This month I set off to row 3,600 miles across the Indian Ocean. In history, there have only been four successful attempts by a rowing pair. But the question I am asked most often is, 'why'? The answer is, 'because I can'! But of course like most things in life, it's not quite as simple as that. Let me explain.
At the age of seven I was diagnosed with epilepsy. For most of my life I had a seizure once every 18 months or so. Then about 10 years ago things went haywire: I started having up to 20 seizures a day. After a huge amount of work from my doctors and trying lots of different medication, I am now at a point where, on average, I have a seizure a week.
So what is life like with epilepsy? For me the hardest thing isn't the epilepsy itself, it's the lack of understanding of the condition in the wider community. On more than one occasion I have come round from a seizure surrounded by a crowd of strangers pointing and laughing. The only way to change this is to raise awareness of the condition and the numerous stigmas that surround it. The key is to educate people. Would you know what to do if you came across someone having a seizure?
Why the challenge?
I had been thinking about taking on a challenge for a while, although if I'm honest, I hadn't thought about anything on this scale. On a personal level, I was in a bad place. My epilepsy had settled down to where it is now, but I was stuck in a rut. I was attempting to get back into work and not having any luck. Was it because I was disclosing that I suffered from epilepsy and how often I had a seizure?
I didn't give up. Eventually, I found an employer who understood my condition and its implications in the workplace. We had an in-depth chat to understand my personal needs and as a result I'm still there and love my job. A massive part of my decision not to throw in the towel was an inspirational talk I attended, given by my now rowing partner James Ketchell. He challenged me to make the next step. First I sorted my life out. Now came the big stuff: 'Nothing's Impossible' was born.
You can achieve anything when you put your mind to it. It's just a question of reaching that next hurdle and getting over it. That's why, when I'm asked why I want to row an ocean, the answer is, 'because I can'. I got fed up being told 'I couldn't do this' or 'I couldn't do that' because I have epilepsy. Actually, I can. I have found a way of making it safe, so I'm going ahead.
But believe it or not, I wasn't always this positive. Although I have always been a fighter (I beat cancer when I was 19), what has really helped me is the resilience I have developed over the last 10 years as a Scout Leader.
Scouting has helped me through all of my toughest times. It's a place where I have always been welcomed and where my skills are truly valued. I can come and help when I'm well enough and when I can't it's never a problem.
Volunteering for the Scouts has really helped me grow as a person. I can honestly say that the row would not be happening if it wasn't for Scouting; not because of any physical reason but because I would not be a person that says 'I can'!
One of the most rewarding aspects for me is seeing how Scouting benefits young people. Many of them have personal challenges to overcome just like me. I think of myself at their age and wonder what I would be like now if someone had said to me 'it's not about what you can't do but what you can'. This empowerment, instilling self-belief and encouraging positivity about the future is what Scouting offers young people across the UK.
How you can help
We are aiming to break the record for the crossing by a pair which currently stands at 85d 2h 05min. We will be blogging and tweeting from the Indian Ocean you can follow us at www.nothings-impossible.co.uk @ashandlouuk.
To donate £5 in support of our chosen charities, The Scout Association, Young Epilepsy and The Eliphar Foundation, text ROW to 70025.