The latest episode in our Resilience Unravelled series has now been released, Resilience Unravelled – You need resilience to be a seafaring adventurer.
In this episode, Dr. Russell Thackeray talks to Geoff Holt who describes himself as a seafaring adventurer. Geoff left home when he was 16 and followed his passion for sailing. By the time he was 18 he had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean three times, completed several solo voyages and covered over 30,000 nautical miles. He also worked on charter yachts in the Mediterranean and Caribbean. He then got his dream job as the youngest skipper of a luxury charter yacht in the Virgin Islands.
Then, when he was eighteen and a half his life changed completely. He had just started his new job when he broke his neck and was paralysed from the chest down. He was flown back to the UK and spent a year in hospital. The uncertainty of life and capitalising on things that happen is something Geoff reflects on. When he left hospital it was with his nurse Elaine who he’s now been married to for 34 years!
Geoff feels that you need resilience to come back. After leaving hospital he had to rely on personal care 24 hours a day and learn to live his life again. He retrained in database management and worked for Deloitte for 20 years ending up Head of Marketing and Business Development for their South West office. The job helped him financially secure but it was really hard work. He and Elaine would get up at 4.00 or 5.00 am so he could get ready to go to work.
Geoff thinks he gets his energy and determination from the fact that he was able-bodied for 18 years. He didn’t believe that if he wanted to do something he wouldn’t be able to, or that he would face discrimination. He never wanted anyone to think he couldn’t do something so would try twice as hard. People don’t see this. They just see the achievement not the hard work and resilience needed.
Eventually though Geoff returned to his first love of sailing in 1991. Using an adapted 15ft trimaran, he quickly realised it was something he needed to do. More importantly though, it was something he could do on his own
His first big project was in 1992 when he sailed the 60 miles around the Isle of Wight. When he completed the journey he realised he could do more so he started building up the distances he could sail. He also set about getting sponsorship and a support team. In 2007 he sailed solo around Great Britain. It took 110 days to cover the distance and Geoff considers it his Personal Everest.When he crossed the line he felt a huge release of pressure. He had been looking forward to finishing but when everyone started cheering he burst into tears. People had told him it wasn’t possible but he had believed in himself.
The whole journey had been a huge project and some of the decisions had been very difficult. There was also added pressure from the media and sponsors. Geoff feels that visualising the end game makes life more manageable and easier to cope with. When he was in hospital there didn’t seem to be a light at end of tunnel. Life was uncertain but, when he left hospital, he felt better. He could see the finish.
When he completed the voyage he went away for three months and wrote his autobiography ‘Walking on Water’. The book was part of the process of coming to terms with what he’d done. A few months later he started having feelings of emptiness and think what he could do next. He now realises this wasn’t the right thing to do because whatever you do has to form part your life’s narrative. It needs to fit in to your life. With Geoff being on the water was the thread.
Geoff’s journey generated a lot of publicity and he received some correspondence from disabled people asking how and where they could go sailing. This interest increased globally when in January 2010, he became the first quadriplegic to sail unassisted across the Atlantic. The 3,000mile journey took four weeks to complete in a purpose-built 60ft catamaran called ‘Impossible Dream’.
Geoff had been involved with a charity to help get disabled people into sailing but this was not an option for anyone who needed to stay in their wheelchair. There were no powerboats for disabled people so Geoff came up with the idea for Wetwheels. He part-mortgaged his house and with some help from some engine and electrical companies bought the first Wetwheels powerboat in 2011. A few weeks ago the sixth boat was launched in Falmouth and Wetwheels now look at taking 8,000 disabled people with their families out each year.
You can find out more at Wetwheelsfoundation.org
You can listen to the podcast in full and find out further information about Geoff here. Our previous podcast episodes and upcoming guest list are also available and there is an option to sign-up to receive our podcast episodes on release.
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