Photograph © Lizzie Carr
Meet Lizzie. Cancer survivor and solo paddle boarder
Cancer survivor Lizzie Carr, has not only recently become the first women to solo paddle board across the English Channel, but she's also tackling environmental issues by raising awareness of plastic pollution found in our water ways and oceans.
Thanks for chatting to me Lizzie. Can you tell me about your early travels and why you chose eco-adventures?
I really wanted to get off the beaten track. I wanted to go on an adventure, to places that seemed almost mystical to me, like Mongolia, China and Siberia. All the places that I had read about, but never imagined that I would ever get to visit. It gave me an awareness and an appreciation of how other people lived. I looked upon it as a 10 month career break. At the time, it never crossed my mind that I could travel full time.
SEE ALSO: Why I'm walking from Rotterdam to Istanbul
When did you receive your diagnosis?
Whilst I was away travelling, I was ill and there were some signs that in hindsight, were quite obvious, but at the time, I didn’t realise. But when you’re in your mid twenties, you think you’re invincible. When I got back I had some tests, then everything seemed to happen very quickly.
That was four years ago, and looking back, I actually feel very lucky, and blessed to have had the experience because my diagnosis changed my outlook on life, and made me evaluate my life and make some decisions that I would never have had the courage to make otherwise. Our experiences in life define us and shape us, and make us resilient.
What did you do when you recovered?
I went back to my old job and stayed for another year and a half. Because everything had been shaken up, I craved stability and familiarity. But once the dust had settled, I was able to sit back and think about things more objectively. I had been lucky enough to have been given a second chance, whereas, some of the women on my ward didn’t make it. I realised that I was wasting my life by not doing something I was passionate about.
How did you get into Paddle Boarding?
After my radiotherapy treatment had finished, I went to the Isles of Scilly with my Dad, which is such a beautiful place. If there’s one place you need to go, when you’re not feeling you’re best, it’s there. As we were sitting on the beach one day, I spotted a paddle boarder in the bay, and I said to my Dad ‘I reckon I could do that.’ It didn’t look easy but it did look very calming. So I wandered over to the sailing club, and to my surprise, they let me borrow a board and I had a go. It was a great way to get my fitness back as it’s a low impact full body workout. It was also a great mental workout too, as it’s almost meditative and very therapeutic, which at the time, was just what I needed.
At first you really need to zone in, and concentrate, but once you’re into it, it’s very repetitive and soothing. I enjoyed the quiet too. You’re away from the noise of everyday life. When I was in the middle of the English Channel, I stopped for a moment and it was just silence, apart from the sound of the water. Which is quite magical really.
How did you get into the issue of plastic pollution on waterways?
The adventure side of it came first. I’ve always had a passion for trying new things and exploring new places. As I was paddle boarding around the UK’s waterways, I realised what a huge issue this is. Up until then, I had been conscious of the environment, but like many others didn’t think it was down to me to do anything about it as I was already doing my small part. But being on the water, I realised how rife the problem is. It was very disheartening.
The turning point for me, was when I was paddling along the Regents Canal, and came across a Coot’s nest which was made up primarily of plastic. There were chicks in there and it really upset me. It’s one thing for me, seeing these poor birds living like this, but it’s a completely separate issue for them. The marine life being affected, they can’t do anything about it. But we can. That’s when I began to think about how I can make a difference. I did some research and found out that 80% of marine debris comes from inland resources. Which is staggering. I think it’s great that we talk about a global environmental crisis, but we also need to bring it down to a local level, and how our actions have a direct impact. There are small changes that we can all make. If we think about how much single use plastic we all use (packaging, bottled water, takeout coffee), and made changes such as keeping a refillable water bottle or coffee cup, even those small changes can have a huge impact.
Tell me about your time paddle boarding around the UK’s water ways.
I wanted to document the state of our water ways. I photographed every bit of plastic that I found across the 400mile water way network, as I wanted to highlight the amount of debris that will ultimately end up in our oceans.
It took me 22 days. I camped along the way then got on my board first thing in the morning. I managed to have a couple of showers, The Canal River Trust have shower facilities along the waterways, so by the time I got to Manchester, after two and a half weeks, I got to have a shower!
You’ve recently become the first woman to solo paddle board across the English Channel. How did that come about?
This was an extension of my map that I had began plotting. A map of the worst affected areas of the UK’s waterways, when it comes to pollution. This pollution ultimately ends up in our oceans, and when it gets there, it doesn’t degrade, it breaks down and fragments. So as well as paddle boarding the English Channel, I also collected pieces of plastic, which I am currently analysing in a lab, so we can start to understand what is present in our oceans, and making the connection with our actions at home. For example, in some of my samples, there seems to be microbeads (which are present in beauty products like exfoliators and face creams) and these tiny beads are ingested by marine life, who mistake it for food, and they eat so much, that they can’t digest it and end up starving to death.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just launched a Plastic Patrol App on the App store. The concept is that people can get involved by recording plastic that they find in their local area, so that we can start to create a big picture of the overall problem. It works internationally too so we can hopefully begin to get a worldwide view.
I’m also organising a series of clean ups across the UK. It’s all completely free, and in return for helping pick up plastic, I’ll be bringing my paddle board along so people can have a free paddle boarding lesson. You can register here.
Thank you so much Lizzie!