Galway native Gavan Hennigan is an extreme environment athlete and adventurer. He is currently two thirds of the way through his biggest challenge to date, solo rowing the Atlantic Ocean as he takes part in the Talisker Atlantic Challenge Race. He is lying in third position in the race (ahead of many crewed boats ) and located 500 nautical miles from the finish in Antigua, in the Caribbean.
After 41 days at sea, alone, Gavan continues to rise each morning at 4am. He checks his boat, named Doireann, eats, and then takes his place on his perch as he musters the strength and determination to begin the daily row up of to 19 hours. From his seat, Gavan will clock averages of up to 45 nautical miles, as he aims for the finish line – the island of Antigua in the Caribbean. His body is showing the battle scars of almost six weeks of extreme exertion and performance, with his shins bandaged (from being slapped by the oars ), his hands and fingers cut to pieces, his skin reddened by the glaring hot sun, and his arms so tired that he has, at times, had to tape his hands to the oars. All the while he battles through the inevitable sleep deprivation a solo ocean rower must endure.
Since day three of the race, Gavan has held third position. This is an extraordinary achievement by a solo rower given that many of the boats behind him are team crews of two, three, and four people. Crew boats can relay row, taking turns at the oars. Their boat is always moving and rowing. Whereas Gavan as a solo rower must push on alone, clocking up more miles in one day that four combined cannot. All of this with unbelievable strength and very little rest. Liam Gorman, the rowing correspondent with The Irish Times described his performance to date as “the epitome of fortitude”.
Giving my all
The trio team in fourth position and currently challenging Gavan are the American Oarsmen. When asked about the pressure that they are placing on him, he commented:
“The American trio are pushing me hard,” Gavan said. “They were tipped to win [the race] but had a lot of problems early on and now they are posting some crazy 24-hour mileage. Anyway, I am one man here and giving it my all and what will be will be. I’m happy to be here and want to enjoy the last 12 days of this epic adventure.”
His motivation is driven by many factors; the finish line of the race in Antigua, his chosen charities, his never-ending spirit of adventure and the support from family, friends and in particular his home community in Galway. He added “I am blown away by the support, from businesses, schools, community groups and individuals. I receive messages of support which are immensely encouraging and motivate me every day, I am hugely grateful to Galway and proud to be Galwegian”
Along with his goal of racing across the Atlantic alone in a rowing boat, Gavan has the goal of raising awareness and much needed funds for two Galway based charities. Jigsaw and Cancer Care West. For years Gavan struggled with mental health issues so for him, supporting this charity is a very personal choice. The charity themselves have been very supportive of Gavan’s endeavours and have changed the profile picture of their Facebook page to one of Gavan!
There are a lot of people in Ireland whose lives have been irrecoverably touched by cancer. A lot of Gavan’s friends and their families have had that experience. Cancer Care West has supported them hugely through those tough times. This is his way of giving back. The ‘Sign my Boat’ initiative with Cancer Care West was a huge success and brought awareness of both the charity and the row that Gavan is currently undertaking to the fore.
Great local backing
Local businesses have been a tremendous supporters of Gavan and must be commended. The likes of Autolux have provided Gavan with technical equipment for the boat, The Salthill Hotel fed him in the lead up the row, Irish Biltong are feeding him out on the row, Ocean Fitness helped him prepare physically with free membership, Emmett in Galway Bay Physio provided much needed physiotherapy after the long hours of training and Platinum Nutrition provided extra vitamin and mineral supplements.
In the last few days, local car dealership Motorpark have donated much needed funds to help with costs for Gavan’s return from Antigua. Without this support, Gavan would not be where he is right now — 1000km from Antigua, alone and rowing like a madman, waving the Galway and Connacht flag high as he storms to the finish line!
To donate to Jigsaw and Cancer Care West login to www.gavanhennigan.com Follow Gavan online @soulogav and you can track his race position by using the app YB Races/Yellow Brick and tracking Talisker Atlantic Challenge.