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Amazon rowers to brave hostage takers, uninhabited jungle and waterborne parasites


Themes: Organisational behaviour

A gruelling 2,077 mile challenge faces Cambridge academic Mark de Rond and rowing coach Anton Wright as they attempt to row the navigable length of the River Amazon

Fast-moving debris, waterborne parasites and uninhabited jungle face the pair, who aim to be the first to cover the distance without support from back-up teams.

The biggest threat comes not from the natural environment, says Dr de Rond, but from hostage takers.

Swimmers, canoeists, even bathtub-paddlers have all risen to the challenge, but the Cambridge pair will enter the record books as the first ‘unsupported’ attempt.

According to de Rond and Wright the other teams had support crews to help them feed, sleep and to offer protection.

“One of the things we have cause to worry about is the risk of kidnapping and hostage taking. It’s something we did not expect but we know from a very good source, it is a very real risk, and we have no defence.

“The boat that we are rowing is a bright yellow ocean rowing boat, so it’s very hard to stay below the radar – almost like a bright yellow cash point machine floating past.”

Dr de Rond of Cambridge Judge Business School is a recognised authority on team behaviour under pressure. Anton Wright, who came up with the fundraising challenge, is head coach and boatman for Clare College, Cambridge.

They are both seasoned rowers and Dr de Rond says the challenge is more about the psychology than the physiology. Having spent 15 years watching people in teams do difficult things – in life sciences, in Cambridge rowing, in Afghanistan – he has always wondered if he has missed out: are there some research questions that can only be answered by experience, not observation?

“I also felt like a bit of a cop out because I’ve watched people do difficult things from the sidelines … I decided to actually put my money where my mouth is and do something difficult.”

The pair will begin their row in Peru on 1 September and hope to reach the Brazilian coast six to eight weeks later. They will be raising money for Leonard Cheshire Disability, a charity supporting disabled people in the UK and around the world.
Mark de Rond’s fieldwork has included combat surgeons in Afghanistan, elite rowers, and comedians. He is a Reader in Strategy & Organisation at Cambridge Judge Business School.