When the rowing gets tough then tough Tracey gets rowing

TRACEY BROWN has never given in to the debilitating condition called Friedreich's ataxia, which has confined her to a wheelchair for 12 years.

Since losing the use of her legs she has learned to ride a horse, taken part in dressage competitions and competed in indoor rowing events all over the world.

Now she and husband Wullie, from Gorebridge, are facing their biggest challenge – a 24-hour indoor rowing marathon.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Wullie, 45, will attempt to set a new British record by covering 100km in one day, while Tracey, 39, is looking to break her personal best of 50km.

The money raised will go to Ataxia UK, the charity that helps 10,000 adults like Tracey and her younger brother Christopher, who is also a sufferer, and Muirfield riding school, where Tracey rides.

But it is not just fundraising that motivates Tracey. The regular exercise slows down the effects of her degenerative muscular condition that attacks the nerves.

"Rowing is very important," she says. "It helps me tremendously. The illness affects the muscles – they can waste away – but this keeps them strong."

Tracey started indoor rowing in 2002 and has competed in indoor events in Boston, Amsterdam, Italy and Birmingham, picking up world and British medals along the way. She learned to ride in recent years, and although her balance is not good enough for the horse to go any faster than walking pace, she has competed in dressage competitions.

She said: "I started riding ten years ago – it was very scary at the time. When I'm in the chair I control my body with side panels that keep me inside it.

"When I first went riding I did not know if I would be able to stay on the horse, but I ride just like anyone else. I've been lucky because the horses I've been riding tend to be quite big and have slow movements, so if I lose my balance I can usually regain it quite quickly."

Tracey, who has rowed more than seven million miles since her husband introduced her to the sport, will be trying to break her personal best at the Celtic Manor Hotel in Newport, Wales, today and tomorrow.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

At the same time Wullie, who is also his wife's full-time carer, will be one of 30 rowing enthusiasts attempting to be the first in the UK to complete 100km in 24 hours.

He said: "This will be a tough challenge but Tracey sets us all an incredible example. She'll be there, leading and inspiring everyone who's taking part.

"Because Tracey's condition is so uncommon, very little is known about it. As a result there's very little treatment for it, and unfortunately no cure.

"If we can help raise funds to help find a cure and help Muirfield riding school continue to provide its excellent services to the disabled, I hope we'll have done our part."


ATAXIA means "absence of order" and people who suffer from the condition have problems with their co-ordination.

This is because the disorder affects parts of the nervous system that normally control co-ordination and balance.

Ataxia is the principal symptom of a group of neurological disorders called the cerebellar ataxia. Most are progressive and ataxia is degenerative, which means it gets worse over time. It may also be a symptom of other conditions such as multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy.

There are many different types of cerebellar ataxia, some of which are inherited, and the most common is Friedreich's ataxia.