John spent 15 years in the special forces, but nothing could have prepared him for 76 days alone on the Atlantic Ocean.
The 57-year-old former SAS soldier has been shot down in a helicopter, shot down in a plane and shot. He’s also been a kidnap for ransom hostage negotiator and worked in some of the worlds hotspots, but a solo 3,000-mile row in a 28-foot boat has been “his biggest challenge yet”.
The veteran from Fintry left La Gomera on December 12 2019 and has been on the oars for at least 16 hours a day ever since. He arrived in Antigua on Wednesday.
During his journey, he has battled sickness and illness which was so bad it caused convulsions, extreme conditions and near-constant electrical and steering issues.
He braved the Atlantic Ocean without any home comforts - not even a pillow - so he could push himself to his limit.
Moreover, John had to spend more than two months without his wife Jessica and four children, Lara (15), Hamish (13) Gretel (11) and Lochlann (4), who were all there to greet him in Antigua.
It was all to raise money for My Name’5 Doddie Foundation.
John, who now lives in Worcestershire and works as a consultant, had never rowed on water before he began training for his ocean odyssey.
The rower who borrowed Doddie Weir's "Mad Giraffe" nickname for the row, said: “This has been my biggest challenge, but also the most incredible experience of my life. I am so grateful to be back on land and see my family who I have missed so much. Speaking to them by satellite phone was a lifeline during my darkest moments.
“Memories of the sickness and struggle will fade with the passage of time and the sea could be terrifying, but I’ll always treasure the wildlife I witnessed, the sunrises and sunsets I saw and the clarity of thought I experienced.
“When the going got tough, and it did, many, many times, I just remembered why I started all this in the first place, because I was inspired by Doddie Weir and his indefatigable spirit in his battle with Motor Neurone Disease."
Rugby icon Doddie Weir, who has been capped 61 times by Scotland, revealed he was suffering from MND in 2017. In the years since, he launched My Name’5 Doddie Foundation to help fellow sufferers and to raise funds for further research into the, as yet, incurable disease.
The 6ft 6in lock was nicknamed the Mad Giraffe during his playing days by commentator Bill McLaren.
He said: “I couldn’t think of a better man to lend the 'Mad Giraffe' moniker. I’m completely in awe of John and have followed along with every stroke of his oar. I can’t wait to meet up with him once he’s back in Scotland so I can tell him for myself what a massive impact his efforts will have on our charitable foundation, and what an inspiration he has been to me."
Also greeting John at the finish line was Lachlan MacLean, the youngest of the three Edinburgh "Broar" brothers who became the fastest and youngest trio to row the Atlantic Ocean last month, also as part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.
The 21-year-old, who has since stayed out in Antigua to work on boats, said: “We wouldn’t have achieved our World Records without all the advice John gave us when we got to know each other in La Gomera before the race began.
“Given his SAS background, he has so much experience and with us all being Scots, we had a special bond.
“I’m absolutely blown away by what’s he’s achieved. It was hard enough taking on this challenge as part of a trio with my brothers, to do it alone with the multitude of technical and physical obstacles he’s overcome is something different entirely.”
John has already raised more than £80,000 for the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation and he hopes through events and donations to pass the £100,000 mark.
A number of businesses have supported John’s incredible charity effort; 2Circles, Solent Stevedores, Gill clothing, Erodex, Browns Advisory, Dave & Lil - Hairy Bikers, Logan Sports Marketing, ECL Civil Engineering, Level Peaks Associates, AKE International, GRC, Genius Brewing, Little Oaks Day Nursery, Flowers by Thea, Bristol Packet and Cheeky Panda.