Real Life

The day I rowed 160 kilometres for friend

In the latest from our One Day series, we hear from one woman who's going above and beyond for her sick friend.

Abbey Delore, 25, and Katie Smith, 35, have known each other since they were children. Growing up in the small gliding community in the South Island town of Omarama, they have fond memories of running around the airfield together as kids.

So in 2015 when Katie fell dangerously ill, Abbey was right there by her side. Here, she tells us their story.

“Katie and I grew up together. But like a lot of childhood friends, as we got older we fell out of touch.

Our paths collided last year when I bumped into her while she was on a brief trip back to New Zealand – she had been living in Arizona, in the US, since 2008 - and I was just planning my trip to America by coincidence.

Despite our ten year age gap, we reconnected instantly and I planned a visit to stay with her in the States.

Abbey and Katie in hospital
Abbey and Katie in hospital

But when Katie arrived back in the US in 2015, her bowel perforated and she had to be flown to hospital for lifesaving surgery.

Her colon was removed, and she was diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) as well as Ulcerated Colitis and Crohn’s.

I didn’t have a long term plan to look after Katie. But I turned up in Arizona with my backpack, togs and waterski and said: ‘Hey, I’m here to hold your hand.’

My one week visit turned into five months, and I spent every surgery with Katie and helped her to recover after. I just wanted to keep her spirits up as she went through this devastating disease so far away from home.

Watching her tackle the physical and mental challenges that come with long term illness, I wanted to do something to raise awareness for what she was suffering from, as well as fundraise some money to put towards her medical bills. That’s when I decided to set myself the task of rowing the length of Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Park.

Abbey out on the water
Abbey out on the water

After months of training, in May I finally completed my mission – and what a day it was.

It took me 18 hours to complete the 160 kilometre, solo row, and I endured multiple injuries. When I finished I discovered I had developed Bronchitis and Tendonitis, which were partly responsible for my pain.

On the first day I reached the 95 kilometre mark, but my body stopped co-operating so I had to rest for the night and continue the last leg the next day.

It was more of a mental challenge than I’d ever imagined, and I did reach points of unbearable frustration. When your body isn’t co-operating, that’s when you start to feel the strain in your mind, and I had to consciously calm myself down to keep going. Looking at the spectacular scenery of Lake Powell really helped me in those moments.

It also made me realise how hard it must be to be ill for such a long time and not have your body on your side. It certainly put the reality of Katie’s illness into perspective for me.

Beautiful Lake Powell
Beautiful Lake Powell

After completing my ENDURE row, I do have other projects in the pipeline. But for now, I want to look after my friend ahead of her eighth - and hopefully final - surgery this August. That’s my main concern.”

IBD affects approximately 15,000 New Zealanders, and our rate is one of the highest in the world. While the cause is yet unknown, its symptoms are chronic and include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, rectal bleeding and weight loss. For more information about this condition, visit Crohn’s & Colitis NZ.

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