Twickenham podiatrist who rowed London to Brazil talks Rio inspiration and why he’s not afraid of Zika

He’s broken two world records, managing a world first 3,400 nautical mile manpowered journey across the Atlantic to Brazil, sandwiched inside 3,000 miles of cycling.

Charity champion Jake Heath, 30, took the epic journey from the Olympic park in Stratford to Lagos in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support in a four-man team, with two woman and another man.

They are the first four-man team to make the trip, and the first mixed group, breaking two records in one.

“It’s been rather surreal it’s almost like that has been a dream and this is just like, going back into reality really,” he said.

Reality hit back with a bit of a bump when he returned from Brazil to find his bank balance £20,000 in debt.

Jake is now working hard to make his money back, collect sponsorship and attract media attention for the team’s record-breaking Row2Rio.

Despite that, he’s full of self-belief – that belief might come from his determination three and half years ago – when as founder member he had to convince family and friends that the trip was something that could really happen.

He said: “I’d always been a party guy and having fun and everything like that, but there was no-one who’d ever done anything like this in my friendship group – actually no-one’s ever done anything like this ever!

“My mum was just so apprehensive, though my dad was like ‘yeah cool go for it, if I was your age I’d do it’ you can hear the gratefulness in Jake’s voice.

“So Mum eventually came round and when she came round she was just an absolute champion.”

“She did everything she did to try and get sponsorship, get people involved all the way through, no prompt.

“It went from ‘don’t do it, you might die in the middle of the Atlantic, don’t do it!’ to then making sure I didn’t die in the middle of the Atlantic by getting the proper equipment and everything.”

As the sun set and their marathon 54 and a half days at sea completed, Jake’s mum, dad, and girlfriend turned up in a speedboat with other relatives and media.

After his gruelling challenge he couldn’t even stand up because of the way his inner ear had been affected by the waves.

“That private reception, with just local people and media there, that was grand, that was incredible,” he said.

Media coverage of Brazil has been dominated by the Zika virus, with the World Health Organisation issuing a series of warnings.

Jake brushed off these concerns saying that they were bitten many times, with family staying all in different parts of the country.

“Obviously there is health implication because that’s what the experts have said, but Brazil were doing so much about it, we didn’t see a sign of anyone or anybody with anything like that,” he said.

After arriving at Rio he was treated to a big reception at British House, where the British Olympic team will be staying this summer.

He was even given a free first-class flight home once the airline found out about his incredible feat.

Although his trip ended in family celebration, first-class flights and three-course meals, it was a hard earned happy ending after the punishing rowing schedule.

“Your hands, your feet, and your bum get so battered when you’re rowing 12 hours a day,” he says tentatively.

“Being a podiatrist and having skills to deal with medical issues that cropped up across the Atlantic was quite useful!

“I had to go on antibiotics for a couple of infections in my foot because when you get a little cut it doesn’t heal because it’s constantly wet with salt water.

“The huge changes in temperature from cool at night to tropical in the daytime which can lead to wounds festering.

“It can be kind of drastic – one of their guys had to stop rowing for two or three days.”

The toughest part was the end of the rowing, as they got close to the Brazilian coast, having already rowed 50 days, the currents hit them.

Each day they rowed they found they hadn’t taken down any distance and so had to push back their landing day.

“You just have to stay as positive as possible, you go through these night time rows where it’s just pitch black, two hours on, two hours off and you can’t think of anything but all those people on the beach waiting for you,” Jake said.

“We had such a good team so we kept focused and kept each others’ spirits up.”

Jake turned 30 while he was still in Rio but hasn’t had a chance to celebrate yet – but from the sounds of it he has a lot to toast.

According to him, it’s the first time there’s been a world record on that route since the conquistadors.

“I think the whole point of it was to inspire the next generation, to be inspired, to create a legacy.

“That really hit home because after meeting the Brazilians it really felt like we were carrying something on.

“There’s lots of things out there which I think kids should be more interested in, doing a bit of exploring, and look up from the iPhones and Instagram, there’s so many better things to do, so many more inspirational stories.

“I just hope that’s still resonates with kids. Just get out on a bike, get out on a boat or go and do something and find something that you like with your friends, which in the end was all I wanted to do.”

See the full details of Jake’s adventure on

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