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'Ordinary' Mum of Three Smashes Rowing World Record
24 Jan 2024

Katherine Antrobus, 43, who learned to row on the River Severn in Shrewsbury, has just broken a world record as part of a women's trio competing in The World's Toughest Row this year. She spoke to My Shrewsbury editor Katy Rink from the finish line in Antigua!

An ‘ordinary’ mum of three who learned to row with Pengwern Boat Club on the River Severn in Shropshire has set a new Atlantic crossing world record, despite a raft of health issues.

Former Shrewsbury High School pupil Katherine Antrobus, 43, was forced to give up rowing as a teenager after suffering epileptic fits caused by a hole in her heart and also has a 'leg full of metal' after a skateboarding accident. 

She arrived in Antigua on Monday along with teammates Hatty Carder, 28 and skipper Bobbie Mellor, 34, having beaten the women’s trios record for the ‘World’s Toughest Row’ by almost two days - coming in after 40 days 10 hours and 51 mins at sea. WaveBreakers is the 10th boat back out of 37 boats. 

Katherine is reunited with her three young children

Katherine Antrobus is reunited with her three young children

Katherine, a Business Marketing Manager from Old Basing, took on the challenge to show her three young children that ‘ordinary people’ can do extraordinary things: “If you want to do something, put your mind to it - it’s about perseverance, passion and motivation - you can make it happen,” she said. We can’t believe we’ve done it. We never set out to break a world record! For now, it’s like childbirth, when you’re going through it you think never again. I’m sure we’ll look back and think that was amazing.”

The crew held flaming torches to greet the crowds

The WaveBreakers crew held flaming torches to greet the crowds on arriving in Antigua

The girls held flaming torches aloft as their boat came into Nelson’s Dockyard, in the English Harbour, Antigua, just after 3.30pm local time, after 40 days at sea. They set off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands on December 12, crossing 3,000 of open ocean to reach the Caribbean island. 

Overall winner was the five-man team HMS Oardacious which finished on January 17 (35 days, 4 hours and 30 minutes). The first women's team in was 'Salty Science' from the University of South Florida (38 days, 18 hours, 56 minutes).

The WaveBreakers record-breaking trio all work for Vodafone and have already raised nearly £85,000 for Vodafone Foundation’s #Your Planet fund, supporting climate crisis charities and humanitarian relief agencies. 

The trio battled challenging weather from the getgo, enduring frightening capsizes, blisters and other sores and coping with a broken water maker. In the last week of the race, there were concerns about the Atlantic weed sargassum slowing progress and fear of attack from a giant marlin. But then, suddenly, it was all over. Wearing smart navy shorts and white long-sleeved tops, the girls looked fit, tanned and happy as they hugged one another and fell into loved ones arms. 

A family picture of Katherine and children

Katherine with her children: Dylan 11, Archie 9, Esme, 5 and sales engineer husband Graeme

Katherine was overjoyed to be reunited with her children, Dylan 11, Archie 9, Esme, 5 and sales engineer husband Graeme. She missed Christmas whilst at sea, along with her own birthday and Archie’s 9th birthday. 

 “I knew leaving my children would be the hardest thing, but it really hit me when I was out there how much I missed them,” Katherine said. “Graeme has been amazing - it’s been two and a half years of him really having to step up. Without him I wouldn’t have made it to the start line.”

Friends and family sent recorded voice messages for Katherine to listen to on Christmas Day and her birthday and her children made up 180 bags of sweets, to contribute to the crew’s daily intake of 4,500 calories. These were a highlight, especially in the darkest hours of the crossing, Katherine said: “The first eight or nine days were brutal - we capsized, we had to put the para-anchor out, the seas were so scary. I thought what the hell have I done? What am I putting my family through?  

Coming in to land after 40 days at sea

On spotting dry land after 40 days at sea!

“The next period was less intense, we weren’t at risk of capsizing as much, but we were in and out of that cabin and it was a case of eat, sleep, row repeat for days.It was relentless. The weather would get bigger and we’d have to change our shift pattern and it was much more intense. Then we were even more sleep deprived. 

“I cried every day for my children. I just missed them so much. It was so special to hear their normal voices when I was out there. Esme sang me happy birthday. I thought I would bawl my eyes out when I got to Antigua, but I was so happy to see them. It’s magical to be back with them. I just grabbed them and hugged them and slept with them last night. I never want to be away from them again!”

The girls celebrating their win

The girls celebrating their win

Yesterday afternoon, the dockyard in English Harbour was buzzing with the news of a possible new world record. As soon as the WaveBreakers came in sight, the spectators went wild. 

“It feels so surreal,” Katherine said. “We didn’t set out to break any records. Our mission statement was about having a fun and safe row, enjoying the experience, making sure we all had a good time and doing ourselves proud. 

“Two weeks ago we realised we were in the lead and could win the category which was galvanising! Then it got frustrating as some days we could really feel ourselves shooting along, then the next few days it was really sluggish, with the weather and waves going the wrong way.”

In the final few days, the girls were concerned about a marlin strike, having heard about another crew that had to stop up a hole in the boat with a champagne bottle after being attacked by the spear-nosed fish.

“When we did see one it followed us for 5-10 minutes,” Katherine said. “It was pretty big. I was in the bow cabin and could just see this slinky big thing with a spiky fin right on our stern literally trailing us. After everything we’d been through and potentially to be in with a chance of a record - to then have that happen would have been the worse. Thankfully we lost it within a few minutes.”

The girls wave their flags

Of the relationships on board, she said: "Of course definitely it was tough at times, it’s going to be, you’re in those really difficult high stress situations. We spent a lot of time before with professionals, looking at our personalities and character and understanding each other. We’re very different people, but we had a mission to accomplish. We did everything in our power to make sure that happened. We had motivation stickers all over the boat - a lot were around being kind and respectful. I think we managed to achieve that. A happy boat is a fast boat! Of course we had the odd cross word here or there. Within minutes we were apologising, understanding why and moving on. We were all there for one another."

She also revealed the nickname they had for one another on board - 'The Three Molluscs': "The first thing I woke up to this morning was a text from our skipper saying she was missing the Molluscs. It's fair to say there will definitely be a bond between us for life."

For now, Katherine says she’s looking forward to being a ‘normal mum’: “I’m really looking forward to just being able to not have that in my life any more. To just focus on being with the kids again doing family things. We’ll have a few days in Antigua and then a few days at home to readjust, doing school runs and the food shop before going back to work.”

All WaveBreakers pictures: The World's Toughest Row

Katherine and mum Jinny
Katherine and Jinny enjoying a day out

Pictured above: Katherine and mum Jinny, from Shrewsbury - who is a world champion rower herself! 

Katherine grew up in Shrewsbury and learned to row on the River Severn with Pengwern Boat Club, but she was forced to give up when she began experiencing epileptic fits: “You can’t row in a life jacket and I had to wear one in case I had a fit,” she said. “My rowing partner went on to trial for GB and that was really tough.” 

She turned to coxing instead, racing at Henley Women’s Regatta. The epilepsy was found to have been caused due to a hole in her heart and she underwent corrective surgery, but the defect has left her with imperfect sight in her right eye. And then, when her youngest was four months old, Katherine broke her femur in three places falling off a skateboard. 

“I had a lot of metal and scarring in my leg and had to learn to walk properly and exercise again,” she said. 

She has remained active in spite of these obstacles: “I’m not into a specific sport, I just love being active and fit and doing something. I’ve done various things - like squash. I’m a purple belt kickboxer and I’ve run a half marathon. Obviously these last two years, I’ve been erging in my garage constantly and going to the gym pumping muscle!”

Katherine with mum Jinny and children

Katherine with mum Jinny and children

Katherine’s mum Jinny Price-Owen, from Shrewsbury, is a World Rowing Masters champion herself and has also won gold medals at Henley in the past. She watched the girls arrive via live stream on Youtube: “I am so relieved they are all three back safely, and in good spirits, together with a world record!” she said. “I’ve now had a long conversation with Katherine, which was super and a bit emotional! They are all just so relieved it is over and exhausted. I think we will be able to mull it all over and enjoy the story of it all in a few weeks.”

Katherine adds: “Mum and I reflected this morning that, 30 years ago, when we both joined Pengwern Boat Club and started rowing, who would have thought one of us would be a world champion and the other one of us a world record breaker in rowing? Just little old mum and me doing our thing. My message is - don’t let anything stop you!”

  • The previous Atlantic rowing female trio record was set in 2021 by ‘Team Extraordinary’ - Kat Cordiner, Abby Johnston and Charlotte Irving - who completed the row in 42 days, seven hours and 17 minutes.