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Deaf rower completes record-breaking Atlantic crossing

Deaf rower completes record-breaking Atlantic crossing
10th February 2020 Ian Streets

A 60-year-old pharmacy worker has become the first deaf person on record to row an ocean by finishing a 3,000-mile journey across the Atlantic.

The BBC reporter that Mo O’Brien and her fellow crew members, including her daughter, landed on the Caribbean island of Antigua 49 days after setting out from the Canary Island of La Gomera in December.

Ms O’Brien, from Cornwall, rowed almost 3,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean with her daughter Bird Watts, 32, from Mevagissey in Cornwall, and their friend Claire Allinson, 45, from Exmouth, Devon.

The trio rowed in pairs for four-hour shifts, then had two hours of rest, on a constant cycle for the entirety of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

Speaking to race organisers after they confirmed both records at the finish line in Antigua, Ms O’Brien said: “I’m relieved to be here, but I kind of wish I was still out there, too. I absolutely loved it.”

Ms O’Brien told the BBC her favourite part of the challenge was rowing at night.

She said: “The racing and the wind and the sea… it felt like you were going at about 100 miles an hour. I loved that feeling, the freedom – almost feeling like you’re a part of the sea. It sounds corny, I know, but I’ve never experienced that before.”

Ms Watts said her mother’s profound deafness was “a bit of a nightmare” as rowers “rely a lot on your hearing”.

Ms O’Brien was born with nerve deafness but grew up undiagnosed – her parents believed she was just “painfully shy”.

She told the BBC how she struggled to cope with NHS hearing aids when she eventually got them at about the age of 30. They boosted her hearing to 30 per cent of what most people can hear, but with disorientating background noise.

But then one of the crew’s sponsors, hearing aid manufacturer ReSound, shared cutting-edge equipment with her, including a microphone which can be tuned into her hearing aid via Bluetooth. This meant she could hear instructors and pass mandatory courses to take part in the Atlantic row – and could hear her fellow rowers.

Ms O’Brien said deafness can be “very isolating” but she was determined to rise to the challenge.

She said: “Deaf people withdraw from life. There are lots of things that I know that I stopped myself doing, because it was so difficult. There’s something in me that just says don’t do the ordinary, don’t go to work every day, pay your mortgage, go home, watch a bit of telly, or whatever your routine is.”

The British Deaf Association congratulated Ms O’Brien, with a spokesperson saying: “Mo is an inspiration to many and is an example of what deaf people can achieve.”

Ms O’Brien said she hopes she can encourage the Deaf Association to enter an all-deaf crew into the challenge: “I just feel it’s showing people that they can do things… whatever disability you’ve got.”


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