Among the lasting images of Sir Steve Redgrave is the picture of him drained and exhausted, telling people to shoot him if he climbed into a boat again. In the past few days, Rob Hulse has felt his pain.
Tomorrow the former Leeds United striker and seven others will row 54 miles across the English channel in aid of charity and in memory of a club employee taken by melanoma at the age of 32.
Hulse joined Leeds in the same week that Bruce Craven, their fitness coach, died and attended his funeral soon after. Craven’s passing and the good cause behind tomorrow’s challenge has kept Hulse going in the many hours of back-and-forward practice.
Rowing is, as even Redgrave conceded, a brutally exacting sport. “I’d don’t want anyone to shoot me,” Hulse jokes, “but I know where he was coming from. When tomorrow’s over I don’t ever want to see another rowing machine again.
“Part of me’s excited about tomorrow and part of me’s wondering what it’s really going to be like. We’ll be on the water for 10, 12 hours and we’re rowing across the widest part of the channel which is 54 miles in all.
“It’s daunting and a bit scary but it’s a great cause. I didn’t know Bruce but I signed for Leeds in the same week that he died. I didn’t know anywhere near enough about the illness until I got involved in this challenge so spreading the word and raising money is worth all the pain.”
The full team in the boat tomorrow will include Hulse, his old Leeds team-mate Richard Cresswell, Harvey Sharman – the club’s head physiotherapist – and Chris Short, United’s fitness coach during Neil Warnock’s reign as manager. Those four are half of a team completed by Campbell Watt, a sports massage therapist, and three experienced rowers – Giles Chalk, Lynne-Marie Welch and Anita Boessl.
The line-up has changed during the months of preparation. Goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown had planned to take part but spent most of the season recovering from a toe injury. Hulse says the current team have never rowed together before and have spent only two days practicing on water.
“It sounds quite worrying when you put it like that but we’ve all put the hours in at the gym,” he says. “Those Concept 2 rowers – honestly, they’re evil machines. I never used them when I was a player, or hardly at all, because they were such hard work. I think the longest stint I’ve done on one is three-and-a-half hours.
“But I retired from football last year and this challenge is one of the things that’s kept me out of the house. And when it comes to it, rowing across the channel is an amazing experience. When I was asked I said yes straight away.”
At £1.1m in 2005, Hulse is as expensive a signing as Leeds have made since their relegation from the Premier League in 2004. His signed on loan from West Bromwich Albion and spent one full season at Elland Road, the year in which Leeds reached the Championship play-off final.
A classy and intelligent forward, he retired last October having left QPR and been without a club for several months. “There are days when I miss the game but it was time for me to go,” he says.
“I’d fallen out of love with football because of injuries and a few other things and it had to happen eventually. I had a good career and the privilege of playing for clubs like Leeds, and I also had an exit strategy.”
Hulse’s plan after football was to become a physiotherapist. For the past year, he has been studying at Manchester Salford University and completed his first set of exams recently. A work placement has been delayed to allow him to row the channel.
“To be able to say that you’ve crossed the channel would be quite impressive,” Hulse says. “But this is really about raising awareness and raising money.
“I saw with Bruce what melanoma can do and it’s scary to think how little I knew about it. The more aware everyone is, the better.”
The Leeds United Channel Row team are raising money for the Myfanwy Townsend Melanoma Research Fund and launching a new initiative, the Outdoor Kids Sun Safety Code.
To make a donation, text LUFC64£10 to 70070 or visit http://www.justgiving.com/lufc-channelrowing.