3rd Mar 2021
Former Lions lock Martin Muller and three of his teammates at the Valley RFC in Hong Kong will take part in the worlds toughest rowing race, the Atlantic Challenge, later in the year.
The three South Africans and one Brit were united by their desire for a challenge and an adventure and none of them have ever rowed before.
The group, consisting of Muller, Grant Kemp, Matt Bell and Robert Lennox all know that they are in for one massive challenge. The idea came about when Lennox mentioned it after his friends (Fortitude 4) won the race in the 2019/20 version.
The rowing team, East Rows West, all met playing for Valley in Hong Kong. The only exception being that Kemp (former Kings and SWD player) and Muller had met playing against each other at school and together at UCT.
Muller joined the club in Japan after leaving the Lions, but says essentially to play part-time rugby while moving into a more “normal” corporate life. “I now do business development for Gavekal, an investment research company based in Hong Kong while still playing rugby.”
None of the foursome have ever done any rowing before as a sport but have always wanted to try. So why put themselves though such a tough challenge?
“As a crew, we have a number of personal reasons, but one general trend was wanting to do something incredible that we could remember forever. Personally, since stopping full time rugby, I have enjoyed the freedom to pursue different types of sports and fitness challenges, and this race really appealed to me, to see just how far my body can go.
“On the other side of it, we are also aiming to raise a large sum of money for our chosen charity, Childfund Pass It Back, which uses rugby as a medium to empower and educate underprivileged children around Asia. The charity really is a perfect fit, given the love we all have for rugby,” Muller explains.
They know it will be tough, both mentally and physically. “We will keep a strict schedule of two hours on, two hours off for 30+ days, so one never really has more than 60-90mins of sleep at a given time. There are obviously a multitude of natural obstacles to deal with, whether it be the big waves, cold/hot weather or even Marlins attacking the boat (2 boats had the hull of their cabins pierced by marlins this year!). Apart from this, we have to deal with the human factor of not getting on each other’s nerves under major, sleep-deprived, stress.”
It goes without saying that preparation for something none of them have ever done, keeping in mind that it will also be extremely dangerous, meant the foursome are already hard at work getting themselves mentally and physically ready.
Apart from spending plenty of time in the gym, whether it be on the erg, lifting weights, or working on their flexibility, they also need to spend as much time on the water as possible. Their boat arrives in mid-April (it was used this year by the winning fours team, making it a duel-winner), and they will be going out on weekends, doing 2,3 or 4 days rows, learning the different procedures which involves everything from rowing technique and navigation to cooking and laundry. This has all been rather challenging given the restrictions due to COVID regulations in Hong Kong.
“Rugby has obviously played a huge role in understanding what we are capable of physically and mentally. The teamwork skills you learn in rugby will no-doubt have a direct application to how we function on the boat. Having said that, this will be unlike anything we would have experienced before. I had some incredibly tough weeks in preseason whilst playing rugby, but at least you got to go home and sleep in a bed and get a full night’s rest at the end of it! We will also have to iron out any niggles that we picked up over the years playing rugby – these can tend to get exacerbated after a few days of rowing,” he explains.
*For any more information or to follow the teams’ progress, please visit their website (eastrowswest.com) and Instagram page (@eastrowswest). There is also a link to donate to the charity on the website.