By the Atlantic Grappler, aka jiu-jitsu black belt and former Royal Marines Commando Mike Bates
My sons were fighting for their lives from the minute they were born. My eldest was five weeks premature and my youngest was 11 weeks early. It is hard to explain how tough it is to see your babies with tubes coming out of them, not knowing if they are going to make it through the night.
Both of my sons received specialist treatment from the amazing staff at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI). We will always be grateful for everything they did and it is no exaggeration to say that without their help our youngest son would not be here.
Sadly we saw other families who were not so lucky, whose children could not be saved. We want to do everything we can to make sure that medical staff have all the equipment they need to care for premature babies when they are brought to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit.
When we were in and out of hospital with our boys we realised that the budgets are just not there to get the equipment that a hospital of this size needs. LGI, for example, did not have an incubator for twins. Twins are generally born premature, and having an incubator where they can be kept together is vital, but they cost around £35,000.
Thankfully the LGI does now have an incubator for twins. But these funding issues made me realise I had to do something big to raise money. In December 2022 I will row solo across the Atlantic Ocean, as part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. The row is more than 3,000 gruelling miles from La Gomera in the Canary Islands, all the way to English Harbour in Antigua.
There will be other boats taking part, but onboard I will be totally alone. It will just be me, two oars and a 24ft rowing boat. I know it will be a battle and sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion and salt sores are all part of ocean rowing. The solitude will also be a challenge, but it is a good time to reflect on the reasons why I am doing it.
My boat will also be carrying the REORG logo. This sponsorship means so much to me. My business, Gracie Barra Roundhay Leeds, supports REORG and we love spreading the word about the brilliant stuff they are doing to help veterans and others. So it means the world to me that REORG is now helping raise money to get better facilities for kids in Leeds.
Ten years on and my sons are doing really well. My youngest has even started competing in jiu-jitsu. Because they were born fighting, they both have this incredible determination that carries over into the rest of their lives. They were lucky to get such good treatment when they needed it most. With a bit of help, we can make sure that the same help is available for everyone.
Mike is raising money for the Leeds Hospitals Charity. He is a black belt under Prof. Victor Estima and runs Gracie Barra Roundhay Leeds. To donate to Mike's row please see his GoFundMe page here.
Mike was talking to Richard Holt.