Rapid rise to international competition
Representing their country is undoubtedly a career pinnacle for many athletes and for Lincolnshire woman Tori Jones pulling on the GB kit has been a dream come true.
The thirty-six-year-old who hails from Spalding has recently returned from Bosnia, where she competed in the rafting European Championships as part of the GBR2 ladies team.
The squad, which finished a very respectable ninth place in its first outing on the international stage, draws its members from the Red Rose Rafting Group, formed back in 2009 by a group of friends who simply enjoy outdoor activities and pursuits and who wanted to train and participate together.
There are currently twelve members in all, with Tori and another rafter Joanne Clarke, of Hull, the only ones living in Lincolnshire and north Lincolnshire, while the rest are based in the north-east.
“We were so pleased with our result,” said former Spalding High School student Tori, who has been a water sports enthusiast from an early age.
“Three of us were ill prior to the competition, so to do so well despite this, well, we’re just so proud of ourselves.
“We went out there with realistic expectations, but to get ahead of some of the other teams was really great, especially with there being such high standards.
“The GBR1 ladies team won the gold medal in the end, which was great, we know them quite well so it was good to be able to share their success with them, and our own.
”I’ve always been into water sports, and previously did a lot of canoeing and kayaking. After university I worked for the adventure holiday company PGL and that’s where I met a lot of my teammates – initially it was a mixed team, that was about ten years ago.”
The Red Rose Rafters qualified for the European competition back in February this year after finishing second at the British Rafting Selection held at Lee Valley, in Hertfordshire.
The competition – like all the rafting events the group competes in – included four gruelling elements: sprint, head-to-head, slalom and endurance, which all had aspects of flat and white water to negotiate.
Tori and her teammates – captain Jess Evans, Sarah-Jayne Evans, Alison St John-Claire, Molly McKenzie and Bex Faragher – have previously taken part in many competitions held by British Rafting as well as training with past national teams, but had to ‘up’ their regime in the run-up to the European competition which took place at the end of May.
“We had to put in lots of extra training and tried to get together as much as possible, although with us spread across the north of the country, it can often be quite difficult to get everyone in the same place at once,” said Tori, who works as a white goods engineer for British Gas in Peterborough.
“It was a self-funded competition too, so we also had to do some fundraising and try and find some sponsors, because to go out there cost around £600 each – that’s for things like travel, accommodation and equipment.
“Thankfully it all came together and we headed out there with the realistic intention of performing as well as we could, against some very good opposition.”
Ten teams competed in the ladies rafting contest in Banja Luka, on the Vbras River, a fast mountain river which has several white water sections and pool drops, while the accommodation was on a nearby campsite.
Recalling the contest, Tori said: “The head-to-head really is a battle, it’s a case of just going as fast as you can, and paddling as hard as you can, people really do get carried away out there, it can be quite furious. Ours was against Denmark, they’re a really good team and unfortunately we lost.
“Next came the rapid, it’s a 100m section of the river and you just have to race through it. The one we faced in Bosnia was probably the biggest, toughest we’ve ever been up against – it just hit us like a hammer.
“As you go through it you just lose sight of everyone else in the raft; if our feet weren’t locked in, we would all have been washed out.
“We lost our head-to-head, but we managed eighth place in the slalom which was held at night. It was very strange coming down there, but also very atmospheric due to the lighting. And then we managed to hold our ninth position overall in the endurance.
“For all of the hard work involved, it was so much fun and a great experience.”
As well as competing at the top level, Tori also gained an insight into another country and its culture, although she admits the language barrier made things difficult when it came to things like ordering food.
Now all the celebrations are over, it’s back reality for the Red Rose Rafters, who have more competitions on home soil to concentrate on before trying to hold onto their GBR2 ranking and win a place at next year’s European competition.
“This was our first event on the international stage, and for that it will always be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – hopefully we’ll get there again though,” said Tori.
“Rafting is exciting and an adrenaline-fuelled sport, but I’ve been doing it for so long now, for me it’s all about the team. With all the hard work it’s taken to become GBR2 we now want to try and keep hold of the ranking – that’s our long-term aim.”
The Red Rose Rafters are still seeking sponsors and donations for the ongoing costs of kit, equipment and travel expenses and would love to hear from anyone interested in backing them.
* For more information about the group and how to contact it visit its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/RedRoseRapidsRafting