Amazing Atlantic rowing challenge for Empire Fighting Chance

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One of the members of Empire Fighting Chance’s development board has completed an amazing challenge.

Maddie Difazio-Wright rowed 3000 miles across the Atlantic in the World’s Toughest Row to raise money for us.

She arrived after 48 days and 13 hours at sea in Antigua on the evening of Wednesday 21st January.

Team Vibe the Wave reach the finishing line of the World's Toughest Row race across 3000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean

This epic feat was completed with two team mates, Grace Gilbert and Grace Pybus, who is known as G. Not only had none of them met before, but all had little to any rowing experience. They called themselves the ‘Vibe the Wave’ team and wanted in their own words to ‘live the adventure.’  And they certainly did that, embarking on a remarkable journey that would see them row in 30 foot high waves, extreme winds and huge storms.

Setting off from the Canary island of La Gomera, after a gruelling journey they finally came ashore and were met with cheers from friends and family, and flags and fireworks in the Caribbean. On arrival Maddie smiling from ear to ear said: “I now have the ocean row bug. I mean who else gets to do this in real life!”

Maddie Difazio-Wright who is on our development board was raising money for Empire Fighting Chance 

The journey which would see them losing 5000 calories a day, inevitably had it’s ups and downs. From having the world’s most remote cocktail party far out at sea, to being attacked by a large type of swordfish called a marlin.

This happened while they were making good progress until, on New Year’s Eve, the trio saw that they were rowing over a school of fish, which was being pursued by this three-metre long marlin. Unfortunately, the marlin rammed the boat at least three times with its sharp spear. The entire incident was captured on the team’s GoPro camera, including the moment the 10ft long fish returned to ram the boat again. This was the first time this had happened in the race’s ten year history. 

Team Vibe the Wave 2023 finish video - World's Toughest Row

The Vibe the Wave team have been reporting back to their support crew on dry land, and managed to patch up the boat enough so that they could carry on rowing. “The damage includes three notable holes - inside the hatch with direct exposure to the ocean, between the Henderson hatch and the central locker, and the lid of the locker,” said a team spokesperson.

And using their ingenuity they were able to plug the holes of the boat with empty champagne bottles from their News Eve celebrations! And this made the national  BBC news. 

“Despite these obstacles, the team's remarkable spirit remains unwavering. G, Grace, and Maddie exemplify unity, mutual support, and resilience, qualities that have propelled them through these testing situations,” the spokesperson added.

Once on shore Maddie and Grace, and G were interviewed by the World’s Toughest Row media team. G said : “The first week was hard, the storm that rolled in was relentless. By day ten I was like when is this gonna stop! An absolute downpour.”

After all the tough days it was a welcome sight to approach the Caribbean and the shore of Antigua where flags of the finish line awaited them, Maddie said : “It was a beautiful calm sea. We had not seen that before, seeing the welcoming flags as we approached was great, they have usually been facing the other way as we rowed away from them. It was emotional seeing other people, and all the other boats coming in.”

Maddie continued: “It taught us a huge amount. When we first started this journey, we never thought it was going to turn out how it did. Our key objective was to just live the adventure, and we have lived the adventure. We have done our very best.”

Maddie Difazio-Wright, Grace Gilbert and Grace Pybus celebrating with flares in Antigua at the end of the race

Did Maddie feel frightened at taking a challenge of this magnitude, being at the mercy of the Atlantic and the dangers this can bring? She explained: “Well it is a dangerous event, and I don’t think we ever thought it was not going be a dangerous event. But when you are surrounded by other people doing a similar event, it's easy to get lost in the moment and not realise that this is a very unusual thing to be doing.

So when you are in the water, and you have a safety response team boat on standby and our support team back at home, it’s good to know that as trained and prepared as we were, we have got an entire team behind us that are watching at every single moment.”

Head of Fundraising at Empire Fighting Chance Joanna Le Vannais is very proud of Maddie’s connection to the charity. She said: “Maddie is an amazing supporter for us, who provides invaluable help and support through fundraising, representing us at events, to networking, and being an overall awesome lady.’

And of the challenge and achievement itself: “Well she’s obviously a bit crazy! But it’s an amazing feat, and the fact she’s done it with limited and almost no rowing experience and taking on such a big challenge is phenomenal.

It shows what kind of personality she has. Absolutely fearless.”

The team did get up to 8th place at one point, and in their own words were flying until they lost their way after the marlin attack which slowed them up,  eventually finishing the race in 23rd. But as G said: “After that we just felt that we should embrace the moment and the experience. And having a marlin attack is of course going to be a talking point for the rest of our lives at parties,” she laughed.

We would like to congratulate the whole team, and in particular Maddie for fundraising for us at Empire Fighting Chance. What an amazing achievement!

If you would like to donate to Maddie’s fundraising page - you can do so  here.