Vicki Graham recalls the story of Jamie's inaugural Forget-Me-Not Row up the River Thames from Eton to Henley Royal Regatta on 2nd July 2010, just three years after Jamie Graham was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's disease aged 59-years-old.
“ After months of training, the big day finally arrived. The crew of sixteen veteran oarsmen with ages ranging from 30 to nearly 70 met at The Eton College Rowing Centre at 7am for fortifying bacon butties before the row began.
“ The crew ranged from those who had rowed in their second VIII at school to an Olympic Silver medallist, a Junior World Championship Silver medallist and an international cox, with Oxford ‘Blues’ outnumbering Cambridge.
There was a slight hitch at the first lock, but luckily, one of the crew had elected to warm up by running alongside the boat and was on hand to sort out the problem. We made excellent time – there was very little river traffic and for much of the time we were actually ahead of schedule – enjoying a hurried breakfast at Maidenhead, and as the morning wore on, more and more supporters from all over the country arrived to cheer Jamie on.
At one point, we lost the support boat entirely. It had been sputtering along at three or four knots at most and it became obvious there was something wrong with the engine. It pulled into one of the boat yards, where the engine was stripped down in record time and the problem was pinpointed – a stray blade of grass had got in there. Once it was out, the boat started whizzing along – we were even ticked off for speeding!
“ As the crew passed Marlow, a huge cheer went up as they rowed past Linda Hughes and her group of Alzheimer’s patients from Swindon’s Forget-Me-Not Centre, who were enjoying a picnic on the opposite bank; one of the day’s highlights – certainly something the team will never forget.
“ Another highlight was the crew change at Mrs Cleary’s landing stage at Hambledon, where Jamie’s boat was joined by three launches, Black Watch, Silver Dove and Saffron, with Jamie’s brother Colin playing the pipes to guide us along the busy waterway to Henley.
“ The final stretch of the river was difficult because there were regatta boats still racing and hundreds of pleasure craft with only a narrow stretch of river we were allowed to use, which was tricky, especially when the team was so tired. The cox was a hero in avoiding collisions with other boats, his masterly touch was beautiful to behold, every polite request finished with ‘Sir’ of course! We arrived at Henley Bridge at 5pm, after a gruelling but exhilarating day for everyone.
“ It was an incredible day, and an incredible feat for a team with an average age of 63. As well as a huge amount of support from friends and family (at one point, there were four Grahams in the boat) – as well as from complete strangers moved by the enormity of the task Jamie had taken on.
“ It was a momentous day for Jamie, too. It had been his idea from the beginning, and to actually achieve something he thought he might never have the chance to do again has been amazing for his morale.
“ Physical exercise is vitally important for mental wellbeing – the endorphins created by physical exertion are hugely beneficial, and being part of team has helped him enormously.
“ Jamie’s concentration has improved noticeably since he started training,” commented Vicki. “ Setting his mind to taking control of the situation and doing something about it has really been hugely positive. Just being able to spend time out on the river with a group of like-minded team-mates has been magical.”