Kiko Matthews

Smashed the record for rowing the Atlantic solo months after brain surgery, raising £101,000 for the hospital that saved her life.

In 2009 Kiko had nearly died after being diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease, a rare condition which causes tumours on the pituitary gland at the base of the brain.

Following life-saving treatment at King’s College Hospital in London, the 37-year-old from Herefordshire was determined to raise funds to say thank you. 

Kiko, a former science teacher, had never rowed before taking on the Atlantic challenge. But, undeterred, she embarked on a rigorous training plan, hitting the rowing machine in the gym and learning about sea survival and navigation.

Midway through her training, she realised “something wasn’t right” and went back to the doctors, who discovered the Cushing’s had returned.

After more brain surgery to remove the tumour, incredibly Kiko was back in the gym within four weeks.

She did 16 months of physical and technical training before taking to the open seas for the epic challenge, starting the 3,000 nautical mile journey from Gran Canaria on February 1.

Kiko rowed her 21-foot boat Soma for up to 16 hours a day for seven weeks, battling 70-foot waves and debilitating blisters on her hands, feet and bottom, while sleeping in two-hour shifts.

She was her own doctor, mechanic and skipper in one of the toughest physical and mental challenges possible.

Although she admits it was “exhausting”, the support she received from well-wishers around the world kept her strong.

“I had pains in my forearms and wrists and calluses on my palms,” Kiko says. “But getting messages and fundraising updates via my satellite phone was a really good way of keeping me motivated. My body had already been through so much that I knew it could cope with a bit of rowing. After months of planning, I wasn’t going to quit.”

As a lone woman out in the middle of the ocean, her only company for days was an array of marine wildlife, including five whales, dolphins and even a shark.

But on March 22, as she rowed into the twinkling harbour at Barbados, it was her mum, dad, brother and nephew who greeted her with claps and cheers. Kiko broke the world record for a solo female crossing of 56 days when she completed the challenge after 49 days, eight hours and 13 minutes at sea.

Her incredible feat has so far raised £101,000 to help build a new intensive care unit at the hospital.

She says: “The thought that, eight months ago, I was lying in hospital having my brain operated on, and now I am here having rowed the Atlantic, I guess I am a bit proud. I have shown that anyone can attempt anything given the right attitude, belief and support. I want to use my story to inspire women to challenge themselves.”

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