It’s an exciting time for women in sport, in particular for the women who are increasingly meeting or exceeding male performances in ultra-endurance events, and it was at the 2019 World Extreme Medicine Conference that we heard from two such inspirational women who will be undertaking an exhilarating and potentially ground-breaking research project, whilst taking on one of the most extreme challenges on the planet – rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic
Charlie Fleury and Rosie Alterman aka the ‘Emergensea Girls’, announced at the conference they will be studying the physiology and psychology behind women participating in ultra-endurance sports, whilst taking on the world’s toughest rowing race, the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Rowing Challenge 2020.
The girls will be rowing in excess of 1.5 million oar strokes across the Atlantic from La Gomera in the Canaries to Antigua in a 24ft boat and potentially taking on waves measuring up to 20ft high. In addition to conducting research on themselves and simply staying alive, they are also aiming to smash the current women’s pairs record and reach Antigua in under 50 days, as well as supporting the Devon Air Ambulance Trust, with all of their fundraising proceeds being donated to the charity.
The two A&E doctors at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust and Extreme Medicine MSc Fellows at Exeter University Medical School are going to use the challenge, to carry out preliminary research that they hope will support the theory that women are better than men at ultra-endurance events.
There are numerous hypotheses as to why women are increasingly outperforming men, ranging from evolutionary roots as child-bearers through to the composition of female muscles. During the race Charlie and Rosie will be conducting original research into women and endurance sports as part of their MSc in Extreme Medicine. They will be using data collected from the rowers participating in the Atlantic crossing events in 2019 and 2020 – looking for trends from this year which they can input into the research planned for next year.
As part of their research, the girls will be examining body composition and muscle fatigue pre and post the rows, as well as monitoring the rowers mental health, using questionnaires that the rowers will complete each day, which will profile mood states and provide the rating of perceived effort (a common method used in sports to measure the individual’s perceived exertion at a point in time).
Charlie, who recently had major surgery on her pelvis, said:
“Rosie and I have shared many challenges in the past – ranging from hiking in snake-infested Costa Rica to camping in -20°C in Norway, to surviving a Friday night shift in Exeter’s Emergency Department. What we lack in rowing experience, we more than make up for in determination! In addition to long-distance triathlons and running marathons Rosie volunteers with the RNLI – so is well aware of the unpredictability of the sea and the respect crossing an ocean demands.
We will be training with James Parkes, strength and conditioning coach at Exeter Chiefs Premiership rugby team, and have a variety of other supporters to help us prepare physically and mentally for the challenge for which we are immensely grateful”
Prof. Mark Hannaford, Co-Founder of the MSc Extreme Medicine programme at Exeter and Founder of World Extreme Medicine and Conference added:
“I’m delighted to see real research advances being made as a result of the establishment of the MSc in Extreme Medicine at the University of Exeter Medical School in a partnership with World Extreme Medicine.
This area of medicine has been poorly researched in the past, especially in the area of female psychological response to extremes, and I’m delighted that progress in this area is being made by two exceptional Clinical Fellows enrolled on the course partnered with the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital in Devon.”
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