Interview with Mo O’Brien: One of the Oarsome Foursome

As part of our series of interviews with members of the Crown Records Management-sponsored rowing team, The Oarsome Foursome, we interviewed Mo O’Brien.

Mo is an extremely experienced rower, has been rowing for twenty years and joined the Oarsome Foursome last year. She is partially deaf, so her inclusion into the team introduced some interesting (and quite high-tech) solutions for dealing with.

What got you interested in sailing?

I first began rowing just before my 40th birthday, so I’ve been rowing for around two decades now. As for what got me into it; when I was younger, I raised my two children up on my own and always wanted to do something “for me” when I had the opportunity to do so. I have always loved the water and feel revived whenever I am near, on or in the sea, so it was an obvious choice for me.

How did you hear about The Atlantic Challenge, and what made you want to sign-up?

That’s quite simple: A friend took part in this challenge a few years ago and at that time I thought he was totally mad.

As for what made me want to sign-up. I was looking for a challenge of some sort as I was approaching 60.  Unfortunately, my parents died young at 56 and 62. This made me very aware of how precious life is and how short it can be. My daughter gave me a book about the Yorkshire Mums who took part and it fired me up instantly, if they could do it so could I and so the planning began.

What difficulties have you found sailing while deaf, and can you tell us a little about the various tools and gadgets that make things a little easier?

Rowing solo for someone deaf is easier in many respects as rowing as part of a crew poses many problems.  The noise factor is the biggest problem for me, both the noise of the sea and the wind obliterates any other sounds.  Conversation is very difficult and any warning sounds, alarms, bleeping of equipment, etc. are also unheard in my case.  Although I have done the VHF radio course and know how to use and send distress signals, etc, I hear nothing but interference back so unless it was an emergency I wouldn’t attempt to use the radio, if I did I would simply state that I was deaf and I was passing on the relevant information to be acted upon.

ReSound, the hearing aid company, in addition to sponsoring us have also given me the most up to date hearing aids which are linked to an app on my phone.  These enable me to turn up speech, block out background sounds in various situations.  There has been a new outdoor feature added for the row to enable me to turn down the sound of the wind. I can listen to music directly from my phone to hearing aids which will be a godsend on the night rows.  I also have a mini-mic which when the other speaker clips it onto their clothing I can hear conversation more clearly.  This has really helped with our training and will be of obvious benefit along the way, I rely on lipreading and won’t be able to see the person behind me rowing so this will really help me to stay in the loop with the others.

What are you most looking forward to, and most dreading during the row?

I’m excited about the sense of freedom that rowing an ocean brings. Alongside that, being in the elements experiencing the atmosphere, skies and stars, sunrises and sunsets and all the marine life I’m really looking forward to as you see more diverse species in the deeper ocean. I also haven’t been that far out into the ocean during a row before, so it will be interesting to see just how desolate it feels.

In terms of what I’m dreading. Well, I am not relishing the thought of the ‘flying fish’ which can take you off your seat if they hit you full force! And I am not looking forward to the sleep deprivation.  I’m an eight-hour a night person and we’ll be lucky if we get an hour and a half at a time between our four-hour rowing shifts.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

We have spent the best part of two and a half years working towards the start line, endless fundraising and organising and now the boat is in La Gomera the dream is fast becoming a reality. 

It’s only now that the enormity of what we have done already has started to sink in and the belief that we are really going to be on that start line on Dec 12 is amazing.  I can’t wait and, in some respects, having spent so little time with my family these past months the time is flying by too quickly and in another respect I’m champing at the bit to get over there, I’m not enjoying this feeling of being in limbo and waiting around.  My motivation is moving up a notch and I’m ready to get on with the challenge now.

Keep your eyes peeled for more information on Claire and Oarsome Foursome as it’s now under a month until they kick off. If you’d like to donate to the team, please follow this JustGiving link.