The thirst for adventure and beautiful mind of rower Jamie Sparks

JAMIE SPARKS talks to us about his row of the Atlantic as well as the challenges he has set himself this year. Be prepared to be inspired by this young man's unique take on the world and all it has to offer.




JAMIE SPARKS’ passion for life, adventure and the world is quite remarkable. At the age of just 23 he has conquered much already but his outlook on life and what he wants to achieve in it is what made him such an inspiration to interview.


In 2013 Jamie rowed the Atlantic with his friend Luke Birch and in the process raised over £315,000 for charity. He was motivated to take on the challenge after feeling the ill-effects of a night out during freshers week at university, and it wasn’t long before he’d persuaded his best friend to join him.


In this interview Jamie talks about that epic row as well as his other exploits as a rower on the ocean. He fills us in with details of his planned trek of the Yangtze River later this year and his seven marathons in seven days challenge that will begin place next month.


How did you get involved in rowing and have there been any major influences in your life so far?


The first rowing I ever did was on the ocean. It was during freshers week at Bristol university when I was hungover and totally lacking motivation that I began Googling ‘the hardest endurance events on the planet’. I should add at this point that I had always had an interest in the adventure world and had played school and county sport at a very high level.


At first, I couldn’t believe that ocean rowing even existed. It was a totally mad concept. Alone on a rowing boat no longer than 24ft with one coffin-sized cabin to sleep in, rowing in two hours on two hours off sessions all day and all night for up to three months. It had all the characteristics of a nightmare – big storms, exhaustion, heat stroke, a lack of stimulation and a horrible diet. I dismissed the idea at first but couldn’t stop thinking about it. You see I am drawn to things that scare me and that come across as seemingly impossible.


Having persuaded my best mate to join me on the voyage, a year and a half later, after relentless sponsor pitches, we found ourselves at the start line of a race that would see nine out of 16 boats reach the other side.


In terms of influences, I am driven only by myself in an endless quest to be the best, the most fearless, most daring and most creative of adventurers. I have many heroes whose footsteps I aim to follow in. The people I admire most are on the whole known for their polar exploits, but I think it is their will to achieve what no one sees possible, that drives them. These people include R. Amundsen, F. Nansen, Ran Fiennes and more recently, the totally unstoppable Borge Outland. What that man has achieved in terms of pure endurance and skill is quite remarkable.


I admire the likes of Benedict Allen and Mike Horn tremendously, as well.




You rowed the Atlantic in 2013 raising over £315,000 in the process. How hard was that effort, what were some of the biggest challenges and who did you raise the money for?


Rowing the Atlantic was the mother of all challenges. It was incredibly intimidating for a number of reasons. Ocean rowing is unlike an ultra run or Ironman where if you put one step in front of the other for long enough, and push yourself hard enough, you will get there. There is so, so much you have to learn – navigation, how to fix equipment, how to deal with sea sickness and still get enough calories down you. The list is endless.


There was also so much that could go wrong. I saw teams that were terribly prepared do very well because they they were lucky and visa versa. I felt like it was at times very out of my control and I didn’t like that.


In terms of how we dealt with the trials and strain, it was a constant battle. The salt would dry on our skin and rub like sandpaper between the areas of our body that touched. The boils on our bums and between our testicles were agony, and then you have to sit on them and push back and fourth for 12 hours a day. The mental torture of knowing how long the crossing would take as we would count down the miles at a snail’s pace, was terribly hard to deal with.


The fact that we never got more than two hours off on the entire voyage was so hard. In that two hours we had to clean and feed ourselves and get to sleep. Meaning that you never get more than 75 minutes rest before you hear the ‘ten minute’ yell from your partner.


We raised a lot of money for Breast Cancer Care. This was primarily because we blogged well and honestly from the boat via a laptop and sat phone. People were able to experience through our writing, the pain and anguish we were going through.


We are so proud of that total and I am raising more money for BCC in a seven marathons in seven days in seven countries challenge, starting on April 20 (www.facebook.com/pages/7-Marathons-in-7-Days-in-7-Countries/792815237468163).




What have some of your other biggest challenges in rowing been and what keeps you motivated to keep setting yourself such demanding goals?


Just three days after having rowed into English harbour in Antigua after a 54-day crossing, I began planning my next challenge. I had taken a year out of my studies to do the row and had six months off before my new year started. I was going to be the first person to row the full length of the Amazon river but a pair had just beaten me to it by literally six months. I was also put off by how easy river rowing would have been compared to ocean rowing and I wanted to get back into that brutal environment.


You see I am never satisfied with where I am at. I am constantly after more which means two things. First, I will continue to push the boundaries and myself in an attempt to feel fulfilled which will hopefully bring amazing things, however, I will never feel satisfied and allow myself to relax.


Having decided on an ocean, I set my goals on the Indian. It was a whole new ball game and one that nearly saw us have to pull out due to equipment failure and strong southerly winds from the southern ocean which were pushing us off course. Eventually, we had to change course and head to the Seychelles as opposed to Mauritius.


This change in destination brought us the accolade of being the first unsupported row from Australia to the Seychelles and I became the second person ever to row two oceans in a single year, and at the age of 22, which was pretty cool.


Could you tell us about your planned trek of the Yangtze and what inspired the idea?


Exploration these days is getting harder and harder and while there may be very few areas left still unexplored by the white man, there are areas that are very unknown. China, outside of cities such as Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai etc is still very unexplored. The Yangtze has provided life to thousands of local populations that still live simple lives on the basin. My aim is to travel from the source up in the Himalayan mountains near Tibet, to the mouth using only man power (on foot and packraft), and see how the Chinese boom is affecting the local population’s way of living.


The Yangtze is the third longest river in the world and as soon as the idea popped into my head while on the ocean, I knew I had to do it. July, August this year is the start date and perhaps I should mention that no-one has travelled source to mouth my man power yet.




You have a keen interest in anthropology. How does this influence your ambitions in the world of adventure?


My love of social anthropology means that I am almost always now looking for journeys which include indigenous tribes or local populations. Participant observation is a term used to describe effectively living with a group of people, learning their ways, eating their food, understanding their beliefs etc and this is something I am looking forward to doing more and more of. Being an adventurer is so much about originality. There is nothing more painful to see than someone who has clearly gone “Right, what are the perceived hardest challenges out there… ocean rowing, climbing Everest and cycling the world”. I say, where is the imagination in that! Those are the three most done journeys at the top end of adventure. Did the top explorers of past centuries copy what others did? No, they went their own way! Be imaginative, be original, and that is where you have to be creative. Most people fall at this point.


Could you give us some more information about your time spent travelling the world and what effect has it had on you as a person?


I think professional adventurers (those that make their living through completing journeys) do so first and foremost because they have an unstoppable love of our wild planet. They love being totally out there, often in hostile, isolated and dangerous places, living at one with nature and spending time alone in their thoughts.


Of course other aspects come into play, such as records, but it is really an overwhelming love of nature as well as the opportunity to meet and overcome challenges of endurance and strength that motivates me to continue.


It has been due to my travelling, primarily to Asia and Africa, that my love affair with the world came to blossom. The pure image of a pristine bright green jungle with low lying cloud set just above the canopy top fills me with passion, as does a 200,000 year old waterfall plummeting over the cliff edge, these images fill me with excitement.


My most valuable possession other than a St Christopher’s necklace is a huge map of the world on my wall. I must spend a combined 30 minutes a day glazing over it and dreaming up new expeditions.


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What exciting plans do you have for other future?


On April 20 this year I begin the first of seven consecutive marathons in seven countries in seven days throughout Europe with my adventurer girlfriend Lauren Morton. This is a training expedition for the mother of all endurance expeditions scheduled for summer time 2016. It will be a world first and no one has attempted anything like it before, and for good reason. It’s highly ambitious but unfortunately I can’t reveal what it is at this point. Limitless Pursuits will be the first to know when all is announced officially!


If you could sum up your philosophy on life in no more than 15 words what would it be?


Life is one opportunity to create as many stories and memories as possible. CHALLENGE YOURSELF!




To find out more about Jamie visit www.jamie-sparks.co.uk or follow him on Twitter @jamiefpsparks 

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