Geoff Holt has been in a wheelchair since the age of 18, but hasn’t let this hold him back. In 2007 he became the first quadriplegic to sail solo around Britain, and in 2009/2010 sailed solo across the Atlantic, again the first quadriplegic to do so. He’s married to Elaine with a son Timothy, and lives on the south coast of England.

Geoff and I met through Ian Clover (who has his own story), a yachtsman and instructor who I met in Antigua in 2006 after I’d finished rowing the Atlantic. Ian went on to be Geoff’s shore manager for the round-GB challenge.

We also both know Sarah Outen. She spent time on Geoff’s support team for the round-GB voyage, and at the time of this recording had just finished rowing the mid-Pacific route to the Aleutian Islands off Alaska, providing further evidence for my theory that everyone is one degree of separation from an ocean rower.

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Believing in Yourself

Geoff celebrates the completion of his round-GB challenge
Geoff celebrates the completion of his round-GB challenge

“Ultimately you have to believe in yourself… if you in your heart don’t believe it, you’re never going to succeed” (Geoff Holt)

Like Geoff, I too have felt the sting of defeat, and the pain and indignation of being pilloried online. Even if your humiliations have been less public than his or mine, we’ve all been there. It’s part of being human. And the more you step outside the ordinary and push the boundaries, the more likely you are to fail.

How do you come back from defeat? Where do you find the strength to carry on?

I can’t answer this any better than Theodore Roosevelt. This is the quote that I sent to Geoff just after his moment of humiliation, as he mentions in the podcast.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again;”

Hold on, let’s pause there a moment. Erring and coming short “again and again”? Who would be so stupidly stubborn as to keep trying again and again? Not Homer Simpson: “Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.” But there again, hopefully Homer Simpson is not your role model.

How about Thomas Edison – the guy who invented the lightbulb? He said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And evidently he managed to find a few ways that did work too – he held a world-record-setting 1,093 patents. Failing a lot leads to learning a lot, which leads to succeeding. Eventually.

Back to Teddy Roosevelt…

“because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

As Geoff says, “When you get to [that port], that moment you can’t put into words. Money couldn’t buy it.” Totally.

And I’d like to add that the size of the sense of achievement is directly proportionate to the size of the effort it has taken to get there. To dare, to strive, to struggle and eventually succeed, is the most amazing feeling in the world. So don’t be a cold and timid soul. Or Homer Simpson. Be the doer of great deeds.


Geoff with his wife Elaine
Geoff with his wife Elaine

P.S. I loved this interview so much that it was very difficult to pick out just one theme to blog about. So here are some other classic Geoffisms that I just couldn’t leave out, offered here for your inspiration and edification.

“Your motivation should never be for proving other people wrong, it should be for proving yourself right.”

“My life has taken a direction that I could not have foreseen – and look at the wondrous things that have come from it.”

“Shut up, bite your lip, and crack on.”


Show Notes

2:10 Roz’s confession: how her life dramatically intersected with Geoff’s in 2007 – the longest 35 seconds of his life

7:00 On coming back from disaster and keyboard warriors

8:40 The successful round-GB voyage

9:30 How Geoff was paralysed (with a brief bureaucratic interruption)

13:40 Getting back in the saddle (boat)

14:40 Sailability

15:20 “Life is a challenge for us all anyway and there are different degrees of challenges”

16:25 “It’s not the critic who counts”

18:40 Long days on the round-GB voyage

21:20 Geoff’s compulsion to over-perform, no excuses

22:45 The Atlantic voyage and the challenges of personal care at sea

28:20 The beauty of the ocean

30:30 Celebrating 25 years of being in a wheelchair

31:30 Turning disability into a force for good – Wetwheels the powerboat

25:40 The next project: sailing solo around the world



Geoff Holt
The book: Walking on Water: A Voyage Around Britain and Through Life


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