This Woman is Rowing the Atlantic Ocean For Alzheimer’s

Elaine Hopley has always had a fascination with the water. A resident of the Scottish town of Dunblane, she spent a lot of time sailing, canoeing and paddling around the country and Wales while growing up. Her father, John, owned a boat.

With her love of aquatic life came an idea, an adventure – to cross an ocean. Hopley was preparing to row the Atlantic Ocean as part of the 2011 Atlantic Challenge – a 3,000 mile rowing expedition from the Canary Islands to Antigua – until the journey had to be put on hold.

Her mother, Janice, who had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, needed her aid now more than ever.

“You need to be mentally, physically and emotionally in a very good place to do an adventure like the Atlantic Challenge,” Elaine said. “I thought I’d wait and do it when it was the right time.”

Unfortunately, Janice died in 2014 after battling Alzheimer’s disease and dementia for 17 years. She was 72. Elaine, who runs a home improvements business, took time to grieve as anyone would, then readjusted her sights to her goal that still remained unaccomplished.

“It was brutal; I can’t explain it in any sort of way watching somebody you love deteriorate that way very slowly,” the mother of two said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been put through, to be honest.”

The Atlantic Challenge is an idea that came to Sir Chay Blyth after he and John Ridgway rowed the ocean in 1966. Competitors row solo, in pairs or teams of four. This year’s event begins on Dec. 14.

Hopley, 45, is rowing solo to help benefit Alzheimer Scotland, a cause close to her heart.

“My mom was diagnosed when she was 55 and that’s something I want to get across — Alzheimer’s isn’t an old person’s disease, young people can get it as well,” she said.

Solo expeditions are nothing new to Hopley. The winner of the inaugural Women’s Scottish Cross Country Mountain Bike Series in the early 1990s, Hopley has completed solo unsupported bicycle tours of Australia, New Zealand and Chile. She also biked approximately 1,000 miles from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, the length of the island of Great Britain.

Rowing was an integral part of her training for her mountain bike racing. She said physically preparing for this ocean row has been the easiest part of the process, while raising funds, juggling family life and being self-employed has been a little more complicated.

Hopley, who was previously a ski instructor and a voluntary fire fighter, is as ready as ever to take to the water for this challenge. She will also be carrying her mother, father and grandmother, Lily with her while out on the ocean.

Elaine Hopley will drop these stones into the ocean during her row in memory of her mom, dad and grandmother | © Elaine Hopley
Elaine Hopley will drop these stones into the ocean during her row in memory of her mom, dad and grandmother | © Elaine Hopley

Hopley had their names cut into memory stones by local Scottish designers Campbell and Hay. She will bring the stones with her, and plans to stop in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and drop them into the sea.

“Their memories will always be there,” she said. “For me personally it’s a nice thing to do. My dad just loved the ocean and this row is sort of dedicated to my mom.”

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