A young Parkinson’s sufferer took on terrifying 40ft waves to become first to row 3,600 miles across the Indian Ocean – before his “body gave up on me”.
Robin Buttery, 47, has become the first ever Parkinson’s disease sufferer to row across an ocean after completing the “life-changing” 70-day challenge.
Robin rowed from Australia to Mauritius alongside three highly experienced ocean rowers.
He did this despite his daily struggle with tremors, mild memory loss, limited physical strength and having to “force” his body to row for 70 brutal days.
They had no support team and took it in turns to row two hours on, two hours off, day and night.
Dad-of-one Robin, from Leicester, wanted to complete the incredible challenge before his debilitating disease left him incapable and “my body gave up on me”.
The crew-of-four encountered 40ft waves and “biblical” weather conditions on their remarkable voyage which finished on September 14.
Robin was sadly diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease just before his 44th birthday in the summer of 2015.
Determined to “make the most of living” Robin decided to go out and prove a point.
For Robin, husband to Nicola, 44, he wanted to show that despite suffering with an incurable illness, it’s still possible to “go on and live your dream”.
He said: “It has massively affected my cognitive ability. I have a tremor and I found rowing incredibly difficult.
“I knew how to row, as in what to do, but getting my body to do it was really difficult.
“I really struggled. For two thirds of the journey I did the row with one arm because I couldn’t do it.
“But I was keen to play a part as a member of the crew, and I know I still played a massive part in getting us to the end.
“I wanted to do a once in a life time challenge before it’s too late.”
The crew was made up of Billy Taylor, 45, Barry Hayes, 37, and James Plumley, 28, all of whom have conquered various ocean rows and between them hold a number of records.
Aboard a sophisticated rowing boat worth tens of thousands of pounds, and fitted with state-of-the-art safety and navigation gear, the crew set sail on June 6.
It took them 1920 hours of constant rowing to travel from Exmouth, Western Australia, to Port Louis in Mauritius.
Robin, a technical instructor at De Montfort University in Leicester, recalls being able to see “nothing but water” for 68 days.
He said: “The row was absolutely fantastic. As an experience there is nothing in the world like it.
“There were occasions were I was too physically tired to row and that mentally effected me.
“It was the greatest endurance challenge I’ve ever done. When it was bad it was horrendous. But as a whole I enjoyed my time on the water. It was life-changing.
“It was such a relief to see the island. At first it appeared as a ghostly shadow.
“We were given a heroes welcome off the boat. We had fresh fruit and pastries waiting for us, which was amazing after eating nothing fresh for 70 days.
“To have my own bed without someone elbowing you was a fantastic feeling.”
By taking on the challenge, the foursome hoped to raise up to £200,000 for Parkinson’s Disease charities. So far the group have raised over £37,000.
To prepare for the row Robin and his crew rowed the English channel in April this year, but even that couldn’t ready them for the perils of the unpredictable Indian ocean.
With each of them operating on a two-hours sleep, two-hours rowing routine, the crew came up against “scary” waves taller than some multistory buildings.
Each of the crew were “thrown” out of the seats by the rough seas, with one member of the crew, Barry, actually being cast overboard.
Robin, dad to 13-year-old Rory, said: “It was scary in parts but as a whole I wasn’t fearful. It was the weather that was frightening.
“The rain felt like needles and it was actually painful. And when the waves came, it was like we were rowing uphill.
“It’s difficult to explain how hard it is without actually doing it. A lot of the waves were around eight meters tall, but some of them must have been at least 12 meters.
“I was definitely out of my comfort zone. I thought long and hard before about doing it but I was very keen to do something to help the Parkinson’s cause.
“There still isn’t a cure and I have had to come to terms with the fact that it will shorten my working life. At some point I won’t be able to do my job anymore.”
It wasn’t just waves that crashed into the boat, the crew also had some close encounters with huge wales, some of which came within “touching distance”.
Throughout the journey each of the team contributed to keeping family and friends up-to-date by uploading blog posts to their website every few days, via satellite technology.
Knowing that his disease may well get the better of him, Robin says he is “considering” taking on another feat of endurance to raise cash for Parkinson’s charities.
Visit www.rowtheindianocean.com to donate.