Howard, 48, was diagnosed with Young onset Parkinson’s Disease in Aug 2015. After realising that his Parkinson’s combined with a demanding job, left little energy and focus for his young family, he decided to leave his 21 year career at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, where he held numerous roles in training, operations, prevention and ultimately Head of Lifesaving, at the end of 2017.
A love of the sea and the outdoors, he now spends much of his time being a father to his two young children, motorcycling, cycling and surfing, when he can, and focussing on his health and fitness; something he firmly believes helps to reduce his symptoms. He is also assisting a number of charities he supports in the area of maritime SAR and drowning prevention. Last year, after being challenged by a friend, he completed the Ride London Surrey 100 cycle raising £7000 for Parkinson’s.
Why the challenge of rowing an Ocean?
After my initial diagnosis in 2015 I found coming to terms with things really difficult, I always said that at some point I would view it as an opportunity. Where it not for my Parkinson’s I would still be giving my heart and soul to my career, coming out of work has changed my focus on life and my relationship with my children. I now get to enjoy many moments which fathers often miss through being at work. The opportunity to row an ocean would not have come my way so easily were it not for my Parkinson’s – for once I find myself uniquely qualified!
My motivation to take part is three fold;
Firstly, I will be putting ‘two fingers’ up to my condition and proving that, if managed carefully, I can still pretty much do anything at the moment, though I am not underestimating the huge physical and psychological challenge ahead. So I should live for the now and deal with the future when it arrives. Secondly, I know my future is uncertain as my Parkinson’s will only get worse over time. so if I can in some way contribute to much needed research which could help in the development of treatments and or cures, I should grab this opportunity. There are many young people who are living with a condition which affects not only their day to day living but their very security in being able to work, as well as changing their family relationships. I, like many others, still want to share outdoor experiences with my children into their adulthood, walk my daughter down the aisle and one day enjoy their children. Without further research and understanding these things may not be possible for me or the many other people diagnosed with Parkinson’s at a young age. Research is therefore essential.Thirdly, hopefully being part of the challenge will raise awareness of young onset Parkinson’s Disease as well as raise much needed funds to help those charities researching cures and treatments and support for those with the condition. Until 3.5years ago I thought it was a condition that only affected people much later in life, if we could change that and the perception that Parkinson’s is just about shaking I would be ecstatic.
Have you taken part in a big adventure before?
I was part of an expedition to the Northern Andes in 1986, aged 15, which resulted in us summiting a number of peaks in the Cordillera Huayhuash area of Peru. A claimed first British Acsent of Puca Shalash 5135m, though not certain it was ever proven.
What is the most exciting part of taking part in the challenge?
Having only our preparation and skills to compete with the ocean, one of the most powerful forces on earth, we will be on our own, unsupported. The peace and tranquility of being away from humanity, the opportunity to see some of the greatest creatures that the natural world has to offer and the camaraderie and support to pull us all through the tough days.
What is the most daunting part of the challenge?
Being away for the family for so long and managing with only about 1.5hrs sleep at any one time. If I take so long to get up onboard as I sometimes do at home, I will need to get up before I’ve gone to sleep! Oh, and a sore backside of course.
What 3 strengths do you think you will bring to the crew?
Sense of humour, problem solving and I make a mean rehydrated meal (I knew that catering Diploma I got in 1988 would come in handy one day!)
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Reinhold Messner – mountaineer, amazing man, amazing achievements.
What advice would you give to your 10 year old self?
Don’t do ‘just enough’ at school, work harder and be the best you can absolutely be (I did the former and have been playing catch up ever since) and believe in yourself. Oh, and never ever buy an Austin Allegro, no matter how cheap it is!
Aside from friends and family, what do you think you will miss most while you’re at sea?
Easy – red wine and cheese
If you could only listen to one album for the whole crossing, what would it be?
U2 The Unforgettable Fire
What would you sing at a karaoke night?
Green Day – Good Riddance (time of your life)
What will you bring as your luxury item?
Tabasco Sauce, no matter where you are in the world, the food always becomes palatable with this, I suspect modern expedition food will benefit from the same.
What is the most annoying habit other people have?
‘Top Trumping’ the conversation. If I lived happily with my black cat in Tenerife, then no doubt they would tell me their cat was blacker and they have just moved to Elevenarife! Everybody has achieved things in life, be interested in others and appreciate who they are.
Joe Simpson – Touching The void, I first read this in 1988, I know he divides opinion, but what an amazing story of survival & determination.
Tell us an interesting thing about you people should know…
I can complete a Rubiks cube in under 5 mins, a bit longer if I’m having a bad PD day.
How does having Parkinson’s affect day to day life?
The symptoms are many an varied, but start with just getting moving in a morning, my muscles are stiff and movements slow until I have taken medication and got moving around a bit. This is not helped by difficulties sleeping and fatigue. Day to day I have a weakness and lack of dexterity on my left side making simple tasks sometimes awkward, as well as fidgety feet and twitching fingers – 501 button jeans are out! Less obvious are issues dealing with multiple conversations, which I find overpowering, finding the correct words to express myself, blending my words when I speak and forgetting some of the things that my wife has asked me to do are frustrating- though perhaps the last bit is just me blaming the PD.