Back in 2009, no one who saw Kiko Matthews would have predicted that less a decade later the Herefordshire, UK native would single-handedly row unsupported across the Atlantic Ocean in record time. After all, Matthews lay seriously ill in intensive care following surgery on a tumor at the base of her brain. Yet this phenomenal feat is exactly what she accomplished on March 22. On this day, Matthews rowed into Port St. Charles, Barbados at 11:30pm., and, by doing so, bested the former world record by nearly a week to become the fastest woman to complete a solo trans-Atlantic row covering the 3000 miles between Gran Canaria and Barbados in 49 days.
“I spent a long time recovering after I was first sick in 2009,” says Matthews. “I couldn’t walk upstairs or get myself out of a bath and I experienced memory loss. I wanted to see how different my body could be. In other words, from extreme illness to maximum endurance. I’d never rowed before and never been on the sea like that. However, I’ve always felt that if you wanted something, built a team of support and had an honest purpose, it could be achieved. My purpose was to raise funds for King’s College Hospital in London, the hospital that saved my life.”
Matthews, a science teacher by profession is a self-described challenge seeker and adventurer who has visited 43 countries and counting. She founded a paddle-boarding business in 2015, and in November of that year, organized and led an expedition circumnavigating Ibiza as well as co-founded The Big Stand, a charity that aims to empower with education and inspire through adventure. Last year, in preparation for her transatlantic solo attempt, Matthews taught herself how to row. It was something she would log some 1000 hours doing before launching for Barbados. This was despite the return of her tumor in August 2017 and several days spent in ICU again.
“The biggest challenge I faced during the transatlantic row was secondary to the medical challenges. Since the pituitary tumor had returned, I had to monitor my cortisol levels while underway. In week two and three I was really struggling with exhaustion,” says Matthews, whose pituitary tumor related illness is called Cushing’s disease.
Matthews’ craft was a 21-foot long Rannoch ocean-going rowing boat called Soma of Essex, a light-weight high-tech vessel, in which she rowed up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, sleeping in two-hour shifts.
“What I liked best was to stand on the boat and look all around. There was complete solitude. Think about it? What is the furthest you’ve ever been from another human being? At some points, I was closer to the satellites circling the earth than to other people,” she says.
There were dozens of other stories, little stories, that all added up to one grand crossing adventure. Examples include navigating 80-foot waves, seeing one of only a few white whales in the world, getting hit in the face with a flying fish, watching sharks circle, and jumping off the boat to scrape barnacles off the exterior with a small plastic credit-like card. Best of all was the little bird, the storm petrel, that followed Matthews from the second day of the voyage until the last watching over her along the way.
“My GPS and navigation equipment had died, so I was very excited to see land. I thought to myself, life is about to change, meaning that after nearly seven weeks there would be no need to row the next day. I was also thinking about that mojito I was going to have once I was on land.”
Matthews arrived to cheering crowds lining the shore and yachts offshore honking horns. The Union Jack-toting Brit was also welcomed by her family who flew to Barbados to meet her. By successfully completing her voyage, Matthews raised nearly US $100,000 for King’s College Hospital.
“What I learned from this row and what I’d recommend to all is to take life by the balls. If you believe in something, then give it a go. What’s the worst that can happen. After all, if you don’t do it today, there might not be a tomorrow.”
Next up, Matthews is planning another adventure in 2019 that she plans to formally announce in September. As a teaser, she says it will take place on two wheels, involve distance and raise awareness about the environmental detriments of single use plastics.
For more information and news about Kiko Matthews, visit: www.kikomatthews.co.uk