Ex-Paralympic athlete to take on Atlantic rowing challenge for charity

A former Olympic hopeful whose sporting dreams were shattered by a life-changing injury is preparing to row the Atlantic to raise money for traumatised and recovering children, including victims of the Manchester Arena bomb.

Kelda Wood, a former horse rider and paracanoeist, will be among those lining up to take part in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge later this month, battling chronic fatigue, physical exhaustion and gigantic waves when she embarks on the 3,000-mile (4,828km) row from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Caribbean.

The 45-year-old will use a specially adapted boat to help her combat the additional complications arising from an injury she suffered in 2002, which resulted in severely restricted movement in her left leg and also damaged her self-belief.

Miss Wood said: “The leg injury changed everything – it left me unable to run. I knew nothing about adaptive sports so I thought that was it for me, at the age of 29, and I lost a lot of confidence.

“I very nearly lost my leg and for a long time I wished I had because people couldn’t see my injury so, when I didn’t take part, I thought people assumed I was lazy.

“That was so far away from who I was.

“I spent years struggling to come to terms with my injury. I then climbed Kilimanjaro and had a life-changing experience – people said if I could do it with one gammy leg, they could do it with two.

“Then this whole new world opened up to me.”

After battling back mentally and physically from the injury, Miss Wood turned her attention to water-based sports.

But her subsequent hope of representing her country in the 2016 Paralympic Games was also left in tatters when she narrowly missed out on a place in the paracanoeing squad in the final qualifying regatta.

However, she challenged adversity again when in January 2017 she became the first recorded female para athlete to reach the summit of Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America.

It prompted her to sign up for the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, dubbed the world’s toughest rowing race, despite admitting she is “not a sea person”.

Miss Wood would become the first adaptive athlete to complete the race should she reach the finish line.

She said: “The race scares the pants off me, but I’m glad it does.

“The whole point of the row is that I want to inspire people with physical and mental challenges so that they can find their answers a little bit quicker than I did.

“I want to inspire people to have the confidence to go on their own journey.”

Miss Wood, from Shrewsbury, will also be drawing inspiration from children she works with on the Climbing Out charity, which runs confidence and self-esteem rebuilding five-day outdoor activity programmes for young people.

Other participants, including some of those caught up in the Manchester Arena bombing, have written messages for Miss Wood to read each day during the solo crossing – a journey that could take three months.

“These stories are so emotive,” she said. “The day I’m either really struggling or having a brilliant time, I will relate it back to that person – to use their stories to motivate me. It’s so powerful – very special.

“There have been so many monumental highs and crushing lows already, I feel I’ve been training for this my whole life nearly.”

For more information, visit rowtoraise.com or donate at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rowtoraise.

The race begins on December 12 – www.taliskerwhiskyatlanticchallenge.com