When Robin Buttery gets tired, or cold, or wet the shaking produced by the Parkinson's disease he suffers gets worse. So one has to wonder why he is about to undertake a 10-week test of endurance that will make him tired, cold and wet, most of the time.
The answer lies in the work of scientists at Oxford Brookes University who will closely monitor the response of Mr Buttery’s body as he rows 3,600 nautical miles across the Indian Ocean.
Their observations could lead to a significant breakthrough in the way Parkinson’s is assessed and treated.
It is that thought that will keep Mr Buttery motivated as he sets off from the coast of Western Australia in June with three other rowers, in an attempt to beat the current world speed for the crossing to Mauritius, which stands at 71 days. “I don’t tend to wobble about that much normally,” said the 45-year-old father of one, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s two years ago.
“But humidity, strenuous exercise and fear can all bring it on - in fact exactly the sort of situation I will find myself in. “It will allow researchers to examine how my body reacts when things get ugly.”
Mr Buttery will be joined on his journey, which marks 200-years since the publication of James Parkinson’s essay on the disease, by skipper Billy Taylor and fellow rowers Barry Hayes and James Plumley.
Mr Taylor, 44, said: “Rowing the Indian Ocean is no easy feat at the best of times - the physical and mental challenge will be enormous for all of us.
For Robin, the row will be that much harder. He’s already a winner in my books.”
Scientists will use an on-board camera to monitor in minute detail Mr Buttery’s reaction to conditions around him and the effort he will make during the ocean crossing.
They will compare this to the results of a detailed medical examination of the crew set off and after they arrive, in order to understand whether Parkinson’s is metabolic as well as a neurological disorder, Professor Helen Dawes, who leads the Movement Science Group at the Oxford Brookes, said: “Anyone involved in sport will know that motor skills and fitness improve with practice and that your movement is affected when you are tired.
“We will monitor motor skill changes, alongside physiological and emotional responses. It’s an important piece of research that will help us better understand how the metabolic, cardiovascular and neuro-muscular systems cope and adapt to prolonged endurance activity.”
Less than 20 crews have successfully completed the crossing and there have been many more failed attempts.
The men - who are also aiming to raise £100,000 for young onset Parkinson’s research - will have no support team and will take it it in turns to row two hours on, two hours off, day and night.
On board will be a three-month supply of freeze-dried food packages and a desalinator to turn seawater into drinking water. The boat will also be fitted with a tracker so the crew’s progress can be followed online.
It will also be live-streamed to schools around the UK, allowing children to chat to them on subjects such as geography, oceanography and marine conservation.
Mr Buttery, a technical assistant at De Montfort University, helping students realise product, furniture and architectural designs, said: “I want to inspire others and let them know that no matter what life throws at them, nothing should hold them back.”
He knows that he may not himself benefit from any medical breakthrough that comes out of his efforts, but that will not stop him.
“I think I have a duty to try and improve things through research to help us all,” he said. “Even if it doesn’t come in time to help me.”