Pushing Limits: Interview with adventurer James Ketchell

THERE’S SOMETHING MONUMENTAL about completing a triathlon. I like to think that one day I’ll do just that, my clothes drenched with accomplishment and my feet riddled with blisters. One man, however, is much more determined than me and has taken the triathlon to the extreme; far beyond Hyde Park, at least.

Over the past three years, James Ketchell turned triathlon on its head, pushing himself to limits most people can only begin to dream of. His ambitious adventure saw him row single-handed across the Atlantic, climb Mount Everest, and cycle unaided for 18,000 miles. Now back on familiar soil, I wondered what drove the 31-year-old to take on such a mammoth challenge. “Rowing an ocean has been something I’d wanted to do for a long time. After watching Tintin as a kid, I’ve always wanted to be an adventurer!”

It hadn’t always been plain-sailing. Before deciding to row the Atlantic, James often raced motorbikes but suffered a serious shattered ankle which threatened his chances of walking again. “When I was lying in the hospital, I realised I had two choices: I could either lie there and feel sorry for myself or make the best of the situation and turn it into something positive.”

It’s staggering to think that James went from lying immobile in hospital to crossing the Atlantic on his own, but he assures me that the toughest part of any challenge is all in the mind.

“Your body gets used to it. Nine times out of ten when somebody gives up it’s because they hit a mental barrier. There were times when I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore but I remembered everyone who had sponsored me and the weight of their expectations, so I kept on going. I knew that eventually I would run of sea.” While four months alone in a boat might be enough for some people, James set his sights even higher. Literally. “A friend of mine was going to climb Everest and he asked me if I was going to come. I just said “yes”. He told me I had six months to find £30,000 in sponsorship money but I knew I couldn’t let this opportunity pass.”

Now living in Hampshire, he has fond memories of cycling around Richmond Park when visiting his grandparents, something he still does today. Richmond Hill might not be the Himalayas, but I can only assume that it put him in good stead for the most recent of his challenges, the round-the-world cycle.

The gruelling seven-month trip, which saw him pass through 20 countries, was particularly special since he spoke to over 10,000 young people on his travels, inspiring them to achieve their dreams. “I do it here in the UK, too, and I get such great enjoyment from it,” he told me. “I show kids my climbing gear and get them to try it on; it’s fun now but they remember these things. The person we grow up to be is shaped when we are young so I want to show them now that they have the potential to be whatever they want to be.”

I wondered what was next for the Hampshire Scout Ambassador, who also has a badge named in his honour. There can’t be much else to do for a man who’s been on top of the world.

“I met an epileptic sufferer, Ash, and he wanted to come on an expedition with me. We got thinking and decided on rowing the Indian Ocean in 2015. He has regular fits, so I’ve got to go on a course to learn how to look after him, but it goes to show that even with a disability, there’s a way around things.”

And what about the Pacific Ocean? “I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t do it at some stage!”

When speaking to James, you can’t help but be inspired by the clear enthusiasm for what he does. His passion for inspiring others has also led him to take on the (less exhausting) role of speaking at events all over the world, whilst raising awareness for ELIFAR, a charity which specialises in helping those with disabilities.

So yes, he’s the first person to have rowed the Atlantic, climbed Everest and cycled around the world, but he’s not that much of a tough guy. “I can row an ocean and climb a mountain, but I can’t eat Nando’s peri-peri sauce!”

To find out more about James and his expeditions, and how to sponsor and get in touch with him, visit jamesketchell.net

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