Paralympic and Thomas Legend Naomi Riches takes on The Great Thames Row

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When I sat in a coffee shop in February 2015 and told a woman I had only just met that I wanted to row down the River Thames to raise money for her charity and achieve a Guinness World Record, I had no idea how much organisation and co-ordination would be needed to make it possible.

Now, with less than a day to go until I start my challenge (how did that happen!), I am definitely not as relaxed as I should be. There is still a multitude of things to do; details to check (and then double check), changes to communicate, people still to recruit and equipment to source. Luckily, I am in a much better position physically and mentally. I feel fully prepared in both these areas to row down our glorious Thames – I’m in a great place and all I want now is to get in that boat and get on with it!

I met with Liz from IN-vison, the charity for which I am raising money and also a patron of, a couple of times a week for a few months and during this time we played with ideas and plans, spoke to some useful people and recruited volunteers. For quite a while, we were amazed at how simple it was to organise The Great Thames Row. However, the moment we met with the Port of London Authority and set a date for the row, we realised we were on a countdown and there was suddenly no time to waste. 

We allocated roles to a range of people, both those with vital skill sets and those that “really wanted to help” – we thought that was what you should do. As it turned out, the closer we got to the start of TGTR2016, the more apparent it became that someone who “really wants to help” is not always the best person for the job. Passionate people who are generous with their time are a must have in charity work but when planning something as complex as this row, there are certain behaviours and skills that are needed that come above and beyond the passion. 

Having worked with Thomas since 2014, I am lucky enough to say that I have an awareness of other people’s behaviours and how I need to adapt, if only slightly, to work with them more effectively. We decided to profile the core team for the row using the Thomas behavioural assessment, Personal Profile Analysis (PPA), so that Liz and I were able to gain an understanding of how they like to behave, their strengths and how to get the best out of them. We found that some team members needed clear guidelines and some who worked best when left to use their imagination. There are some who are happy to be left to their own devices whilst others needed to be communicated with and praised regularly. In order for our team to function well, this understanding of one another was vital. These people are volunteers after all and can walk away whenever they want to, so it was important to keep everyone engaged with the row throughout the preparation stage.

We have over 100 volunteers; lock keepers, time keepers, launch drivers, logistics managers, a masseuse, a coach or two, fundraisers, social media experts and more. I have every confidence in all of them and am pleased that everything seems to be under control.

There are however, things that I cannot control - as there always are when you take on a challenge such as this. These uncontrollable things are what I must push out of my mind each night as I drift off to sleep. All those what-ifs: the weather, my body responding in a way I don't expect or someone key in the team getting sick or having an accident en route. There is nothing I can do about any of those, so I just have to keep everything crossed that all will run smoothly. 

Once I get in that boat on Saturday in Lechlade, I will be able to relax and just get rowing. All the preparation and training will be done and it will be time to just get on with it - BRING IT ON! 

Make sure you follow @ThomasInt_UK and @TGTR2016 on Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date with Naomi’s progress during the row. To read more about her remarkable challenge or to make a donation, visit

From everyone at Thomas International, we’d like to wish Naomi all the luck in the world as she attempts her challenge. Why not leave your own messages of support for Naomi by commenting below?

Naomi Riches

Naomi Riches

Naomi Riches is a gold medallist Paralympian in Mixed Coxed Fours Rowing. She retired in 2013 and now works as a Thomas Sport and Education Consultant.