Harriet Austin rows across the Mediterranean to raise awareness of HPV

Harriet Austin and the rest of her teamHarriet Austin, a graduate student at Christ Church, has just completed a 200-mile rowing race across the Mediterranean, organised by the NOMAN campaign to raise awareness of HPV (Human Papillomavirus).

The event began on 26 July, with Harriet racing from Ibiza to Barcelona across a 200 mile stretch of the Mediterranean as part of a crew of 4 amateur rowers, including her sister Kate, against three other teams. The participants alternated shifts within their teams, with pairs of rowers taking on gruelling two-hour blocks. Rowing in an ocean or sea is vastly different to rowing on a river, making races of this type as much about the crews’ ability to cope mentally as it is about their technique and physical strength. The race marks the culmination of months of fundraising and arduous training, and Harriet’s crew managed to cross the finish line after only 50 hours, which is an amazing achievement.

Speaking after the race, Harriet described it as “a wonderful experience all round”, and said that she and her team are now recovering from the blisters, chaffing and sores they accrued from rowing. She went on to say, “We were originally a bit disappointed with the shortening of the course, but after seeing the first leg get towed from the bad weather we were happy to make it to the other side without assistance. The support crew prioritised safety so we knew we were in safe hands. We completed it in 50 hours, but it all seems to blur into one. We saw pods of dolphins and flying fish, which broke the trip up a bit. Probably the one thing I underestimated was the danger in shipping tankers and other boats out there – we had to be astute with our navigation as the support yacht was not always within our sights with crews spaced out over 20 miles.” 

Already a keen rower prior to coming to Oxford, Harriet has competed for New Zealand, her native country, in the Elite World Rowing Championships and the Elite World Rowing Cup. This year, Harriet has been studying for a one-year MBA at the Saïd Business School, but has also found time to train not only for the NOMAN race, but also for the Oxford-Cambridge boat race, in which she rowed in the 6 seat as part of the women’s blue boat racing against Cambridge. She was also part of the Christ Church W1 crew at this year’s Summer Eights, finishing 3rd in Women’s Division I.

The boat used by Harriet and her teamNOMAN aims to raise awareness about HPV-related cancers, campaigning for HPV vaccination for both men and women, whilst also running biennial extreme endurance races across the world. The HPV virus causes 5% of cancers worldwide, but the majority of these can be prevented by a simple, cheap and effective vaccine. Through competing in this race, Harriet hoped to raise awareness, destigmatise the virus, and promote a 100% vaccination rate against HPV. Her target was also to raise £5000 for the NOMAN campaign through sponsorship for taking part in the race.

So far Harriet has raised over £2000 for the NOMAN campaign. You can donate to Harriet’s campaign until 31st August on her Pledgit page.