FORMER rugby players are preparing to swap turf for surf.
Stuart Mace and Marie O’Riley will be competing together in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race which starts on September 1 from St Katharine Docks in London.
The Clipper Race is one of the toughest endurance challenges on the planet and the only event of its type that enables
people from all walks of life, regardless of previous sailing experience, to pit themselves against the world’s oceans as they compete on 11 evenly matched racing yachts.
Stuart, a 57-year-old company director, will be racing the entire 40,000 mile around the globe, with 54-year-old sales and marketing consultant Marie joining for the last of eight legs across the North Atlantic from New York via Bermuda.
Both will return to London next July as fully-fledged ocean racers.
It was not until both Marie and Stuart joined the Clipper 2019-20 Race Crew Facebook group they realised there would be a familiar face on board.
Stuart said: “I played rugby at Leamington Rugby Club with Marie’s brother, and her father played a big role at the club too. Marie supported the club at home games. I only realised she was also taking part when I logged onto the Facebook group.”
Marie has been connected with the club since an early age.
She said: “My late father John Oxenbould was chairman of Leamington RFC for many years so my brother and I would spend every Saturday during the rugby season at the club playing with our friends.
“I always fancied playing rugby but in those days girls didn’t play mini rugby like they do today. In my early thirties I moved back to Leamington after living and working in Oxford and I ended up playing for the 2nd team at Old Leamingtonians RFC.”
Stuart had been following the Clipper Race since his brother-in-law took part in 2013-14, and he is now gearing up to take part in the entire circumnavigation.
For Marie, it was a chance encounter with a former crew member while visiting family that ignited her Clipper Race ambitions.
Both Stuart and Marie had minimal sailing experience prior to signing up for the race but have been undergoing some tough training.
Marie said: “Training has been exhilarating, frustrating, fun, hard work, amazing. I’ve loved every second of it – baring a couple of episodes of seasickness which fortunately I’ve got over quickly. The training skippers and mates are brilliant and very patient with novices like me.”
Family and friends are both supporting the pair.
Stuart said: “My family and friends think I am mad but amazed by it all at the same time.”
And Marie’s family plan to jet out to cheer her on during the final leg.
“My family hopes to fly out to see me off in New York. The race leaves Bermuda on the morning of my 55th birthday which I look forward to celebrating with a Guinness. I can’t wait to motor up the Thames into London where my family and friends will be coming to watch our homecoming.”