A few years ago, 33-year old Kiko Matthews was seriously ill with Cushing’s disease, suffering with everything from 65% muscle loss to psychosis, diabetes and osteoporosis. Fast forward to today and Kiko’s set herself an epic challenge: to not only complete a solo 3000-mile row across the Atlantic, but to annihilate a world record in the process by doing it all within 45 days (current record 56 days)!
Oh, and I should probably mention that the SUP board instructor has NO ROWING EXPERIENCE.
Kiko’s training journey will kick-off properly in October, but today we cover the basics of what she’s up to and why…
Only a few years ago you were incredibly ill with Cushing’s disease. Do you still feel the effects?
No effects but I do regularly wonder if it has returned when I do something a bit weird or I’m overly hyperactive, or put on weight. It always niggles in the back of my mind. I think I’m naturally just a bit mental and energetic anyway, but sometimes I do wonder!
You have no rowing experience, yet you’re hoping to set a new world record…
I was born strong (and tall) and have always loved sport. However, I’d never really fancied rowing because you spend your whole time looking backwards and the early morning dedication was a bit too much for me! I’m also a seasonal exerciser so this has been a good excuse to get over that.
How physically fit will you need to be to take on this challenge?
It’s less cardio and more lower back, core and leg strength that I’ll need. There is no fitness monitoring as such – it’s not like I need to get certain targets – in fact, a lot of it is mental strength.
Speaking of which, you’re working with a psychologist to help you get in the right mindset for 45 days at sea – what sort of strategies does this involve?
Largely it’s about my purpose and my values and why I’m doing it. When I want to push that rescue me button, I need to remember why I’m there. She’s also really just a good sounding board for when things all get a bit much and everyone demands more than I have to give! There aren’t enough hours in the day, so she helps me prioritise my life as well.
What’s your training like at the moment?
I have a mix of gym/weights, stand up paddleboarding, BMF (British Military Fitness outdoor circuit training), indoor rowing (I hate this!), outdoor rowing (in my ocean boat) and lots of cycling, which I combine with getting around.
I’m working with Guinn Batten (British quad scull Olympic silver medallist) and my training is based around a rowing programme, so the other bits stop me from getting bored and complement the rowing thing.
Once I’ve done my 4-hr indoor rowing stint, I’m throwing the erg in the bin –I hate it and would much rather spend 12 hours rowing the 350kg boat!
How much strength training are you doing to help prepare your upper body, legs and back for moving the 350kg boat?
It’s a real mix and to be honest I just do what I’m told by my personal trainer – weights and anything that builds core strength and strength in the lower back, glutes and thighs! Nearer the time, I’m sure it will become more specific, but at the moment I’m just developing my strength and fitness in a variety of ways. I’m useless at any gym stuff and knowing what to do, so my personal trainer just shouts at me!
You’ll need to row for 16 hours a day – how are you training your endurance levels for this?
It’s 16 hours over the 24-hr period and will vary depending on the weather. When the wind is behind me, I can do a few less hours; when it’s seriously horrible I may be locked in the cabin, waiting. A lot of the training will be on the job, and you just have to get on with it. General fitness and strength and lots of long rows pre-crossing to prepare.
At the moment what does a typical week of training look like for you?
It’s all over the place because I have so much else to do, but it varies from 2-hours of training a day, five times a week, to 12-hours a day spent on the water, or an hour here and there. I believe that exercise should be fun as well, so a lot of mine is spent cycling round Richmond Park or early morning SUP sessions, and BMF. I feel like I don’t really do enough, but with a life to live and a campaign/project fundraising to be done, it can be tough.
You’re being trained by fastest male solo Atlantic rower, Charlie Pitcher – how have his insights helped you prepare?
He’s very blasé about the whole thing, but very supportive, and tells me it’s mine! There’s obviously still a long way to go for it all, but come October I will really start to step up to the mark on the training and my physical and technical knowledge.
You’ll be taking on 6,000 calories a day during the challenge itself – have you had to change your nutrition much yet?
Not yet too much, but I have Science in Sport sponsoring me with some energy/protein stuff so I’ve been having more of that type of thing. Otherwise I’m eating lots of Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers and Gu. I’ve lost the winter podge, which is nice, but unfortunately it will all have to go back on before I leave!
With 9 months to go, what has been the biggest challenge so far?
Juggling everything: jobs, managing a campaign – which I’m making mistakes with the whole time, but learning. Having to talk about myself the whole time – it gets very dull! And the social media thing, and wondering how you’re being perceived and if I’m doing it right. At the end of the day, I’m being who I am and doing my best, so I guess that’s all I can do. I’m too honest for my own good, but hopefully this will pay off in the end.
What kit can’t you live without for training on and off the water?
Fortunately I don’t have attachment to anything in my life so this isn’t really a factor. I can even train without drinking water (I hate the stuff) so even the water bottle isn’t essential. I do love some of my leggings though, and they’re worn nearly 24/7 – thanks to Lululemon for their kind donation!
Have you been getting lessons in map reading and navigational skills?
[Laughs] Siri will do that for me! Jokes. Charlie Pitcher will be doing my routing, so that’s one less thing to have to think about.
It sounds like an expensive challenge – have you got any sponsors to support you?
This is what I’m trying to line up now. I need £100k! I’ve found someone to help me with this so I’m feeling more positive about it now, and hopefully my message of using this challenge to overcome adversity, develop resilience and become empowered will resonate with the guys who have this type of money and so it will all be okay. My project donation link is www.paypal.me/whereskiko. I also want to raise £1m for my charities! Again, I have some help with this!
You mentioned charities – which ones are you working with/for?
Charitable donations will be opened up in the near future once the challenge has been confirmed, but there are three main charities that I’m working with: Women In Sport; The Big Stand and Kings College Hospital.
Women in Sport promote female participation in sport and women’s sport in the media, while driving equality for female athletes. They also do research into women in sport. Their aim is to transform sport for the benefit of every woman and girl in the UK.
The Big Stand – I founded the charity The Big Stand paddle boarding company in 2015 with paddleboard adventurer, Charlie Head. The aim is to empower women through education and inspire them through adventure. In light of my challenge to row the Atlantic, ocean rowing will be an additional focus to the charity, with money raised going towards developing an ongoing program to get women from diverse backgrounds to row the Atlantic. Along with a team of dedicated volunteers, the team will be mentored to run their own campaign, aiming to empower the ladies through their experience and the skills they learn.
King’s College Hospital – King’s Critical Care Appeal
The doctors and nurses at King’s saved my life, and this is my way of giving back and saying thank you. They’re building a state of the art critical care unit that will house 121 beds on top of the roof of the hospital. Funds raised will go specifically towards this project.
You can follow Kiko’s training and fundraising journey for her incredible solo Atlantic crossing via her Instagram account: www.instagram.com/kikomatthews, her website www.kikomatthews.co.uk and her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/kikomatthews