Serious cause backdrops paddlers’ fun and fatigue
If you ask members of the Interserve London Irish voyageur teams how much paddling experience they have, they’ll be honest: zero.
Photo by Sam Riches
SHORT ON EXPERIENCE, LONG ON DESIRE – The Interserve London Irish 2 boat makes its way across Lake Laberge on Wednesday evening. The voyageur boat is made up of professional rugby players with limited paddling experience but are motivated by an important cause.
CARMACKS – If you ask members of the Interserve London Irish voyageur teams how much paddling experience they have, they’ll be honest: zero.
But if you ask them why they’re competing in the 2012 Yukon River Quest, their answer is emphatic.
“This isn’t about us, it’s about our cause,” said David St. John Claire, one of the founding members behind the teams.
The inspiration for the two squads, who are competing in the men’s voyageur division, is Help for Heroes, a British charity which assists wounded veterans.
“We put money into going and fighting wars, but we don’t put any money into dealing with the aftermath, and that’s where Help for Heroes comes in,” said St. John Claire.
The charity was started by Bryn and Emma Parry in October 2007 out of a desire to help the wounded servicemen and women returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
St. John Claire knows first-hand how important an initiative like Help for Heroes is.
He was injured in battle in 1991 in Kosovo and served five years with the Royal Marines.
Help for Heroes is one of the fastest-growing charities on the planet, raising more than 230 million pounds (around $367 million Cdn) in five years.
The money has gone toward the construction of rehabilitation centres and created the ability to support families who have lost loved ones.
There are 13 paddlers competing in two boats in the Interserve team, with the first boat made up predominately of managers from Interserve and the second featuring premier rugby athletes from across the United Kingdom.
While they may have years of experience on the pitch, the challenge they face in the annual 715-km Race to the Midnight Sun could be one of the most challenging feats of their lives.
“None of them have paddled anything more than 15 miles,” said St. John Claire.
“Three of the guys in these boats did a challenge where they walked, cycled and swam 375-km down the Thames.
People really got into it and somebody said, ‘if the river was bigger, wouldn’t we raise more money?’
“And literally, that’s what happened someone Googled river challenges and we found the River Quest.
“We knew nothing about it when we decided to do it.”
Between the two boats, there are two former Royal Marines, a Para, two Royal Engineers and a British Infantry member.
The teams also have years of friendship on their side.
“We were all friends before the River Quest,” said St. John Claire.
“We’re a group of guys from a company who just decided to do something and didn’t understand it but have prepared incredibly well for it.”
But even with their preparation, the paddlers know they have long days ahead of them.
“They will be uncomfortable, they will be in pain, they’ve never done anything like this in their lives,” said St. John Claire.
“But they’ve been prepared, they have everything they need, it’s a total mental battle. These are some of the strongest people I know and they have incredible mental fortitude.
“But this isn’t about us; this about the cause and for Help for Heroes.”