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