Doncaster dad and son will paddle past famous sites as part of London's first regatta
“I decided to give kayaking a go when I turned the big 5-0,” explains Graham Cook.
“I’d always fancied trying it, so on my birthday I went out and bought myself a kayak and all the equipment.”
Graham, who is now aged 56, had his first outing in the calm waters of Rother Valley, but has since taken on some of the fastest-flowing rivers in England, Scotland, and Wales. And now the father-of-one from Doncaster is busy preparing to take on an entirely different kayaking challenge, joining forces with his son Matthew to tackle the first ever London Regatta on September 29.
Graham says: “Over the years I have kayaked along many of Britain’s waterways and it has been a long-held ambition of mine to kayak through central London, having already been on several trips along the upper and middle Thames. This is a great opportunity.”
And during his voyage through the capital, Graham has chosen to support a cause that means a great deal to him - Doncaster School for the Deaf, where his wife Lana has worked for the past 25 years.
“Over the years, Lana has told me so much about the work being done by Doncaster Deaf Trust, through the school and college, and the positive impact it has on the lives of so many young people dealing with a range of disabilities.
“I'm constantly impressed by the positive work that takes place there. It will be a real privilege for me to be raising money for the Trust whilst paddling past some of the world’s most famous landmarks.”
The inaugural running of The London Regatta offers paddle-sports enthusiasts from around the country the opportunity to paddle along the River Thames through central London. The 12-mile course will provide a real challenge for participants to complete in the allocated time, as the Thames Barrier is being closed for only a short period of time to facilitate the staging of the event.
“Matthew, my son, and I are both taking part, and are determined to complete the challenge in the allotted time,” says Graham, of Wheatley Hills.
“The course’s route will take us from the starting point in Putney, through to Grenwich, making Westminster Bridge the halfway point. Because they can only afford to close the waterway for so long, only those that make it to the bridge in the allotted time will be able to continue on and finish the whole route. Those that don't manage it in time will be turned around and will complete their 12 miles by paddling six miles back the way they’ve just come. Obviously Matthew and I would love to make it through and finish in Greenwich.
“I’m already in pretty serious training, currently cycling 20 miles a day to get my stamina up, as well as lifting free weights. Plus of course I’m doing a lot of kayaking.
“To finish the whole course I think we have about three and three-quarter hours, so that’s our goal. Matthew will be kayaking on the day for a different charity, a hospice, and we’ve agreed we'll each go at our own pace rather than try to stick together. We both really want to complete the whole route.”
And Graham says he is looking forward to the spectacle on the day, when over 2,400 kayaks, paddler boarders, and rowing boats will set off across the Thames.
“It’s going to be a sight to see. And it’s exciting that it’s the first event of its kind, which I think has the potential to become a big annual event for London, and for the UK.”There will also be a number of celebratory events going on throughout the day along the banks of the river.
Graham adds: “My wife is coming down for the day, and she'll be cheering us both on, of course, plus I have some friends in London I hope will stop by on the day too. I’m sure the atmosphere will be great.”
And Graham has a particular location he’s looking forward to spotting from the water.
“Obviously I think it would be really nice to be able to paddle past some of the city’s famous sights, in particular the Houses of Parliament. It might be a bit noisy there on the day of course - though not necessarily anything to do with this event!” he laughs.
Alexis Johnson, executive principal of Doncaster Deaf Trust, said: “We wish Graham good luck in his fundraising efforts and in the London Regatta.
“Donations from people taking part in sporting challenges are a great way to help the Trust and if anyone is thinking of running a marathon, jumping out of a plane or fulfilling a sporting dream to raise money for our charity please do get in touch.”
Graham, who is hoping to raise around £600, adds: “Any donations will be very gratefully received and help to spur me on.”