Row for Parkinson’s

Zoe KeenanGeraldton Guardian
Skipper Billy Taylor, James Plumley, Barry Hayes and Robin Buttery make preparations in Geraldton before they began their journey across the Indian Ocean.
Camera IconSkipper Billy Taylor, James Plumley, Barry Hayes and Robin Buttery make preparations in Geraldton before they began their journey across the Indian Ocean. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian, Zoe Keenan

Four British rowers left Geraldton this week to row 3600 nautical miles to Mauritius — braving the seas and Parkinson’s disease.

UK resident Robin Buttery is not much of a rower but will travel with a team of three experienced rowers, all in the name of the disease he was diagnosed with at the age of 43.

“What most people don’t know is Parkinson’s disease can affect younger people,” he said before he left Geraldton.

According to the not-for-profit Shake It Up Australia Foundation, 20 per cent of people with Parkinson’s disease are under 50 years old and 10 per cent are diagnosed before they turn 40.

In 2015, Mr Buttery began to struggle to walk. After seeing a doctor, he was prescribed drugs for arthritis, but they did not work.

He then went to see a neurologist and, after one consultation, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Now, some three years later, Mr Buttery will hit the open water in a bid to raise awareness of young onset Parkinson’s disease and take part in a study on the effects of endurance exercise on Parkinson’s.

“I’m not a great believer of drugs — the thing that’s helped me the most is exercise,” he said.

“The side effects of Parkinson’s drugs are scary.

“They cause tremors and aching muscles, much like the disease itself — so I don’t know whether it’s making it better or worse.”

Over 65 days of non-stop rowing, Professor Helen Dawes, Professor Fabio Cuzzolin and Dr Johnny Collett from Oxford Brookes University in the UK will track Mr Buttery’s changes, and compare and contrast them with fellow rower Billy Taylor — they are the same age.

“We’ll see what the benefits of exercise are and hopefully redefine how Parkinson’s is looked at and treated,” Mr Buttery said.

Although there are expected challenges — storms, dehydration, sharks, ships and more — Mr Buttery also has to face the challenges of his disease when placed under these conditions.

“I suffer cramps in my hands, legs and feet so I’m likely to experience those, but I’m hoping not,” he said. “I want to show people what Parkinson’s is like and raise awareness.”

Experienced rower Billy Taylor, who completed a row across the Pacific Ocean with fellow rower Barry Hayes in 2014 and holds two world records, organised the trip and chose to set up a charity focus for Parkinson’s disease.

Mr Taylor, Barry Hayes, and the third rower James Plumley, who holds the world record for the fastest row around the UK, are hoping to beat the world record across the Indian Ocean.

(According to the sailors’ website, the vessel has passed through the Houtman Abrolhos Islands group and at last update was travelling at 1.4 knots.

They must complete the row in fewer than 68 days.

To find out more about the row, and young onset Parkinson’s disease, or to donate, visit rowtheindianocean.com.

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