Alumna Lauren Morton to get a ‘Grylling’ on ‘The Island’

After surviving 96 turbulent, perilous days rowing the Atlantic, nursing alumna Lauren Morton was picked for Channel 4’s extreme survival challenge The Island, presented by fellow UWE Bristol graduate Bear Grylls. Ready for more action, we catch up with Lauren who is now planning a world-record rowing attempt for charity.

Lauren MortonLauren, who graduated with a first degree in Children’s Nursing in 2014, was on the women’s rowing team throughout her time at UWE Bristol, progressing to senior women’s captain in her second year.

Just before graduating, fellow team member Hannah persuaded Lauren to join her in an attempt to row the Atlantic. Their friend and rowing partner Eleanor had died of cervical cancer a year previously, and they wanted to raise funds and celebrate her bravery.

Building her team

“Eleanor was such an inspiration to us in the way she dealt with her illness. I felt quite a big push when she passed away to go out there and do something.”

So with money from UWE Bristol, friends, family and the public, the two plucky students bought a boat and prepared themselves for the challenge. Calling their team Inspirational Friends they agreed to donate all funds raised to Jo’s cervical cancer trust and Myton Hospice.

Talking about their attempt to row to Antigua from the Canaries, Lauren says “We were out there for 96 days but it was a catalogue of errors: the rudder split, we had a battery fire, I capsized and hit my head. It was tough. So we had to make a decision to abandon the attempt. Up to the point we rowed the Atlantic, I was very much on a normal track. Then after having this amazing experience, it blew all of my aspirations out of the window. I wanted more. I just loved the adrenalin.”

Surviving in the limelight

Spurred on by her momentous attempt to cross the Atlantic, Lauren decided to take a punt and apply for Channel 4’s The Island, presented by UWE Bristol alumnus Bear Grylls. Despite being just one of 80,000 applicants, she was chosen.

“I very nearly didn’t get on. I got down to the last 20. Then I was told I wouldn’t make it. Apparently, I was too extreme to be classed as an ordinary civilian. Then they decided that, because I hadn’t got across the Atlantic, I had a good story of unfinished business.”

Arriving on the island, Lauren says “We had very limited, basic training before we went. It was just 24 hours of someone showing us how to start a fire and kill an animal humanely”. This basic introduction led to a survival roller-coaster: “The lowest point was going for 11 days without anything to eat. All we had was coconut water. It was the first 11 days and we were split from the other group. It took us a while to get up and running.”

“But as time went on, I had this realisation that I could actually do this long term. That was the real turning point. The bonds we made were fantastic. I made so many friends for life.”

The TV programme does not reflect the full experience Lauren had, who lived there with a small group of other contestants for six weeks, 24 hours a day, which, as she says, “gets condensed into five hours of TV”.

After the show Lauren returned to Bristol, keen to attend to her ‘unfinished business’ of rowing the Atlantic. Fortunately, the TV show had raised her profile.

“The Channel 4 programme helped massively with exposure. People knew who I was. I was at Henley Regatta and I met people there who offered to donate.”

Earning high praise from Grylls

This time Lauren is doing the attempt with three others: Olivia Bolesworth, Gee Purdy, and Bella Collins. They’re hoping to row the 3,000 nautical miles in less than 48 days, to become the youngest, fastest all-female crew to cross the Atlantic. In the meantime, they’re aiming to raise £50,000 for Plan UK’s Because I Am A Girl campaign.Lauren Morton group image

Bear Grylls has described their Row Like A Girl team as ‘gutsy, committed and brave’.

The team leaves in November 2015, so get involved and help an inspiring fellow alumnus raise money for a great cause.

Find out more and support the team at http://www.rowlikeagirl.uk and catch-up on episodes from C4’s The Island.

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