Team of Sussex key workers taking on ‘world’s toughest rowing race’ around UK

A five-woman Sussex-based team of NHS key workers has set out from London on a world-record rowing attempt to circumnavigate the UK. The All Systems Row team from Bexhill Rowing Club hope to complete their journey and return to London in just five weeks.

If the team reaches its goal of finishing the challenge in between 35 and 40 days they will become the record holders for both the youngest crew member and oldest female to achieve the feat unassisted and continuously. They also hope to become the fastest all-female crew to do so and the first crew of five females.

The entire length of the journey, dubbed ‘the world’s toughest rowing race’, is 2,000 miles long and will test the participant’s strength, stamina, and endurance as they pit themselves unassisted against the elements. The current ladies’ world record was set in 2010 and stands at 51 days and 16 hours.

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Speaking to SussexLive ahead of the team’s departure from Tower Bridge on Sunday (June 12) 22-year-old Lia Evans described the effort as mentally and physically challenging. “It’s been a long 18 months of preparation,” she said.

“The last couple of months have consisted of physical and mental challenges as well as courses to make sure we’re qualified to do the challenge. It has definitely stepped up a gear – the last six weeks I would say have been positively chaotic.”

Lia is a rotational physiotherapist in the NHS and spent much of the pandemic working as a respiratory physiotherapist on intensive care units. It was also during this time that Lia – who has only been rowing for 18 months – first got involved in rowing and trained alongside her full-time job.



The sixth member of the team, Fiona Jamie, 62, makes up part of All System Row’s land support team

The 22-year-old studied at the University of Brighton’s Eastbourne campus and said she was in the same year as All Systems Row teammate 21-year-old Charlie Cooper. Lia then came to join Bexhill Rowing Club through the husband of a lady she used to ride horses for.

“I turned up on the first day and have gone nearly every day since,” she said. “It was a way of channeling all of the efforts That I had with the horse riding over the years into something where I was surrounded by like-minded and driven people.”

At Bexhill Rowing Club, Lia met the other rowers who would be on the 10-metre-long All Sytems Row boat; Jess Plail, 33, Andrea Harwood, 45, Steph Toogood, 51. Steph and Charlie are physiotherapists like Lia while Andrea is a social worker and Jess is a physician’s associate.

Lia added that rowing kept her fit and focused throughout the pandemic and even praised the 4am training sessions alongside working a full-time job. The All Systems Row team will be collecting water samples from around the UK to be tested for microplastics and the rowers hope to be able to engage children with land and sea conservation.

The team will also be raising money for charities including Blue and Brighton-based Renewable World. They have been supported by four current master’s students at the University of Brighton.

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