Novice rower battles Atlantic raising multiple sclerosis funds gets birthday boost from Sir Richard Branson

A Surrey graduate who spent Christmas, New Year and his birthday rowing across the Atlantic in a bid to raise £100,000 for MS Trust received a supportive message from Sir Richard Branson on his special day.

David Middleton and three university friends set off on their expedition on December 20 and may spend up to 60 days on a small boat, unable to stand up, using a bucket for a toilet and weathering storms.

January 13 not only marked the first 24 gruelling days at sea battling exhaustion, hallucinations, salt sores & sleep deprivation, but was also David’s 26th birthday.

David said: “I will never have another birthday like it and so experience-wise it was amazing, but obviously I was missing friends and family.”

Unfortunately, a storm was fast on the approach which made conditions more difficult and limited the scope to take a rest and celebrate.

BIRTHDAY BOY: David Middleton spent his 26th birthday at sea

An unexpected birthday message from Sir Richard Branson, however, undoubtedly boosted morale.

The business tycoon tweeted: “Best of luck on your incredible challenge (and happy birthday David!)”

The team later said on Facebook: “Absolutely buzzing to get a tweet from the legend that is Richard Branson, especially on Dave’s birthday!”

David was inspired to raise money for the charity after his uncle Gary Mayrick, an adventurer and mountain rescuer, died from Multiple sclerosis in 2009.

He said: “The way my uncle lived his life is the inspiration behind the challenge – to get out there and do something you will remember.

“Absolutely buzzing to get a tweet from the legend that is Richard Branson, especially on Dave’s birthday!”

“The MS Trust were amazing to him and to us when he was ill so we want to help as many people as we can by raising as much money as we can.”

The team, Atlantic Lions, is covering more than 3,000 nautical miles in ‘the world’s toughest row’ – The Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge.

They set off from San Sebastian in La Gomera and are hoping to arrive at Nelson’s Dockyard English Harbour, Antigua in early February.

The training for the challenge was intense and not everyone who registered made it to the starting line.

David said: “You are sitting down for about 50 days so your legs and lower back have to be strong and your posture has to be right.

“The main training you have to do is to keep your back strong throughout.

“None of us had rowed before apart from one, so we’re normally safer on dry land running around rather than rowing!

“It’s been a sharp learning curve for all of us.”

They are rowing in pairs on a two-hourly rota through the day and night, during their two hours’ rest, they need to eat, sleep and take care of any injuries.

ATLANTIC LIONS: The crew pose before launching on their epic journey

David said: “You get really bad bum sores and blisters on your hands.

“It’s all about controlling those before they get too bad, so in that time off you have about 45 minutes to sleep.”

They can also burn up to 8,000 calories a day and could lose up to 25% of their body mass over the course of the challenge.

David’s mother, Jackie Middleton, is immensely proud of her son.

“It is one of the biggest single efforts anyone has ever made for the charity. What they are doing is just phenomenal.” – MS Trust

She said: “My brother Gary saved many lives as a mountain rescuer, he was a very fit, strong man and being diagnosed with MS was the cruellest thing.

“Dave was young and he watched Gary go from a hero to a skeleton in 12 years.

“Now my brother lives on in my children.”

The MS Trust works with families who require specialist care from nurses who understand the complex nature of the disease.

It is also responsible for training and supporting MS specialist nurses.

Jo Sopala, director of fundraising at MS Trust, said: “It is one of the biggest single efforts anyone has ever made for the charity. What they are doing is just phenomenal.”

If Atlantic Lions hit their fundraising target, they will fully cover the costs of two foundation courses to train 40 – 50 specialist MS nurses next year.

It would also part-fund an annual meeting where MS practitioners get the most up-to-date research.

“It will make a significant difference to us and this is just the kind of adventure Gary would have wanted the boys to take on,” she said.

“The fact that Joe, Matt and Charlie are willing to do this with David for the MS Trust means so much to us and also to people with MS.”

After deducting costs such as the race entry fee and the purchase of the boat, Atlantic Lions have managed to raise more than £57,000 so far.

If you would like to donate, please visit

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