16 Aug 2021

Teen rows 1000km, raises more than $20k for breast cancer

From Checkpoint, 6:24 pm on 16 August 2021

A teenager has completed a mammoth feat - rowing 1000 kilometres around the top of New Zealand. 

Nineteen-year-old Ben Mason has spent three weeks at sea raising more then $20,000 for the Breast Cancer Foundation. 

It's a cause close to his heart - after it took the life of his mum when he was just six years old. 

He spent 20 days battling high seas, gale force winds, heavy rain, blisters and back pain for this moment. 

"Oh it's awesome - definitely worth it" he said just moments after reaching the finish line. 

The journey started at Half Moon Bay up to Cape Brett and back again, covering about 50km a day to reach the grand total of 1000km.

The coastal rowing boat is far heavier than typical rowing boats. He admitted it was a huge challenge mentally and physically. 

"The hardest part was getting out of bed, so you wake up, the clock's reset. You've just got to go again; all it is is you wake up row for a few hours, eat row, eat row, and then sleep."

It was all for his mum, who died 13 years ago after losing her battle with breast cancer. 

"Sort of something to do in her honour to give back to the breast cancer community and help everyone that has to go through it because it's far too common and everyone thinks it's something that won't happen to me but it happens to the healthiest and best of people."

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Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Ben has rowed competitively for seven years and was part of the team that came sixth at the 2019 world champs in Tokyo.

He needed a new challenge this year.  

"There hasn't been that much going on; everything's been a bit negative so I was trying to think of a way I could do something to make a memeorable year in the right way."

A support boat followed him on the journey, with a few close family friends on board. 

They were even lucky enough to see dolphins and whales along the way. 

Dad Ted earnt the role of number one supporter as soon as Ben dreamt up the idea. 

"I don't think I had a decision; I was just told I had to."

He said it had been a fulltime job. 

"Obviously weather forecast - managing that and looking at the navigation; making sure that we found the best water for Ben and then it was very much just cooking him a big breakfast, big lunch, and then another big feed before dinner keeping him full of food to keep him going."

Ted was sure his late wife, Sonia, would be beaming with pride today. 

"She'd be very proud, [he] achieved all expectations and to do something like this and we've also got Ben's Poppa who's struggling with cancer at the moment and we've had other family memebers who've passed away from cancer, but particularly Sonia his mum would be extremely proud of what he's achieved." 

There to meet them were supporters from Breast Cancer New Zealand with some cupcakes to help them celebrate. 

Chief executive Ahleen Rayner said the funds would reap benefits. 

"Those funds will go to help education and awareness, advancing our treatment and also supporting our patients who are going through treatment pathways."

She told Checkpoint  the biggest benefit was the awareness raised for women to get checked. 

"It's really important. Nine women a day are diagnosed with breast cancer so raising that awareness keeping that education going, knowing your signs and symptoms; going for mammograms is critically important."

A few days off celebrating with family were on the cards for Ben, before he was keen to get back into racing in the next few weeks.