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Atlantic rowers get gold

16 April 2008

Zoology graduate Niall McCann (BSc 2004) and his friend James Burge have been awarded the Evening Post’s Bristol Gold Star Award for their charity work for Bristol Zoo.

Zoology graduate Niall McCann (BSc 2004) and his friend James Burge have been awarded the Evening Post’sBristol Gold Star Award for their charity work for Bristol Zoo. They will receive the award at a ceremony in December.

The pair, both recruitment consultants, rowed 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to raise funds for Bristol Zoo Gardens' primate projects in Cameroon. They finished the 2007 Atlantic Rowing Race on 5 February in fifth place, out of 15 pairs making the crossing.

With no prior rowing experience, the boys trained for up to 20 hours per week for a year in the University's Centre for Sports Exercise and Health, with the support of the University’s Health and Fitness Manager James Rowntree and Sports Performance Manager Gordon Trevett. As a part of their training they smashed the world record for rowing 1 million metres on an indoor rowing machine by almost five hours.

The Atlantic Rowing Race is known as the toughest rowing challenge in the world and Niall and James faced countless dangers along the way. ‘James suffered badly with sea sickness and fell overboard on one occasion,’ said Niall. ‘He was nearly washed overboard by the wave that knocked out all of our communications, leaving us alone and without any contact with the outside world for the last two weeks of our row. We were missed by a large container ship by only 100 metres one night and survived five full days on the sea anchor when the conditions were too rough to row or when the winds were so severely against us that we were being blown backwards.’

There were many memorable moments as well, included being joined by a pod of pilot whales at dusk and by dolphins swimming alongside their boat at night.

Finally, after 63 days, two hours and five minutes at sea, they crossed the finish line and rowed in to English Harbour in Antigua. ‘It is difficult to describe the feeling of almost overwhelming euphoria that surged over us in waves as we rowed in to Nelson's Dockyard and saw our families again for the first time in over two months,' said Niall.

So what next for this intrepid Bristol alumnus? Niall is already planning a summit attempt on Everest in 2012. He is also considering Bristol Zoo's request that he does a PhD on the western lowland gorilla. But in the meantime his priority is more domestic. ‘I need to spend some quality time with my girlfriend, fellow Bristol graduate Rachel Brixey (BSc 2007), to make up for the past 18 months of self-centred behaviour!’