I'm a mum of two and I conquered "the world's toughest row" after more than two months at sea

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Leanne Maiden, a mother-of-two from Bearsden has become the first South African solo female to conquer "the world's toughest row" – a 3,000-mile voyage across the Atlantic Ocean from La Gomera to Antigua. 

The 42-year-old who is originally from Johannesburg spent 66 days and five hours at sea. During this time, she navigated 20-foot waves and brutal temperatures: from lows of 10 degrees during the night shifts at the start into the 30’s with added humidity as she approached the finish. 

The osteopath set out from the Canary Islands on December 13 on her own, having originally planned to row as a pair. After her partner pulled out just a few months before the start date, Leanne decided to row the 3,000 miles by herself in a bid to raise money for charity and ultimately, transform her life. 

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The journey, initially projected to take anywhere between 60 and 80 days, proved to be a monumental test of endurance, both physically and mentally. Despite a battle of the elements during the row, Leanne rowed as many as 70 nautical miles in 24-hour periods. She typically rows for up to 14 hours per day, with no toilet on board – just a bucket. 

Leanne, who took on the challenge following sponsorship from Scotch whisky brand Wolfcraig Distillers, said: “This experience has changed my life. I hope I’ve shown other mums that anything is possible. I think when you become a mum, you can lose part of your identity. This has helped me rediscover who I am and what I’m capable of. 

“I am so glad to be back with my husband and kids – while I’ve missed them terribly, I think I’ll be a better, more present, more confident,  mother and partner having been through this incredible experience. 

“This isn’t a rowing challenge; it’s a challenge of the human spirit. It strips you down and leaves you exposed – and it’s there where you find your toughness. I’ve proved to myself how resilient I can be. I don’t think I’d have taken on this row if it hadn’t been for lockdown. Like many others, Covid gave me a chance to reassess and think about what’s important in life. When I heard about this challenge, I really did think it was now or never. I’m so glad I bit the bullet and just went for it – there were so many reasons not to do it, but there are always so many reasons to not do something. That mindset stops you from taking big leaps that can change your life for the better. 

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“Thinking of the three incredible charities I was rowing for kept me going during the toughest times. The first week was incredibly difficult – I began to question whether I’d make it – but after that I got into the groove and began to enjoy the solitude of the experience, and all the personal growth that came with this crazy journey.

“The feeling of arriving in Antigua was just incredible; a real mix of elation, relief, and sadness that it’s all over. I’ve had to overcome so many obstacles since the start of the challenge, some that seemed so catastrophic that I now just laugh at. I’m relieved that I’ve made it and especially relieved I made it before I ran out of toilet paper, just. Now I’ve been able to hug my family, I can’t wait to have a shower.

“I’m just an ordinary woman – I’m a mum. I did this for my children to inspire them to step out of their comfort zone, and if I can inspire anyone to step out of their comfort zone it’s worth 66 days at sea.”

Upon arrival in Antigua, Leanne was reunited with her two sons, seven-year-old Blair and his older brother Ruaridh (8), as well as her husband Craig. She has raised more than £20,000 in donations and counting for three charities: The Polar Academy UK, The Women’s Fund for Scotland, and The Mabel Foundation. 

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World's Toughest Row

She continued: “When I realised, I only had a couple of weeks to go, I started to slow down my pace; it dawned on me it was all going to end soon, and I wasn’t quite ready. Not that I wasn’t excited to see my husband and children - I was - but it had just been me and the Deep Blue Sea for so long, so I just tried to enjoy my last few days of calm and solitude.

“The biggest lesson has been learning to trust. I grew up in Johannesburg, a huge inland city, so I didn’t grow up around water and hadn’t spent a lot of time around it until I moved to Scotland. So, to put all my faith in this tiny little rowboat as it's thrown me about in massive waves has been a huge deal, but it’s without a doubt one of the best things I’ve ever done.” 

To support Leanne’s fundraising campaign for three amazing charities, visit her gofundme page

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