Red Rose Rafters represent Great Britain at the European championships

Red Rose Rafters

Red Rose Rafters - Credit: not Archant

Six Lancashire women have taken on the world on the wild waters of a Bosnian river. Words by Kate Chapman

Red Rose Rafters (from left) - Tori Callaby, Bex Faragher, Alison St John Clare, Molly McKenzie , S

Red Rose Rafters (from left) - Tori Callaby, Bex Faragher, Alison St John Clare, Molly McKenzie , Sarah-Jayne Evans and Jess Evans - Credit: not Archant

it’s probably not every woman’s dream to shoot the rapids on a boiling river armed only with a paddle, but for Bacup’s Jess Evans and her team mates it is part of a remarkable journey to take on the world’s best. Jess was captain of the Red Rose Rafters who competed as the GBR2 ladies team in the European White Water Rafting Championships in Bosnia.

The 29-year-old and her pals – including her big sister Sarah-Jayne Evans, a veterinary nurse, Bex Faragher, a development instructor for the Prince’s Trust, Alison St John Clare, an outdoor instructor, civil engineering lecturer Molly McKenzie and Tori Callaby, a British Gas engineer – are the only female white water rafting team in the north west.

They finished a very respectable ninth place in their first outing on the international stage and were second at the British Rafting Selection at Lee Valley in Hertfordshire, qualifying them to take the GBR2 spot.

‘Bosnia was our first time representing Great Britain, so it was pretty special,’ said Jess. ‘For me it was all about going out there for the experience.

‘We had realistic expectations, as there were a lot of stronger teams, and we were really happy with how things ended up.’

The competition – like all the rafting events – included four gruelling elements of sprint, head to head, slalom and endurance, which all had aspects of flat and white water to negotiate.

Red Rose Rafters at the Euros

Red Rose Rafters at the Euros - Credit: not Archant

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Ten female teams competed at Banja Luka, on the Vbras, a fast mountain river which has several white water sections and pool drops, along with the Red Rose’s fellow countrywomen GBR1 who won gold. Separate events were held for men, masters and U21s and U23s.

‘We’d always joked if we do this properly we could represent Great Britain, but before February we’d always been placed third in competitions. That’s probably because we didn’t always get out and practice enough though,’ said Jess, an outdoor instructor who has always been a keen sportswoman.

‘Because we are all spread out across Lancashire, the north west and a little further afield it can be difficult getting everyone together for training but it all came right in February. Before we went to Bosnia we spent a lot of time chasing rapids down the river or going for speed – going as quickly as we could, while other days it was endurance exercises.

‘The section of river we competed on in Bosnia was one of the biggest we’d faced and the sense of occasion was massive. As we sat on the start line, all we could hear was “Red Rose” being shouted and cheered, and “Come on Red Rose” chants. It was amazing.’

The Red Rose team lost its head to head event – a furious battle where each team just has to paddle as fast as it can – against Denmark, and then had to contend with a 100m section of giant rapids, which members say was the biggest they’d come up against.

Next came the slalom, held at night, where the team finished eighth, and then the endurance where they managed to hold on to their overall ninth place.

‘Rafting gives you a great high,’ Jess added. ‘At the top of the slalom run there was a section which we managed to get through better than the majority of other teams. When you make it across that river there’s a huge sense of relief – all that training you’ve put in and then it finally pays off. And with their being six of you in it together, there’s a lot of camaraderie too.’

The Red Rose Rafters were formed back in 2009 by a group of male and female friends and colleagues who enjoyed outdoor activities and pursuits, and who wanted to train and participate together.

Today they have 12 female members and are always keen to welcome new paddlers, including those who have never tried rafting before.

‘I’ve always loved sports, I started playing ball sports, and just moved on from there, picking up canoeing and kayaking when I was about 17 or 18,’ Jess said.

‘A group of us who were friends and who’d worked together decided to take up rafting and we went to an organised competition. We entered three teams. It was a bit of a laugh to start with – things started getting serious when we qualified to represent Great Britain.’

The Red Rose Rafters now have more competitions on home soil to concentrate on before trying to hold onto their GBR2 ranking and win a place at the next European competition.

On top of their day jobs, family commitments and training, the group also has to raise money and sponsorship to enable them to compete, pay for kit, equipment and travel expenses.

‘We’ve done quite well with funding this year’s European Championships,’ Jess added. ‘GB selection is held every two years, so for now the long term aim for us is keep building on what we’ve already achieved and help raise the profile of this great sport.’ w

For more information about the Red Rose Rafters and its progress visit the group’s Facebook page