Olympic Sarah breaks retirement for unique charity challenge

Sarah Winckless, a spearhead of the recent successes of the GB women’s squad – double World Champion and Olympic bronze medallist – retired gracefully from the sport just two months ago. In June she is back in a boat at Henley Women’s Regatta – the premier women’s rowing event of the British calendar which attracts entries from all over the globe.

Despite Sarah’s success in almost every aspect of the sport she never once rowed at the regatta. She is back racing in a double scull for a very special purpose and a new challenge. The irresistibly good reason for Sarah’s return had to be something greater in her life than just competing to be the best of the best. She will be rowing for the first time to raise funds for Huntingdon’s Disease, from which her mother suffers, and for which Sarah is gene-positive. The target is not to win (although tell her that and you will be disabused) but to raise a minimum of £10,000 in the 10 days from today, for the Scottish Huntingdon’s Association, for which she is a devoted patron.

With Sir Steve Redgrave’s precedent set ("shoot me if you see me near a boat again" announced before he then went on to win his 5th successive Olympic gold medal), it’s clear that declared retirements from rowers are not always to be believed.  And so it seems with Sarah – for while she is not planning a return to international duties, she is planning to line up on the start of Henley Women’s Regatta for her first time ever on June 20, staking her hard-won reputation in a barely-formed, last-minute double scull. Her partner is retired veteran oarswoman and mother, Victoria Wood. 

"We formed this plan just a couple of days ago", Sarah explains.  "We were both tired with rowing being a joy only if you win and all the pressures that go with it. But rowing to win funding for Huntingdon’s is a whole new motivation, and we knew that the sorority of the Henley Women’s Regatta would make this £10,000 in 10 days seem possible. The support of the Regatta and the Copas family has been unstinting, and we are both moved and slightly terrified by what we have started".

Her partner in the boat, Victoria, added "We have both brought utter madness into the boat, and this is carried into the fundraising adventure. And we need it – we want to compete for as long as we can in an elite event at an elite regatta and in doing so, raise £10K in 10 days. We know the longer we stay in the event, the more money we will raise. The pressure to succeed is a little disquieting to say the least but that’s the reason we are doing it – because it is difficult and a real challenge".

What’s clear is that both of them have their gritted teeth, and have just one outcome in mind for Sunday 21 June, when the regatta reaches its climax. For once in the sporting lives of this pair there is one thing more important than winning

For further information and to donate towards the challenge visit their JustGiving page

Henley Women’s Regatta, supported by the Copas Family and Partnership, is held at Henley-on-Thames from Friday 19 June to Sunday 21 June 2009.

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