Kiko Matthews is an incredible and inspirational woman. 8 years ago she was lying in Kings College Hospital Intensive Care Unit, as a result of a pituitary tumour. At the end of last year, she learnt how to row. Now, despite a recent reappearance of the tumour, in just one months time she will be attempting to row the Atlantic - single-handed and unsupported.
More people have been into Space or climbed Everest than have rowed the Atlantic, making this one of the toughest challenges on Earth. Only 6 women have previously done the journey solo. Kiko, who learnt to row only last year, will be attempting to break the World Record, becoming the fastest woman to complete the 3000mile crossing.
The story behind Kiko's record-breaking attempt began back in 2009.
Kiko fell ill, baffling Drs with unusual symptoms and going within weeks from a fit, young woman to someone who had to drag herself upstairs on her hands and knees unable to walk as so weak. As she rapidly deteriorated, she was referred to King's College Hospital where she lay in her hospital bed believing she would die before doctors were able to discover what was wrong.
Eventually diagnosed with the rare 'Cushings' Disease, the tumour made her cortisol levels climb dangerously high, causing severe memory loss, muscle wasting, osteoporosis, end-stage diabetes, insomnia, 'brain fog' and psychosis.
Despite a conclusive diagnosis, her potassium levels were too low for her to survive surgery so she was taken to intensive care unit until she was strong enough for doctors to operate and remove the tumour. Kiko says now that those were her darkest times. 'I couldn't see, I couldn't speak properly or think. I was too weak to move,' she says.
Once stable enough to endure the operation, Drs managed to remove the tumour successfully, and within days Kiko started to make an astonishing recovery from what could have been a fatal outcome. Regaining her health, she realised life was for living and became determined to make a difference.
Kiko wants to raise £100,000 for the new Critical Care Unit at Kings by successfully completing the epic Atlantic row. With up to 16 hours of rowing each day and only 6 hours sleep, it will be a gruelling solo challenge, both physically and mentally. 40ft waves, Atlantic storms, sharks, freezing nights and sweltering heat will all play their part in this challenge. Kiko explains "An emergency button will be my only lifeline, otherwise I'll be my own doctor, mechanic, skipper, friend and worst enemy (at times!) for the duration of the crossing.
And although while on the sea Kiko will be alone, on land she will be virtually powered by a team of amazing women, all part of her unique 100TogetHER initiative. This is more than just a collective fundraising strategy, its a collaboration of women and girls from all walks of life, showing what can be achieved if we build a supportive network and work togetHER.
Kiko now has the support of Britains most successful female Olympian, Katherine Grainger; Tracy Edwards- who skippered the first all-female crew in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race, and is coached by Guin Batten, silver medallist from the 2000 Olympics. All these women are also members of 100togetHER, endorsing Kiko's initiative.
Kiko strongly believes in challenge as a means of recovery. Whilst this row is gaining traction as an extraordinary female endurance event, Kiko is adamant to spread the word about the importance of community, challenge and collaboration.
Ironically, both the challenge and fundraising attempt for Kings has added poignancy now.
A few months into her training, Kiko began to feel 'strange' symptoms and was haunted by the thought that the Cushings may have returned
These fears were later realised when an MRI detected a 3mm tumour on her pituitary gland. Kiko had surgery, back at Kings, on 1st August. Surgeons operated through her nose to remove the tumour quickly so that she could continue her training as soon as possible.
'The tumour returning has only made me even more determined to break the record and raise the money,' she says. 'The doctors will have saved my life not once, but twice.'
The boat has now been shipped ahead to Gran Canaria. The current world record stands at 56 days, Kiko has enough food for 50! with an aim of smashing that record to just 45 days.
We can follow Kiko from recovery to record. As she battles back from a second brush with the life-threatening illness she will not only use her own willpower to succeed but also harness the positivity of the 100TogetHER to help her achieve this goal. The journey from Intensive Care bed to the start line has been as epic as that what lies ahead across the ocean, but with Kiko's determination and tenacity this is another race that she is ready to win.
Find out more about Kiko's story via www.kikomatthews.co.uk