British rower with terminal cancer sets new world record for Atlantic crossing

Three British women, one of whom has terminal cancer, have broken the world record in rowing across the Atlantic

Kat Cordiner, who has secondary ovarian cancer, and her teammates Abby Johnston and Charlotte Irving arrived in Antigua Sunday night.

The women completed the 3,000 mile crossing from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to English Harbor in 42 days, seven hours and 17 minutes, beating the record set by the female trios in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge by a staggering seven days.

The women were emotionally welcomed at the port by family and friends who had flown out to celebrate with them.

Front to back: Charlotte Irving, Kat Cordiner and Abby Johnston during their 42-day voyage across the Atlantic (PA).

Stepping ashore for the first time since December 12, they said they felt “shaky, overwhelmed and happy”.

Rowing on the second largest ocean in the world is considered the ultimate endurance race. More people have climbed Mount Everest than successfully rowed the Atlantic, and less than 20% of ocean rowers are women.

Ms. Cordiner is believed to be the first person to take on this challenge as a cancer patient.

The women are raising money for Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Cancer Support and The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

The race organizers said they showed that the impossible is possible.

Ms Cordiner, 42, Ms Irving, 31, and Ms Johnston, 32, were on a 25-foot boat named Dolly Parton and rowed non-stop for two hours without assistance.

As they set out, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, sent them a handwritten message of good fortune, wishing them “good winds and following seas”.

During their epic journey, they experienced searing heat, massive nighttime waves, sleep deprivation, blisters and calluses on their hands, and sharks following their little boat.

However, they came through with sheer determination and made their own entertainment.

When they arrived, the waiting crowds were told, “If you’ve been following their social media, these ladies made rowing the Atlantic look like one big party at Club Dolly Parton with karaoke, Hawaiian shirts, face glitter and glow sticks.”



The doctors told me I don’t have decades, I have years so I really want to make the most of it. I don’t want to mess with things that don’t matter – I want to do things that are challenging and fun.

Kat Cordiner

Along the way, they celebrated Christmas, New Year’s and Kat’s 42nd birthday and opened a bottle of Prosecco.

Money is still flowing but the women are hoping to raise £100,000 to be split between the three cancer charities.

Simon Ledsham, Director of Fundraising for Cancer Research UK, said: “We are impressed by what Kat, Abby and Charlotte have taken on and achieved. They are remarkable supporters, not least Kat who is an inspiration to thousands of other people facing their own cancer journey.

“We would like to congratulate them on their world record and thank them for raising funds for Cancer Research UK and highlighting the need for more funds to develop better, safer treatments for all types of cancer.

“We hope that you will spend your first night on land in a comfortable bed, knowing that you have realized a dream, are now a world leader in your field and have raised funds that will help us shape future treatments.” .

“But for now, let’s hope they celebrate in style. As Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall said when they set out – it was an OARsome undertaking – and they are great women!”

Ms Cordiner was completely accidentally diagnosed with cervical cancer in March 2019 after having her eggs removed in hopes of having a baby in the future.

She was “devastated,” although she said she was more upset about not being able to carry a child than she was about the cancer.

Kat underwent a radical hysterectomy, but the doctors left her ovaries as she planned to freeze another round of eggs. Once her eggs were harvested, her ovaries were removed.

After the operation everything seemed fine. But in June 2020, she developed stomach pains and knew immediately that the cancer was back.

Ms Cordiner feared that re-treatment would ruin the crew’s chances of competing on Atlantic Row.

Kat Cordiner, Charlotte Irving and Abby Johnston prepare to compete in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge (PA).

(PA Media)

But there was another blow – despite training through chemotherapy, doctors found a growth on her heart and told her to stop exercising immediately.

Her medical team first treated the cancer and then operated on her heart to remove the tumor.

She was treated with carboplatin, paclitaxel and the targeted drug Avastin, and six sessions of radiation therapy. Cancer Research UK was involved in the development of paclitaxel and played an important role in the underlying research behind carboplatin and Avastin.

After exhausting intensive cancer treatment, heart surgery and six months without training, she got back on board.

Ms Cordiner said: “In the beginning it blew me a bit and mostly I was upset because I couldn’t train. But when I got back on the boat I was pretty strong – I knew I could do it!”

The 42-year-old is now in remission and only takes medication to deal with the effects of an early menopause.

She said: “The doctors have told me I don’t have decades, I have years so I really want to make the most of it. I don’t want to mess with things that don’t matter – I want to do things that are challenging and fun.

“I don’t know how long I’ll be in remission. Many people think of cancer/chemo/death. But today the drugs are so much better – you can live your life with cancer. People live off the treatment for years.”

To donate to Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Cancer Support and Royal Marsden Cancer Charity visit the We Are ExtraOARdinary Go Fund Me page.

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