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Going the distance for heart disease – 100km to $100k

Mark Taylor is blind, has lost the use of both of his legs and a portion of strength in his right arm, but despite this the Kiwi is attempting to row 100km in under just eight hours.

Mark Taylor

In his early thirties Mark was diagnosed with Neuro Sarcoidosis, a neurological disorder affecting his mobility and vision, and on Friday 6 November he will attempt a rowing challenge in a custom-built rower, with the goal of raising $100,000 for the Heart Foundation.

He's called the challenge, 'That's How We Row', with the aim of increasing awareness about heart health while raising vital funds for the Heart Foundation through his Givealittle page.

"My family and friends have been impacted by heart disease and the health of our heart is something that we all need to take more seriously. That's why I'm organising an eight-hour rowing challenge to raise money and awareness around this great cause," says Mark.

And it seems he's started something of a movement, with Olympic Gold Medallist Eric Murray, company Dempsey Wood, gym SMASH FIT, Auckland Rowing Club and Rowing New Zealand getting behind his cause.

Attempting the 100km challenge would be a big ask even for someone without Mark's physical challenges, so a number of resourceful Kiwi minds came together, including rowing legend Eric Murray, to provide him with a customised rowing machine to accommodate his needs.

Teams of staff from civil contracting company, Dempsey Wood, are providing physical and moral support for Mark after one of their staff experienced a heart attack on-site.

The venue for the big day is being provided by Auckland Rowing Club, who's been invaluable at getting the word out in the rowing community and has a team of its own who will give it a go.

And Auckland women's gym, SMASH FIT, has created its own team of 81 volunteers who will attempt the rowing challenge to fund a defibrillator for the community of Papakura, with any surplus money raised going to Mark's fundraising efforts.

"With so many people affected by Covid-19 this year, it's amazing to have all of their support, it will be a huge help in reaching our target," says Mark.

Heart Foundation's Head of Fundraising and Partnerships, Alison Wheatley-Mahon, says with this year's unprecedented circumstances, the Heart Foundation is relying more than ever on people like Mark.

"With heart disease being New Zealand’s single biggest killer, it’s remarkable people like Mark who help make sure that life-saving work continues to be funded. We are in awe of the effort and commitment he has put into both his training and fundraising – we couldn't do it without him," says Alison.

Mark is no stranger to this kind of challenge. In 2019 he swam the Auckland Harbour Crossing, raising more than $140,000 for the New Zealand Neurological Foundation, but he says this will be his biggest challenge yet.

"My biggest concern is that my body just won't last," he explains.

"With the swim I knew I was going to be able to do it within a very short timeframe, but with this challenge, I have no idea if I’m going to get there or not."

With the physical constraints of Mark's disease, he will be relying solely on his upper body strength. 

"The rule of thumb with rowing is 70 per cent leg drive and 30 per cent upper body – whereas all of my effort is coming from my upper body," he says.

But with members of his own family, as well as a colleague suffering from heart disease, this cause is very personal to him and he's determined to give it his best efforts.

"If we can give it our everything to reach the $100k that would be pretty incredible," says Mark.

Heart disease is New Zealand's single biggest killer, claiming the lives of more than 6,300 New Zealanders every year – that’s one person every 90 minutes.

Funds raised by people like Mark help fund life-saving heart research to help the 170,000 New Zealanders living with heart disease.

Help Mark reach his fundraising target