This Easter weekend, kayakers and canoeists from all over the UK – and beyond – braved the might of the Thames to take on the challenge of a lifetime, dubbed the ‘canoeist’s Everest’. Becky Done talked to some of the ladies who took part.
It could be argued that there are few greater challenges than the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe and Kayak Marathon. The 125-mile race takes place at Easter each year, starting in Wiltshire and finishing under Westminster Bridge in London.
Entrants who choose to complete the course straight through the night (in double racing canoes or kayaks) will need to draw on every ounce of their mental and physical strength, as most will paddle for over 20 hours non-stop before they finish. Nobody is guaranteed to reach Westminster; and there can be no doubting the fantastic physical and personal accomplishment for those that do.
Entrants into the race are predominantly men – but each year, a handful of hardy women set themselves the challenge. Past participants in the overnight race have included Rebecca Stephens (the first British woman to climb Everest) and Sportsister’s very own Danielle Sellwood, who holds two course records.
One member of the female contingent this year was 25 year-old Kim Wetherall (pictured above right) from Twickenham, racing with Henry Hendron, 27. Kim is an experienced kayaker, having won the four-day junior race in 2003; but she had never embarked on the overnight event before. “I wanted to prove that I could actually do it,” she says.
There is only one way to train for DW, as it’s known – and that is to get out on the river in a boat as often as possible, including plenty of night-time sessions. Combining training with working full-time as a teacher has been a challenge for Kim, but her commitment and determination paid off on race day.
On the finishing straight approaching Westminster Bridge, she still looked strong, despite having twisted her ankle earlier in the race, and the pair clinched second place in the mixed crew category with a time of 20 hours 18 minutes. “I am really happy,” she says of the result. “The last stretch seemed to be never ending but I have to say I actually enjoyed parts of the race, so I am really pleased!”
Also racing was Jean Ashley, 50, a part-time fitness instructor from Cheshire, with partner Adele Blakeborough, 35 (pictured above). The DW was a first for both ladies – in more ways than one. Passing under Westminster Bridge at 9:26am on Easter Sunday, they finished in an incredible 22 hours and 21 minutes – winning first place in the ladies class. Neither has ever entered the race before.
Training was hard-going for Jean and Adele. “The weather’s been freezing this winter; on several occasions we got back [from training] covered in frost and ice, motivated only by our flask of hot chocolate in the changing rooms!” she laughs. “Luckily, I have a very supportive husband and daughters, who helped with housework and cooking to allow me to spend more time on the water.”
Meanwhile, Sara Davies, 42, a full-time mother from Oakham, finished the race in 25 hours 41 minutes with her partner Linda Clark – an achievement made all the more impressive by the fact that she only started kayaking a year ago. “It’s a magnificent sense of achievement, having come from being a complete novice to tackling an incredibly hard event,” she says.
Sara’s training has been something of a logistical operation, given that she lives in Leicestershire and Linda in Surrey. “Every training session we had, we needed to sort out childcare and we couldn’t go off for hours or days on end. We’ve had to call in a lot of favours from some very supportive husbands, family and friends,” she says. “But as Linda’s mother says, where there’s a woman, there’s a way! What would I say to other women? Go for it!”
No matter what challenges they have overcome even just to make it to the start line, all three women have proved, by paddling non-stop through the night on Easter weekend, that anything is possible.
Kim has words of encouragement for women thinking about taking part in the race next year, “I would say get involved! The race is a great way to test yourself and push yourself to the limit and find your personal strengths. You don’t have to race it or have a history in kayaking – even to complete it is a great achievement. And the women’s race needs more participants. It would be fantastic to see some more ladies take up the challenge of DW together,” she says.
- Allow six to nine months’ preparation for the race
- Join a canoe or kayaking club – see the British Canoe Union website (www.bcu.org.uk) for more details. There are clubs country-wide
- Choose the right partner – you will get to know them very well over the course of your training and the race!
- You can find all the information on the race at www.dwrace.org.uk
- Next year’s race takes place on 2-5 April 2010 – see you at Devizes!
Becky Done, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine
Women’s DW Results
1st: Jean Watson & Richard Lovell, Wokingham CC. 19:44:57 (8th overall)
2nd: Kim Wetherall & Henry Hendron, Richmond CC. 20:18:58 (11th overall)
3rd: Claire Pople & Irvine Brett, Richmond CC. 20:38:04 (17th overall)
1st: Adele Blakeborough & Jean Ashley, Chester CC. 22:21:52
2nd: Linda Clark & Sara Davies, Royal CC & Rutland CC. 25:41:14
3rd: Tamsin Adams & Katrina Robinson, Oxford Brooks Uni. 25:43:16
Mixed Doubles – Junior (four day stage race)
1st: Megan Middleton & Ryan Pearce, Fowey River CC. 18:31:30
2nd: Leah Stack & Sam Rainey, leaside CC. 18:42:2
3rd: Emily Williams & James Hockley, Churcher’s College. 22:01:38
Womens doubles – junior (four day stage race)
1st: Isobel Smith & Naomi Smith, BCCC All Hallows. 18:15:05
2nd: Hannah Missen & Rachel Meredith, BOA CC. 21:37:03
3rd: Anastasia Simmons & Fiona Adie, Royal Hospital School. 21:51:03
Womens Singles – (four day stage race)
1st: Nicola Taylor, Elmbridge CC. 17:58:44
2nd: Kathryn Hall, Richmond CC. 18:45:38
3rd: Leonie Cockman, Ascot KC. 22:02:54
More canoeing on Sportsister: