Back in 2021, Guernseyman Simon Johns broke a World Record while raising £35,000 for the Priaulx Premature Baby Foundation (PPBF) and Bright Tights during an incredible 24-hour rowing challenge.
Not only this, but he recently won the Pride of Britain ‘Channel Islands Fundraiser of the Year’ which is a true honour.
All of this success was initially inspired by the difficult experiences of those closest to Simon, including little Florie – the daughter of a fellow rowing friend. Florie was born six weeks early with a number of health complications and received care in Guernsey’s local neonatal unit. Luckily, there was no requirement for further treatment in Southampton Hospital as we support many families who find themselves in need of the lifeline that is our compassionate housing. Years later, Florie is a happy and strong little girl, whose story still touches the hearts of many. You can read about her journey here.
Florie cheering Simon on during his challenge in 2021
After the announcement, we talked to Simon about his motivators and top tips for a demanding challenge like #Row24Solo as well as his appreciation for local charities and thoughts for the future.
The PPBF is a well-promoted local charity and I’ve been aware of the great work they do within the community for many years. But, the first time I became directly aware was when my rowing partner James and his wife’s third child was born premature in 2015. It was an extremely stressful time for their family and I know just how appreciative they were for the support given by the PPBF.
I took up rowing out on the sea through the Guernsey Rowing Club back in 2006 with James (Florie’s dad) and Shaun (Dani Kelling’s husband; Dani is from the Bright Tights charity) after we could no longer play football without getting injured. James and I have known each other since about the age of 10 and I guess rowing was a great way to stay fit and continue to compete, while also enjoying the social aspect of the sport. In the ‘off season’ (winter) I’d do quite a lot of ‘erg’ rowing in the gym.
Modern indoor rowers are often known as ‘ergometers’ or ‘ergs’ as they can measure work performed by the rower – measured in ergs.
Having seen how the old Fitness Factory squad had used ultra-distance rowing as a way to fundraise for various charities, I was inspired to do the same.
This challenge was just something I felt that I needed to do after seeing what both James and Shaun’s families went through, and the support they received from two amazing charities.
Simon has been a long-standing friend of the PPBF and has fundraised over the years
It was all a bit overwhelming to be honest and I was lost for words. It’s definitely not something I even contemplated when I set out to do this event. It was fitting that I was presented with the award on the ‘erg’ that had borne the brunt of a lot my training!
The slight twist was that whilst the primary objective was raising funds, I did also have a performance goal, so it wasn’t simply about surviving for 24 hours. There’s no book on how to train for something like this so I kind of had to make it up as I went along based on experience and advice from trusted sources.
I just focused on trying to get as much time on the ‘erg’ as possible, to make the environment as suitable as possible. I also knew that, come the day, the biggest issue would be fuelling and hydration.
I used the experience I’d gained from previous ultra-distance events as well as pre-event advice from the likes of Adrian Sarchet (the “Sea Donkey”), Mat Dorrian and Colin Fallaize to come up with a fuelling and race plan for the day.
Smashing a new World Record
I think the key is to define your goal and focus 100% on how you achieve it. Come up with a plan and trust that plan – do not deviate. I’m always training, but as I’m getting older I realise you have to ensure you allow recovery time. Recovery doesn’t necessarily mean ‘do nothing’ but you can’t keep going at full pace all year round.
Pushing his body to the limit, Simon was determined to keep going
Guernsey is an amazing place, but we are also quite isolated when it comes to certain specialist medical treatments. Often, premature babies may require treatment on the mainland and the compassionate housing support provided by the PPBF is a lifeline to those families affected in their hour of need. It must be an extremely stressful time and giving families a base without having to try and arrange everything themselves is essential.
Simon with Sammy from the PPBF and Beckie from Bright Tights
Is there anyone in particular that you would like to thank for supporting your incredible #Row24Solo challenge?
Praxis, my employer of 15 years, were a massive support in getting behind this event. This included everything from flexible working arrangements to allowing time for the training, promoting the event and ‘on the day’ support (our group CEO turned up to row next to me at 2am!). Ravenscroft and TPA also made significant contributions to the organisation and promotion of #Row24Solo which undoubtedly helped make it as successful as it was.
On a more personal level, my support team during the 24 hours were amazing. It might sound trivial, but there are a lot of moving parts to an event like this and their assistance meant that I could just concentrate on the job at hand while they did everything else around me. Finally, thanks to my wife and family. This didn’t all happen overnight. As well as the training itself, Mrs Johns had to put up with all of the talking about the event for about two years, behind the scenes.
A great deal of love and support was shown for Simon and his challenge
In 2022, I focused on the local offshore rowing season and just making sure I didn’t push my body too hard. In the future, there will definitely be another fundraising challenge – it’s just a matter of what and when. It would also be great to do something on the water rather than in a gym, but logistics have to be right. Regardless, there will definitely be something.
Thinking of setting up your own challenge for a good cause?
We’d love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.