Monday, 21 July 2014

MODERN DAY HERO Part Two – Row, Clean, Eat, Sleep, Repeat



We left off with Scott and his teammates embarking on their epic rowing adventure on December 4, 2013 after a couple of days delay due to threatening weather in the Atlantic.

On the second day of their journey Mark Jenkins reported that while the two three hour shifts from midnight to 6am were demanding, they quickly got into a routine of rowing, cleaning, eating and sleeping. They were off on the adventure of a lifetime and they had the support of families and friends who were there at the starting point as well as many calls and emails of encouragement.

On the third night they were surrounded by many electrical storms displaying the power of nature and leaving them feeling very insignificant. 40 foot waves were crashing over them and they of course worried about power surges causing electrical failures.  They chose to head south east whilst most of the fleet stayed further north. 

On day six Scott was awakened at 1:00am to get out the massive parachute that is dumped into the sea to keep the boat in place. The wind was so strong they could not row against it and without the parachute they would drift backwards. The highlight of the day was a satellite call home. When the weather and the huge waves get to him he thinks of the guys who are more injured or didn’t make it and that gets him through it. That thought proves to be a strong motivation for the others as well.

By day twelve they were sixth in the whole fleet and second in their category. They had been suffering horrible weather conditions with high seas for some time, they were soaking wet and had not had any hot food for days. Scott commented on the routine: “you just have to be very disciplined all the time with the nights being the toughest, just horrible”. He was thinking of home a lot and missing his fiancée. “I’ve got to be strong. Just grit my teeth. I always knew this would be tough, but there are times when the experience is just mind-blowing. I’ve just got to remember the reason why we are doing this, for those guys who have been wounded and for their families. I have to remember the pain that they have gone through.” He reported they had seen a shark and lots of flying fish.

On day sixteen, Mark Jenkins described the events of the night before.  Suddenly there was a huge crashing sound as a wave careered into the side of the boat. I couldn't hear too much from outside but I felt my body thrown from floor to ceiling and back again. The boat had been hit so violently that it pitched completely upside down. Cayle and James had been ejected from their seats and thrown overboard. We always row in life-jackets at night and so we are attached by a safety leash which keeps us attached to the boat even we get ejected into the sea. The boat is designed to re-right itself in a capsize situation. The key things are to keep the cabin doors closed, so you have two air-pockets if you go under, and to have the weight of the ballast water in the storage compartments to help counterbalance the roll. It did the job and we were back up and running. Annoyingly we have lost a few miles in the race. We are only a quarter of the way across and we have already lost a quarter of the fleet, almost all of them to rescue".

Scott called home the day after capsizing and wrote “Dad just said get on with it – he would say that wouldn’t he!”  The weather continued miserable and cold with the crew constantly soaking wet.

On day twenty four Scott reported that the weather was getting better. They had missed Christmas at home but the skip gave them 30 minutes off for Christmas lunch and they exchanged gifts. One sign that they were getting closer to the end was that they were starting to run out of some of their food. On day thirty-one, dinner was a selection of foods from around the world -a mix of chicken tikka, korma, fry up and spaghetti. Unfortunately their bags of treats were lost when they capsized. “Seeing Antigua and our families is always in our thoughts”.

By permission of Row2Recovery
On day forty-three, Scott said “the weather has improved tenfold and the waves are following us in”. Calm weather gave them a chance to call home and get on with the little things that need to be done such as cleaning the boat and watching for sharks. A few days earlier they had seen a cruise liner and everyone was alongside with the foghorn blowing. “‘The World’ was 196m long, about 189m longer than us!”

While he hated the experience at the beginning, he was now loving it. “Being with the crew and bonding together is the best part of it for me. It feels fantastic being in a team again and sharing the high and lows. I am looking forward to small things like losing the beards, having a cut throat shave, a hot shower and some decent grub. I still want to raise the profile for injured service personnel. The most important bit of equipment is my leg – it never let me down”. Both Scott and Cayle had to leave their prosthetic limbs behind to avoid causing damage to the joints from the salt water. They will be reunited with them when they meet their families in Antigua.

Speaking of lessons learned and what the adventure has means to him, Scott said “You can achieve a lot more than you think! This crossing has proved to me what you can achieve with the will to carry on.  Family and friends are the most important thing. What has kept me going has been thinking about my family. I have also thought a lot about my friends and their last minutes. It has been a great personal experience and it has made me more ambitious but the greatest achievement is doing something to sort the wounded lads out. I won’t wish away the time after this and I have learnt a lot about enjoying simple things. The nights are amazing and they remind you not to rush through life. This achievement has also been the experience of a lifetime”.

On approaching Antigua they received a message from General Peter Wall, the Chief of the General Staff and head of the army, who said “This is the most stunning example of courage, grit and determination that the army has seen for a long time.”

After surviving storms, fighting 40 ft. waves crashing over them, experiencing a capsize, sleep deprivation, Scott and Cayle moving around the boat on their bums, eating dried food and ration packs, chaffing and salt-sores and the psychological stresses, they finally reached the finish line. They were second in their class, third overall – an amazing feat! 

48 days, 9 hours, 13 minutes and about 1,400,000 strokes had taken them to the finish line on January 21, 2014, 22:13 UTC.
 

By permission Row2Recovery
The reception into English Harbour, Antigua was an amazing end to the challenge. “People going mad and everyone seemed so happy. Coming in at night really set the mood: the flares, the horns, the sunset, it was hard to drink it all in”.

As they approached the finish line five or six boats came out to meet them and in the harbour they were surrounded by boats holding crowds of people. The Antiguan Coast Guard formed a Guard of Honour.

Talisker brand manager, Sophie Brookes said; “Row2Recovery have achieved the extraordinary in completing the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge in third position overall and shown there is life beyond injury."

Later, in a lounge chair in Antigua with his fiancée Amy and a large rum punch he was “feeling that I am the happiest man on Earth. This is something I will tell my grandkids about. I would be lying if I did not say that part of this adventure was for me, but the main reason I did it was to raise awareness of the cause of the wounded soldier. I did this for the lads, for the mates I lost. I did this to prove that you don’t need to lie there in the hospital bed. You cannot lose hope. You need that will power to carry on. I did this to prove that injury is not the end”.

The crew returned to Blighty (slang for Britain, England, Home) courtesy of Virgin Airlines with Scott tweeting that he was home on January 29th. Since returning home they have been involved in radio, TV
and newspaper interviews sharing their experience. They have received congratulations from many sources including the Ministry of Defense.

By per mission Nuneaton News
On February 19th, the Mayor of Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council, Cllr. Bob Copland invited Scott into the Nuneaton Town Hall during a full council meeting. Scott was surprised at being presented with two awards for his outstanding achievements. The first was a certificate in recognition of his achievement on behalf of the people of the Borough and the second was a Services to the Community Award for serving his community with distinction. Scott’s fiancée also attended the presentation with Scott receiving a standing ovation from those gathered in the Hall. Clearly his community is very proud of him. “I didn’t realize I was getting two awards. Everyone was up on their feet – it was quite special”

Scott and his teammates were at the River and Row Museum at Henley-on-Thames on February 22, 2014 as they continued to tell their stories and raise funds and awareness. Scott’s fiancée raised over £1,000 while he was rowing and a welcome home party raised another £800. At this writing they have raised over £40,600. The rowing may be over but the fundraising continues at http://www.bmycharity.com/R2RAtlantic2013


On March 10 2014, Prince Harry visited the River and Rowing Museum in Henley where he presented medals to the Row2Recovery crew members in recognition of their taking part in the “world’s toughest rowing race” and their raising thousands of pounds in support of injured soldiers and their families. Prince Harry also had lunch with the rowers and toured the Museum.
                              Thanks to http://rrm.co.uk/ for the photo.

While it may be difficult getting back to a regular life after this great adventure, I expect he will re-live it a few more times as a motivational speaker.  I suppose his next priority will be planning their nuptials with his fiancée Amy and looking forward to their life adventure together. They plan to marry in early August 2014 with a full military wedding.

I think Scott’s father Peter is correct in thinking that the army sees Scott as an inspiration to other wounded soldiers and probably to anyone facing any kind of life challenge.

If you ever feel the need of a little inspiration you can read more about this adventure on http://www.row2recovery.com/atlantic-blog/2013  where all the detailed blogs from all the team members are posted. Thanks to row2recovery.com for permission to use photos and information from their site.

The videos featuring Cpl Blaney and others taking part in the challenge can be viewed by visiting youtube and searching Scott Blaney and/or the other team members. Videos featuring him and his team mates can also be found at http://vimeo.com/m/77403803 and http://vimeo.com/m/77446319

Many articles about Scott and photos can be found published in the http://www.nuneaton-news.co.uk   


Monday, 14 July 2014

A Modern Day Hero - Scott Blaney -"Injury is not the end"



In a departure from my stories of our Blaney ancestors, I would like to tell the story of a modern day Blaney hero.

Scott Blaney (b. Aug 1986 near Birmingham, England) is my second cousin once removed. He is the great great grandson of the previously written about Harry Blaney (see blog postings March 2013) who was my great grandfather. His great grandfather was Elizabeth Blaney’s brother Edward (Ted); his grandfather is Edward’s son John.

I see some of Harry’s traits in Scott’s personality such as the Blaney sense of humour, their work ethic and tenacity.

I am also reminded of my adventurous great uncle Albert Blaney of North Vancouver who was still panning for gold in British Columbia while in his 80s, a hobby he began on the beach at Weston Super Mare, England. He was an optimist, lumberjack, soldier, musician, violin maker, story teller and lifelong adventurer. He was dubbed a “renaissance man” by his niece Patricia’s husband. Note his walking sticks in the photo.


Scott is a courageous Grenadier Guardsman in the British Army who suffered life changing injuries in May 2007 only a month into serving his country in Afghanistan.

The news of his injuries was devastating to his family but they are immensely proud of him. Scott has a younger brother, Joe and sadly they had lost their mother to a brain tumour a few years earlier, when she was just forty-one. Scott also has his father Pete, his step-mother Marie and his grandparents John & Sheila Blaney.



From the time he attended Etone Community School, Scott knew he wanted a military life. There is a history of service in his blood given his grandfather John Blaney’s military service in the Royal Navy (1949-1962), his great uncle William (Bill) Blaney, Elizabeth’s brother, who was a career naval serviceman (1913-1946), his great uncle Alfie Blaney, Bess’s youngest brother, a coxswain who died at Dieppe and all the Blaney uncles and cousins who served in time of war for England and Canada.


It would be a job for life, an opportunity for adventure and seeing the world. Scott joined the Grenadier Guards when he was eighteen years of age and was sent to Afghanistan in April 2007 with the 1st. Battalion.

Less than a month later, he was on foot patrol in Helmand Province when the explosion of a mine killed one of his colleagues and injured four others. Scott was lucky to be alive; he lost his lower right leg as well as suffering damage to his right elbow and eye from shrapnel. The soldier who carried Scott on his back for more than a mile to a waiting helicopter was Warrant Officer Class 1 (Regimental Sergeant Major) Darren Chant who was subsequently killed in Afghanistan on November 3rd 2009. This selfless action got Scott the quick attention he needed and potentially saved his life. Scott has said “We were lying on a mound of earth when the explosion happened. I was thrown on my back and saw my right leg twisted up near my head and I knew it had been blown off. My elbow had been nearly split in two, I had shrapnel in my eye and I saw my mate dead”.

After being treated at a field hospital, Scott was returned to England staying at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham for about six weeks which were followed by some time at Hedley Court Rehabilitation Centre in Surrey. He was very determined and set timed goals to walk again, run a marathon, cycle, all of which he did and more. "Cycling was hard to start off with, but you eventually get there. I go out once a day on the bike”.

Scott still recommends a life in uniform “I love the Army and the lads, it is a brilliant life” he said.

He went through a long recovery ordeal, his wounds healed, he acquired a prosthetic leg, and suffered flashbacks but he had great support from his family and his regiment and he loves the Army so he “got on with things”. Determined to live life to the full, he took up marathon running, golfing, competitive cycling and swimming. He also did a little rowing.


Cpl. Blaney remained with his regiment and in 2009 made military history as the first amputee to do sentry duty at the Tower of London taking his turn less than two years after his injury. At that time he was quoted as saying “You cannot just lie back and feel sorry for yourself. I have always refused to become depressed by what happened. It’s a squaddie (army private) mentality – you can’t feel sorry for yourself, you have to get on with things”.


Scott has been an inspiration to others who have suffered terrible injuries fighting for their country. While he amazed everyone the way he battled back, he was inspired by the courage of his mates in Afghanistan.


In addition to his family and his army life, his principal interest is fund- raising and increasing the awareness of the challenges of injured servicemen and women and their families. He is now serving at Kneller Hall Barracks, in Twickenham, Greater London, returning home to Nuneaton on the weekends.


In 2009 his father Peter Blaney said “What he has done is remarkable and has amazed me. He just gets on with his life and is very positive. He is so well adjusted to what has happened and I think the army sees him as an inspiration to other wounded soldiers”.

On July 20 that year, Scott was a member of an army relay team who swam the English Channel from Shakespeare Dover to Cape Griz in France while participating in the Annual Inter-Services Open Water Endurance Race. “Yeah, I`ve got a prosthetic leg and yeah I`m classed as disabled, but I don`t look at it that way. I see this as just another thing to get on with”. Scott undertook some onerous training at Camp Bay in Gibraltar. He had not done much swimming and on his first day of training he said he was “shaking with panic but by my second day, I did really well swimming 300 meters then non-stop for half an hour in the afternoon”. The water was freezing cold, with a current and swell.


They also had to practice swimming at night because it is so mentally challenging and completely different to swimming in daylight. As part of a relay team they could find themselves swimming day or night. It was an arduous race, twenty-one miles across the channel and they were crossing two busy shipping lanes. Of course it was also very competitive as the team of service personnel from the rehabilitation programme `Battle Back” was up against tough competition from the Royal Navy, the Army, the RAF and the Wales University Officer Training Corps. `Battle Back` is a military programme which encourages members of the Armed Forces who have been injured either on or off duty, to participate in adventurous training activities and sports as part of their rehabilitation.


Scott became engaged to his girlfriend, Amy Lee on May 4, 2013. They had their engagement party on June 15th, 2013 with family and friends and are planning to marry in 2014. Amy is training as a lawyer.



On July 29th, 2013 Scott played in the Disabled Open, a charitable golf event for golfers with disabilities.







by permission of Nuneaton News
In August 2013 he supported and helped promote a charity event at the Anchor Inn in Hartshill. It was a three day beer festival with live music and children’s entertainments that raised funds for Help For Heroes, a cause that was close to the hearts of the pub managers, Tony & Christine Reast and Scott.



In December 2013, Scott took on his biggest challenge, an across the Atlantic rowing race. I heard about this event about a month into the race from my British Columbia cousin Patricia Blaney Koretchuk. Since I was interested in my British Blaney relatives including Scott and being in need of a little inspiration myself at the time, I joined Twitter to follow his journey. I followed the race on the http://www.row2recovery.com/ website where blogs, updates and photos were posted by the crew members. There was also a link to a map tracking the progress of all the boats in the race and a link to a site where donations could be made.


It was on December 4, after a couple of days of inclement weather, that Scott Blaney and three teammates set off on a grueling 3000 mile unsupported rowing adventure. It was the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge, a challenge dubbed “the toughest rowing race in the world”. The race began with sixteen boats competing in several classes all rowing to raise money for various charities. Scott and his mates were rowing to raise money for Help for Heroes, a charity that works to improve the lives of injured service personnel and their families. Their slogan is “Beyond Injury-Achieving the Extraordinary”

The Endeavour Fund funded this attempt to row the Atlantic. It is an arm of The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Prince Harry says the fund "aims to reignite that fighting spirit and inspire those who have served their country to go on and achieve great things". It helps support returning service personnel and in achieving their ambitions in the world of sporting and adventurous challenge. The Row2Recovery boat was re-named Endeavour in recognition of their partnership with the Fund. The team arrived in the small Canary Island of La Gomera, Novermber 27 tor their pre-race training. Imagine how excited they were to be so close to the beginning of their adventure. Scott's father and step-mother arrived on the 29th to see them off.


Before the race began Prince Harry offered his support for the crew with a satellite call from his expedition in Antarctica. Prince Harry was making a gruelling charity trek to the South Pole racing with a group of injured British servicemen and women organized by the Walking With The Wounded charity.


The crew of the Endeavour consisted of four men with five legs between them.


By permission of Row2Recovery


The other three crew members in the boat with Scott were:

Capt. James Kayll who serves with the Light Dragoons and is a veteran of long-distance rowing was the skipper and said “Ocean rowing is an extraordinary activity for any able-bodied person and for Cayle and Scott; the challenge will be ten times more difficult. I am full of admiration and in complete awe of their courage and determination.”

LCPL Cayle Royce was with the Light Dragoons too. He was wounded in Afghanistan in May 2012. He was serving as a sharpshooter when he stepped on an explosive device. This resulted in above-the-knee amputation of both of his legs, facial scarring, loss of some of his fingers and damage to his neck. He was a keen outdoors-man and adventurer before his injuries and was anxious to get back to that life.

Also aboard was Capt. Mark Jenkins who serves with the Royal Army Medical Corps as a Physiotherapy Officer and is proud to be raising funds for injured servicemen and woman. “I hope we can show what extraordinary things can be achieved despite injury and disadvantage."


The training was rigorous, rowing morning and afternoon as well as building strength with weights. “It will be pure endurance” Scott said while talking about the physical challenge and having the use of only one leg. He took part in the challenge for himself and “to show that anything is possible even if you have faced life changing injuries”.


Before leaving Scott was quoted as saying “It’s something close to my heart and everyone has been so supportive. My family have been brilliant and they know I’m doing a good thing. I’d like to thank them and everyone else who has supported me so far and I just hope that everyone can continue to support me by logging onto the website and donating”.  http://www.bmycharity.com/R2RAtlantic2013


The Row2Recovery team embarked in a 29ft boat with a small hatch at each end, competing in the “fours” category (four in a boat). Each small hatch became the crib for two crew members. Scott’s video (see utube – First Class Service) shows where they slept, stored the satellite phone, video camera, tool kit, personal cleaning supplies and the sheep skin he used to soften the hard seat when rowing.


The 3000 mile course was from La Gomera to English Harbour, Antigua. The race was expected to take about six weeks to complete, rowing two hour shifts; twenty four hours a day.


It would be relentless, unforgiving, terrifying, an extreme test of body and mind and it would be amazing! Sixteen teams began but not all teams would make it to the finish line. Due to various difficulties at least five teams had to withdraw from the race.

Due to length I have divided this story into two parts. Part II will detail their time during the race and the aftermath. What a ride it would be!




...........................................To be continued in the next post..............