Jessica Oliver (FT MBA 2020) standing on a rowing boat with her rowing partner

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Sleep deprivation, sea sickness, blisters, 50ft waves, raging storms and blue marlin attacks are the stuff of nightmares for most of us. However, for Jessica Oliver (Full-Time MBA 2020) and her rowing partner Charlotte Harris this will be their reality as they undertake The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge; the World’s Toughest Row’. In December of this year, Jessica and Charlotte will race 35 teams, from around the world, 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. They will row 2 hours on 2 hours off continuously from La Gomera, Canary Islands to Antigua & Barbuda. Known as the Premier event in Ocean Rowing, this extreme endurance challenge will push the team to the absolute limits of their mental and physical wellbeing.

So why are they putting themselves though this ordeal? The team have a target of raising £100,000 for Shelter (homelessness) and Women’s Aid (domestic abuse). Both charities have seen a dramatic increase in demand over the last year due to COVID-19.

For Jessica and Charlotte this challenge is not just a 3000-mile row, the hard work started in April 2020 when they signed up to the race; project management, fundraising campaigns, coordinating training schedules, medical operations and battling injuries all alongside full-time jobs and an MBA degree have been a huge test. All they had to say was ‘No one ever said it would be easy’!

With 4 months to go before the race start, we wanted to learn more about Team Wild Waves and this incredible challenge. Jessica tells us more.

Firstly, tell us why?

We have been best friends since meeting at Cardiff University nearly 10 years ago. Both of us love a challenge!

Charlotte has climbed the Himalayas and completed the London Marathon. I love triathlons. In October 2019 we both entered and won our first (and only!!) White-Collar boxing matches. Collectively through our sporting challenges we have raised over £8,000 for charity. However, we wanted to do more.

After the boxing we knew we wanted to raise money for Shelter and after researching that 33% of homeless women become homeless due to domestic abuse, we added Women’s Aid to our cause. We just needed a challenge. Charlotte works for Diageo who own Talisker Whisky, the title sponsor of ‘The Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge’. Neither of us have any ocean or rowing experience so it seemed like an impossible challenge and was therefore perfect!

For us personally this will be the most rewarding, life-changing experience and will catapult our fundraising efforts well and truly to the next level.

Jessica Oliver (FT MBA 2020) and her rowing partner in their boat Jessica and Charlotte testing out the cabin

Tell us about your training

Charlotte and I are no strangers to training – we have always loved stepping out of our comfort zone and seeing how far we can push ourselves. For this challenge it’s all about strength training to minimise the risk of injuries. We have an Ocean Rowing coach, Gus Barton, and train seven days a week.

I had an operation on my wrist 6 weeks ago (terrible timing), so recovery has kept us off the water.  However, prior to the operation we went from zero ocean rowing experience to an overnight row in 3 sessions. As we enter the last few months of training, especially with the set back of my wrist, we will need to live on our boat!

How are you preparing for the mental aspect of this challenge?

The most crucial element is mental endurance. We both have very strong personalities with gritty determination and would go above and beyond to support each other and those around us. However, up to 60 days on a 7 x 1.5m boat, with nothing and no one around you only vast Ocean, coupled with sever tiredness and physical pain, will be extremely hard mentally. We’ve heard stories of teams falling apart because of the strain.  We’ve been focusing a lot on how we talk to each other, how we address issues and how we communicate. Understanding and supporting each other will be as important as physical capabilities.

What else goes into planning for a challenge for this?  

It’s not just physical training. We have had to learn how to operate and manage our boat, and ourselves, in extreme ocean conditions. We’ve gone on courses for electricals, water making, sea navigation, weather routing, ocean safety, first aid and VHF radio, most followed by a certification. It’s has been a steep learning curve, however as the row is unassisted, we need to be self-sufficient.

For us personally this will be the most rewarding, life-changing experience and will catapult our fundraising efforts well and truly to the next level.

We will row 2 hrs on, 2 hrs off continuously. Those 2 hours off are crucial to recuperate, if we do not maintain a proper routine, we could become sick.  As a team we will complete 1.5 million oar strokes so our hands, glutes, feet, and whole body really, will need constant care and attention. The last thing we want is open sores and sea rot! Food planning is also critical, we eat dehydrated food and need 5,000 calories as day, so there’s a lot to think about.

Oh, and the answer to the question everyone asks is ‘We go in a bucket’!

How is the fundraising going?

We want to raise £100k for our two amazing charities. On top of this we need to raise £50k to take part in the challenge, which includes the race fees, equipment, certifications, shipping, food and so much more. The financial aspect of this challenge is as daunting as the row.

We have some amazing corporate sponsors already on-board. It’s not been easy in this climate but thankfully companies are starting to realise the huge benefits of sponsoring a team in challenge like this. We have great corporate packages that promote business opportunities and brand awareness (last year the race made 11.4 billion impressions thought multi-media channels), CSR strategies, and employee engagement. You can download our Corporate Brochure for more information or reach out to me directly. We are already talking to a few companies from the Imperial network which is amazing. 

Personal donations are also a huge contributor. We’ve already raised £14k on our Team Wild Waves Virgin Giving Page but we have a long way to go. We will also be hosting a black-tie gala event and auction in London in May 2022 to raise further funds. We are so grateful to everyone who has supported us so far. I hope our Imperial alumni community can get involved and be part of this once in a lifetime experience.

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