Helen Skelton’s Amazon Adventure

“Six weeks, six days per week, 60 miles per day,” it’s enough to put the fear into any experienced marathon paddler, but Children’s TV presenter, Helen Skelton managed this amazing feat with practically no kayak experience at all and she didn’t capsize once.

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Raising money and awareness in one of the UK’s biggest fundraising events, Sport Relief, Helen’s achievement may make the history books for the longest solo journey by kayak and the longest distance in a kayak in 24 hours by a woman – both are awaiting a rubber stamp by Guinness.

Helen started her journey on January 20 in Natua in Peru, where the rivers Marañón and Ucayali join to form the Amazon, and ends 2,010 miles downriver in Almeirim in Brazil where the river becomes tidal. Amazingly, 26-year-old Helen had never been in a kayak until she started training with Mark Hoile, GB Canoeing Coach.

Of her performance, Mark told the ICF, “When I met Helen I could see she was a very focused individual and from her past experiences on different challenges she was also able to push herself.” Of the cynics, Mark went on, “Having worked with Helen, I was confident this challenge was possible. It was going to be tough, and would push her to new levels, but it was possible… Helen thrived on the positivity that we built up. She took to kayaking like a duck to water.”

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And Mark’s support didn’t stop at the training on the ergo machines, “I followed every step of her progress, from setting her paddling schedule, to what weight-training programme she followed, from monitoring her in a heat chamber at St Mary’s University through to having regular updates when she was out on the Amazon via a satellite phone.”

After paddling 1,005,000 strokes, drinking 320 litres of fluid, receiving 2 injections for heat exhaustion, suffering with 150 mosquito bites, and using up 50 metres of medical tape on her blistered hands, Helen was clearly pleased with her achievement. “My bottom is bruised, my shoulders are sore and the muscles in my neck are making it hard to differentiate between my head and my shoulders but I am proud of the war wounds.”

However, the record for the longest solo journey by kayak is a contentious issue. Another female extreme-distance kayaker, Freya Hoffmeister circumnavigated Australia in December 2009 clocking up a staggering 8,000 miles, so, one of Helen’s Guinness World Record applications may well be challenged. When asked by the ICF, Freya said she hasn’t applied for the record herself, but her friend may well have done.

A very happy lady, but does she ever want to get in a kayak again?
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A very happy lady, but does she ever want to get in a kayak again?

The verification of any record attempt depends on Guinness World Records being provided with satisfactory evidence of their claim. Full guidelines specific to the record category can only be accessed by making an official application, but we do know that the record attempt has to be documented throughout and the same vessel must be used throughout the entire journey. Should this vessel be damaged irreparably, it can be replaced with a vessel that is identical in every way.

But, whatever the technicalities, no one can belittle the achievements of either athlete: the experienced multi-discipline kayaker and the completely inexperienced yet go-getting children’s TV presenter have both wowed the paddling world with their outstanding triumphs.

Helen told the welcoming press at the finish line, “It’s been a massive adventure that’s thrown up challenges most days. It’s been tough but I’ve had enough highs to make it more than worthwhile. I’m very lucky to have amazing people in my life who’ve picked me up when things got hard and most importantly inspired me to carry on…” There were some who thought she couldn’t do it but Helen is clearly one tough cookie, “I reckon that you shouldn’t shy away from things because they’re tough or you might fail. Get stuck in and you never know where you might end up.

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This high profile event has garnered much attention in the UK and across the world. Coinciding with a recent report that Canoeing is the most popular water sport in the UK for the seventh year running, Helen’s expedition is hoped to inspire young people to get out there and try canoeing. As her BCU trainer Mark put it, “Helen paddling the Amazon will show it to be an amazing sport and how you can get close to the extremes of nature. Though you don’t have to paddle the Amazon to have an amazing time, we have many wonderful rivers, lakes and waterways to explore in a canoe or kayak in the British Isles.”

 
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