Atlantic rowing trio smash world record and raise thousands for cancer charities

Abby, Charlotte and Kat after breaking the world record.

Abby, Charlotte and Kat (left to right) in English Harbour after breaking the world record.

Three British women, including one with an incurable cancer, have broken the world record for rowing across the Atlantic.

Kat Cordiner, who has metastatic ovarian cancer, and her teammates Abby Johnstone and Charlotte Irving have completed the 3,000 mile crossing from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to English Harbour on the island of Antigua in 42 days, seven hours and 17 minutes, smashing the previous record by seven days.

The trio are raising money for Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Cancer Support and The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

A shock diagnosis

Kat was diagnosed with cervical cancer completely by chance, while having her eggs harvested in March 2019. She had been having the procedure with hope of one-day having a baby and was ‘distraught’ to hear this would no longer be possible.

Doctors were able to spare her ovaries during her first surgery to enable another round of egg-freezing. But a second surgery soon followed, after which, all seemed well.

However, in June 2020 Kat began to experience stomach pains and knew her cancer was back.

Having already signed up to the Atlantic Row, Kat feared another round of treatment might scupper her chances of taking part.

Kat continued to train throughout chemotherapy, until doctors found a growth on her heart and she was advised to stop exercising immediately.

Kat was treated with an intensive combination of paclitaxel and carboplatin, and targeted therapy drug avastin, along with 6 sessions of radiotherapy to treat the cancer, before undergoing invasive heart surgery to remove the rest of the growth.

Rowing against the odds

Six months after heart surgery, Kat got back in the boat and set off on December 12 with her 2 teammates on the 25ft ‘Dolly Parton’ to tackle the world’s second largest ocean.

She said: “The doctors have told me I don’t have decades, I have years, so I really want to make the most of them. I don’t want to muck around doing stuff that doesn’t matter I want to do things that are challenging and fun.

At sea, the trio were their own mechanics, electricians, doctors and best friends. They experienced scorching heat, enormous night-time waves, sleep deprivation, blistered and calloused hands, and sharks trailing their small boat. They even celebrated Christmas, New Year and Kat’s 42nd birthday on board.

After 42 days on the ocean, Kat, Abby and Charlotte were welcomed by family and friends at the dockside to celebrate their incredible determination and outstanding world record.

Kat, Charlotte and Abby celebrating their world record. Credit: Atlantic Campaigns

It’s thought Kat is the first person to tackle this challenge as a cancer patient.

“We’re in awe of what they’ve achieved”

With donations still pouring in, the Atlantic trio are hoping to reach £100,000 to be shared between the 3 cancer charities.

Simon Ledsham, Director of Fundraising for Cancer Research UK, said: “We are in awe of what Kat, Abby and Charlotte have taken on and achieved. They are remarkable supporters, not least Kat, who is an inspiration to thousands of other people facing their own cancer journey.

“We want to send them huge congratulations on their world record as well as our grateful thanks for raising funds for Cancer Research UK and for highlighting the need for more funding to develop better and kinder treatments for all types of cancer.

“We hope they will spend their first night back on dry land in a comfortable bed, knowing they have achieved a dream, are now world leaders in their field and have raised funds that will help us shape future treatments.

“But for now, we hope they celebrate in style. As Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall said when they set off – it was an OARsome undertaking – and they are awesome women!”

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