Journal / Phenomenal Women

Phenomenal Women: Vivienne Barclay

8 Mar, 2024

‘There’s a difference between letting go and giving up so I remind myself that occupying the space of possibility is where all the magic happens.’ Meet Viv. On a mission to row across the Atlantic.

8 Mar, 2024

If everything goes to plan, later this year Vivienne Barclay will become the world’s oldest women to row solo across the Atlantic. The World's Toughest Row starts from La Gomera and finishes in Antigua, and will take around 70 days. If that wasn’t impressive enough, Viv is doing it all to raise much needed funds for menopause research.

So it felt fitting to share her story here within the pages of our Phenomenal Women Journal.

Q. First, Viv. Tell me what motivated you to take on such a big challenge and why it’s important to be doing it to support greater research into menopause too?

I have always had an adventurous spirit.

It all started with a mile-long walk to my grandmother’s house in a little village in North Yorkshire. Leaving the garden, I passed through the mill yard where my dad worked, up the path and over the railway bridge, across a road and into the village past the big oak and the fountain and knocked on my grandma’s back door. The look of astonishment on her face was confusing to me.

‘How’ve you got here?’

Grandma was originally from the North East so imagine Steph McGovern asking this. If I could draw the accent, the lilt of down then up, up and up would look like a big tick!

‘I’ve walked here, grandma, I’ve come to see you.’

‘Where’s your mum?’

‘At home.’

All fairly unremarkable - except it was 1968 and I was 3 years old.

Since then, I’ve been as far east as Japan, as far west as California, as far south as the tip of Argentina and as far north as the Arctic Circle. But none of my adventures compare to what I’m about to undertake.

In December this year, I’ll be rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic, solo, to raise money for menopause. At 59, I’ll be the oldest woman to row any ocean, ever.

Q. What made you choose this particular challenge?

In 2015, I watched four mums from York set off on a 3,000 mile journey across the Atlantic and row themselves into the record books. The Yorkshire Rows were, until this year, the oldest female foursome to row any ocean. When I watched them, something went ‘Ga-doiiinngg!’ in my head and I knew I wanted to do the same and – most importantly, I knew I could.

I don’t know how I knew I was capable as, at the time, menopause was in full-swing and I was looking after my mum, who had Alzheimer’s. I was doing the school run, helping my dad with my mum’s care and then vegging on the sofa with Netflix and red wine.

It wasn’t living, it was existing. The alcohol numbed the experience of extremely debilitating brain fog, mood swings, hot flushes, disturbed sleep – the list goes on. The Yorkshire Rows gave me something to hang on to; a point of adventurous focus that I kind of meandered towards, knowing I could do it and questioning that certainty at the same time. But that all went fuzzy for a while after my mum died at the end of 2017.

For the first 9 months of 2018, let’s just say I wasn’t at my best. By the October, I was rock bottom but my inner knowing steered me towards doing something creative to help me get out of my head and find some relief.

By chance I saw a woman making beeswax wraps online and I decided to give it a go. With very little money I bought some beeswax, some resin, some coconut oil and a couple of meters of cotton fabric and had a go. You know when something turns out well right from the start? It doesn’t happen often but this was one of those times. I gifted wraps to friends and they encouraged me to sell them. So I did. I love a play on words and the name Beehemian Wrapzody came to me one day as I was daydreaming. It made me smile. I get lots of lovely comments about it too and, having gone full time with making wraps in 2019, the business and products has evolved. I’m still here 5 years later and loving it. There’s an alternative to that icky feeling we get when we wrestle with a roll of cling-film and I love the feeling that what I do is making a difference.

Frank Rothwell, owner of Oldham Football Club and celebrity mates with fellow football club owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob MacElhenney, reignited my interest in the Atlantic Challenge in 2021 when he became the oldest man to row it at 70.

The challenge is a race but I won’t be racing. All I want to do is complete the journey from La Gomera in The Canaries to English Harbour in Antigua safely – a distance of 3,000 miles. I’m aiming to do that in 70 days from the race start on 12th December. That will mean landing on the other side on the 20th February 2025, a significant date as my dear old mum would have been 90.

I’ve chosen to use the row to raise funds for The Menopause Charity. No one has done anything quite so ‘out there’ before for the charity and I think if you want to make an impact and raise a significant amount then you have to go large.

I also think that there’s so much more research needed for menopause (including the links with dementia) and SO much more education. Had I known even the little that I do now during the height of my symptoms, I know I would have reached out for help sooner.

Raising awareness and broadening the conversation needs money and by raising money for the charity, I feel like I’m making a difference by supporting women to support other women. By the time my two daughters reach menopause in around 20 years, hopefully the landscape will have changed even more and to think I may have played a small part in helping that happen is exciting for me.

We are capable of so much more than we think at any time of life but especially now because of all we’ve learned.

Q. What has helped you in navigating midlife well?

HRT has been a godsend for me. I know it’s not for everyone but to row the Atlantic, I wanted to be in the best shape, mentally and physically, as possible. Even though I consider myself post-menopausal now, I approached my doctor about it. Until I started with the patches, I didn’t realise how many residual symptoms I was still having. Brain fog, anxiety, moods, weight gain, hair loss, occasional hot flushes and not sleeping!

Not all of them have cleared up fully but my experience overall is like night and day.

Do talk to your doctor or seek advice from a menopause specialist and/or reach out to one of the charitable organisations that specialise in menopause.

Q. Is there any other advice you’d give to someone navigating their second spring?

There’s a difference between letting go and giving up so I remind myself that occupying the space of possibility is where all the magic happens.

I’ve also learned that the Universe loves a race to the finish and last minute plot twists! It’s happened before, I’m certain it can happen again.

Q. And, what can we do as a community to further support you?

The incredible privilege of taking part comes at a cost of £120,000. This covers all the safety measures Atlantic Campaigns enforce, the cost of the boat, the training, equipment, food, water and comms. I have put my own money towards this challenge and have secured 11 businesses to sponsor me so far. Members of the public have contributed to my campaign funds too, all of which amounts to £60,302 raised so far.

I am doing everything I can to raise at least an additional £15,000 by the 31st March. If you can support me, I’d be very grateful. As an individual or as a business sponsor. Details are all below!

Thank you Viv - for all you are about to do!


To learn more about Viv and to track her adventure click HERE

To learn more about the World’s Toughest Row click HERE 

And to help Viv reach her fundraising target click on her Go Fund Me page now. 

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