The ladies of MK Rowing Club are well accustomed to a big challenge – but their exploits on Sunday really took the sea biscuit.
The club’s rowers joined staff from the MK Dons Sports and Education Trust in crossing the English Channel – one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
The mission was to raise money for both the club, in its bid to cater of a mass influx of potential new city rowers since London 2012, and also to help pay for a defibrillator for the MK Dons SET.
The first boat of ladies took 10 minutes off the record for completing the course from Dover to the French coastline at Cap Gris Nez, as the second mixed sex boat finished just a minute behind in a time of five hours and 15 minutes.
The second boat included novices like Ashley Whitmore, the SET health and wellbeing officer, who only took up the sport when training for the challenge began in January.
He was joined by MK Dons head of recruitment Bobby Winkelman and staff from the club’s Box Office, Rachael Canty and Oona Carmichael. But their big day almost never happened because of the great British weather.
Originally due to row on Friday, the crossing had to be postponed because of strong winds, and there were fears that it wouldn’t happen until the end of May at the earliest.
But much to the delight of all those involved, the weather forecast for Sunday was much improved and the team were able to travel down to Kent on Saturday night in preparation.
“When we started the sea was really choppy, and for a few minutes I thought ‘what have I got myself in to’,” said Ashley. “There were a couple of huge P&O ferry boats going out and they were making big waves around us.
“But as we went out a little further the weather cleared up and the sea was calm. We looked back at the white cliffs of Dover and it was beautiful.
“It made me very patriotic actually. What could be more British than that? Going for a row on a beautiful morning, with the white cliffs of Dover in view. All that was missing was a full English breakfast.”
After reaching the French side of the Channel, a support boat ferried the rowers back to England, with most of them so exhausted they fell asleep.
After a glass of bubbly to celebrate, it was straight back to Milton Keynes for several more richly-deserved drinks, and for most, back to work on Monday.
“It was an incredible day,” added Ashley. “We were very proud of ourselves, especially because it was raising money for a great cause.
“The Dons first-team and academy have a defibrillator at Woughton that we can use if we ever need it, but they’re not always there.
“We want one just in case anyone needs it one day. We hope no one ever does, but it’s better to be prepared just in case.
“We would like to thank everyone who has supported us. It has been one of the best experiences of our lives.”
After throwing himself in at the deep end, Ashley says he will now sign up to MK Rowing Club’s learn to row course, like hundreds of others have since the London Olympics.
After expenses have been paid for, the SET and rowing club will make around £5,000 from the challenge, which is easily enough for the SET to buy a defibrillator, and with plenty of change.
For the rowing club, the money raised will go towards buying a new boat. Hopefully the new rowers who use it will appreciate the effort that went in to paying for it.