DMU fundraiser with Parkinson's disease tells of incredible journey rowing 3,600 miles across the Indian Ocean


A staff member with Parkinson’s from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) took on terrifying 40ft waves to row 3,600 miles across the Indian Ocean.

ROBIN - pic one main

Robin, right, outting in a shift with James Plumley in the Indian Ocean

Leicester dad Robin Buttery, 47, who works as a technical instructor for Furniture Design at DMU, wanted to complete the incredible 70 day challenge before his body ‘gives up’ on him.

Robin has told how he rowed from Australia to Mauritius with a team of three others despite his daily struggle with tremors, mild memory loss, limited physical strength and having to ‘force’ his body to complete the punishing fundraiser.

The four men had no support team and took it in turns to row two hours on, two hours off, day and night.

The crew encountered 40ft waves and “biblical” weather conditions on their remarkable voyage which started in June and finished on September 14.

Robin was sadly diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease just before his 44th birthday in the summer of 2015.

Determined to “make the most of living”, Robin, husband to Nicola, 44, and dad to 13-year-old Rory, wanted to show that despite suffering with an incurable illness, it’s still possible to 'go on and live your dream'.

He told SWNS: “Parkinson’s has massively affected my cognitive ability. I have a tremor and I found rowing incredibly difficult.

ROBIN - pic two main

Robin on dry land before starting the challenge

“I knew how to row, as in what to do, but getting my body to do it was really difficult.

“I really struggled…but I was keen to play a part as a member of the crew, and I know I played a massive part in getting us to the end. I wanted to do a once-in-a-life time challenge before it’s too late.”

The rest of the crew were the experienced Billy Taylor, 45, Barry Hayes, 37, and James Plumley, 28, all of whom have conquered various ocean rows and between them hold a number of records.

Aboard a sophisticated rowing boat worth tens of thousands of pounds, and fitted with state-of-the-art safety and navigation gear, the crew set sail on June 6.

It took them 1,920 hours of constant rowing to travel from Exmouth, Western Australia, to Port Louis in Mauritius.


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Robin recalls being able to see “nothing but water” for 68 days.

He said: “The row was absolutely fantastic. As an experience there is nothing in the world like it.

“There were occasions where I was too physically tired to row, and that mentally affected me.

“It was the greatest endurance challenge I’ve ever done. When it was bad it was horrendous. But as a whole I enjoyed my time on the water. It was life-changing.

“It was such a relief to see the island. We were given a heroes’ welcome off the boat. We had fresh fruit and pastries waiting for us, which was amazing after eating nothing fresh for 70 days.

“To have my own bed without someone elbowing me was a fantastic feeling.”

By taking on the challenge, the four have so far raised more than £37,000 for charity. All money raised will be split between the EPDA, The Clear Trust, which aims to encourage young people with neurological disorders to participate in exercise, and RAFT, a medical research charity dedicated to improving the lives of adults and children who have suffered physical trauma.

To prepare for the challenge, Robin and his crew rowed the English Channel in April this year, but even that couldn’t ready them for the perils of the unpredictable Indian Ocean, coming up against “scary” waves taller than some multi-story buildings.

Each of the crew were “thrown” out of the seats by the rough seas, with one member of the crew, Barry, actually being cast overboard.

Robin said: “It was the weather that was frightening. The rain felt like needles and it was actually painful. And when the waves came, it was like we were rowing uphill.

“I was definitely out of my comfort zone. I thought long and hard about it [the row] but I was very keen to do something to help the Parkinson’s cause.

“There still isn’t a cure and I have had to come to terms with the fact that it will shorten my working life. At some point I won’t be able to do my job anymore.”

It wasn’t just waves that crashed into the boat, the crew also had some close encounters with huge whales, some of which came within “touching distance”.

Throughout the journey each of the team contributed to keeping family and friends up-to-date by uploading blog posts to their website every few days, via satellite technology.

Knowing that his disease may well get the better of him, Robin says he is “considering” taking on another feat of endurance to raise cash for Parkinson’s charities.

Visit to read Robin’s blogs and find out more about making a donation to help the three charities.


Posted on Tuesday 25th September 2018

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