Her Story: Kiko Matthews on Rowing The Atlantic Alone
Rowing the Atlantic Ocean completely alone is something that would terrify most of us, but for Kiko Matthews, it was just another challenge to overcome. In January of this year, just a matter of weeks after life-saving surgery to remove a second tumour from her pituitary gland, Kiko set off from Gran Canaria with the intention of not only rowing 3000 miles across the Atlantic to Barbados single-handed but to do it in record time. It was no surprise to those of us that know Kiko that she achieved her goal, and is now the new record holder for a female solo row - just 49 days. I caught up with her this week to see what compelled her to take part in the challenge - particularly as she had never rowed before - what it has taught her about life and what is next for her adventurous spirit.
In 2009 I was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, a life-threatening condition caused by a tumour on the pituitary gland. I had a long list of life-threatening symptoms, including diabetes, psychosis, osteoporosis, muscle wasting, memory loss, insomnia, fat, being spotty and hairy, bruising easily, and my skin thinning. This life-changing moment really made me realise that setbacks do happen and it is ultimately you who has the choice of what you do with them. I wanted to make the most of my time because you have one stab at life. When you're lying on your deathbed looking at your toes, what do you want to be talking to them about, your regrets or what you did with your life?
So I decided I wanted to set myself a challenge. At first, more than anything, I wanted to meet Prince Harry. This isn’t a joke: I wanted to get his attention by doing something high profile, and the record for the solo row of the Atlantic was there to be broken. But what started as a fleeting conversation with my mum turned into a real challenge and I had to go through with it.
I was at a point in my life when I had set up a charity and a business, and I wanted to find a challenge that was short-term and achievable. I knew that others had done the solo row, so I just didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t achieve it. I also really wanted to raise money for Kings Hospital and the team that had saved my life years before.
And from the start, I knew I would achieve it. I believe that everything in life should be fun and enjoyable, so I found a way to work into my life - even my training regime. The fundraising for the challenge became my fulltime job, and I fitted the physical training around that. I knew I had to prepare myself mentally for it, but the only time I wavered, was last October when the doctors discovered a second tumour. But I just knew I could not let it beat me. I had to do this. I had to row.
Once I was out on the boat, my emotions varied from day to day. I went from thinking ‘This is amazing, how have I managed to get here?’ to ‘Oh my god - what have I got myself involved in?’ The day-to-day rowing is relentless and tedious - it just goes on and on. But by week 5, I was settled into it. It was my job.
I was never scared. I enjoy my own company and I never felt lonely. It was lovely to hear from friends and family to break up the monotony, but I was never worried. I knew my boat was strong, and all the safety precautions were in place, so there was nothing to be fearful of.
When I finished, and I knew I had broken the record, I knew my life was about to change. I knew it was all about to pay off. I was in a really good place as I crossed the finish line - not exhausted as you might expect from, say, a marathon runner. I was in a rhythm and I could have gone on - but that might just have been because I knew a cocktail and a comfy bed were waiting for me.
The biggest impact of the challenge is how it has led me to view the rest of my life.
I know it sounds strange, but I like people less than I did before and I am MUCH more aware of the consumer culture we live in. The media is constantly pushing the stuff we apparently must do and have, and the general idea that we must all be busy all the time. Why must we all do it? We don’t have to. The way we all live is because we have been told, not because we choose it.
I want more choice - I don’t want to live a life dictated to by the media.
I also now know that if you want something enough never doubt it. If we work together and support one another so much is possible.
And finally, I want to live my life being as honest and as authentic as I can be. I believe that I have a purpose now, and I want to be honest about who I am. For example, I am not a feminist - that just isn’t authentic to me. I just want us to be who we are. It doesn't matter if you are a man or woman.
Life has been crazy since I got back, and I have so much to do. I am writing a book that is due out later this year, and I am about to launch an exciting new challenge. I can’t say what it is just yet, but it is a more collaborative environmental challenge that I hope is going to make a difference to the wider community and not just me. Watch this space!
Find out more about Kiko at www.kikomatthews.co.uk