Ed Smith: ‘My wife inspired people to follow their dreams’

PUBLISHED: 12:53 11 September 2020 | UPDATED: 12:57 11 September 2020

The Anna Victorious crew  Photo: Adam Green

The Anna Victorious crew Photo: Adam Green

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Thatcham man rowing across the Atlantic in memory of his bride, who died 10 days after their wedding

Wedding

Photo: Claire Juliette PhotographyWedding Photo: Claire Juliette Photography

Ed Smith, from Thatcham, will be rowing across the Atlantic in memory of his brave wife, Anna, keeping her legacy alive for their young daughter

“Anna and I met on a Firearms Police course in 2010,” says Ed. “It was serious from the start, and we moved in together three years later, in a lovely little Berkshire village called Stanford Dingley. We spent our time together going for countryside walks and exploring local pubs.

“We moved to a bigger place in Thatcham in 2015, and Anna left the police and got a new job in IT recruitment, while I transferred to the Metropolitan Police. Shortly afterwards, our daughter, Alba, was born. Everything was perfect, or so I thought.”

In May 2017, Anna began to complain of tummy pains. “She never moaned about anything, so I knew something wasn’t right,” says Ed. “She went for a check-up and had some scans, and that’s when the doctors found a shadow on her liver.”

Taking the boat out

Photo: Maritime Filming UKTaking the boat out Photo: Maritime Filming UK

At just 37 years old, new mum Anna was diagnosed with bowel cancer, which had spread to her liver and lungs.

“The doctors said she had four years to live. We were devastated,” says Ed. “But even then Anna was so brave. ‘At least I’ll get to see Alba go to school,’ she told me.”

At that point, Alba was just six months old.

Anna opted to have chemotherapy, and the first round helped. But the two rounds plus the radiotherapy that followed sadly didn’t do anything.

Taking the boat out

Photo: Maritime Filming UKTaking the boat out Photo: Maritime Filming UK

Throughout her treatment, Anna was supported by the charity Victoria’s Promise, which supports and empowers young women and their families through cancer and beyond. They offer support services outside of the hospital, such as beauty therapy and counselling, wig funding, childminding and more.

“Anna made so many close friends through the charity. The community it creates is wonderful,” says Ed.” The people there understood what Anna was going through. She could speak to them about things she couldn’t tell others. They had disco nights, relaxation sessions, nutrition workshops... They also offer support to families. They even provided us with a cleaner, which was a godsend, as we could then spend precious time with Alba instead of cleaning the house.

“Our friends and family, and work, were also incredible,” adds Ed. “They treated us to surprise trips to London Zoo, a tour of No 10 Downing Street, and a friend also organised for Rita Ora’s make-up artist to come and do Anna’s hair and make-up on our wedding day. They even gave her ‘Beyonce’ nails.”

Ed and Anna had planned to get married in September 2018, but Anna was becoming increasingly poorly, so they decided to bring the wedding day forward.

“We got married at Shaw House in Newbury and had our reception at the Royal Oak in Yattendon. There were just 27 people there and it was amazing. We got to spend quality time with everyone,” Ed says. “We spent our honeymoon in a vintage campervan on the Jurassic Coast. Anna wasn’t very well, but she battled through it, putting on a brave face for Alba and I, and we had a lovely few days away.”

But when they arrived home Anna was taken to hospital - still insistent on wearing her Beyonce nails, says Ed. “She died a few days later. We had been married for just 10 days.

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“Anna was an incredible woman. Throughout her life she inspired people. She wanted to help people to step out of their comfort zone and to fulfil their dreams. She would ask her friends: ‘What’s the one thing you’ve always wanted to do?’ One friend said they had always hoped to visit Thailand, so Anna bought her a Thailand saving pot so that she would realise this dream.

“Now I speak to people and they say: ‘Guess what? I did this today and thought of Anna. She encouraged me to do it and now I have.’

“Anna inspired people to stop talking about doing something and actually go out there and do it. She believed that if you put your mind to it, anything is possible. That’s her legacy.

“Without me knowing, she had applied for tickets for me to go to the Rugby World Cup in Japan last year,” adds Ed. “It was such a surprise and I went with my mum and Alba and made sure I had a good time.”

While Anna had been ill, Ed needed something to keep his mind busy, so he began fundraising. He really enjoyed the physical challenges and raising money, so he decided to leave his job as a Firearms Officer and dedicate his time to fundraising for Victoria’s Promise.

While Ed was taking part in the Pennines Challenge last year, his friend, Rob Murray, a Thames Valley Police Officer of 16 years, who has also captained Berkshire in the Rugby County Championship, asked Ed to race across the Atlantic in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. “Of course, I said yes. But we’d need two other people,” says Ed. “I made a few calls to my friends, Adam Green and Jack Biss.”

Adam, an engineer with previous rowing experience, and Jack, also from Thatcham, who works in construction management and had previously taken on cycling challenges, both agreed.

So that was it. Team Anna Victorious was born. And they will join around 30 other teams taking part in the challenge in December 2021, racing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic. It is widely regarded as the world’s toughest row and the lads are showing great promise, even though they only first took to the water around six months ago.

“Fortunately, Dan Harris, a rowing coach at Bath University, heard about us and got in touch, saying he wanted to help,” says Ed. “He designed a training programme for us and we now train six days a week. Every day I’ll go for a bike ride, run, do weights and get out on the water, as well as working and looking after Alba.

Ed adds: “The journey starts a long time before setting off on the journey from La Gomera to Antigua. Some say the hardest part is getting to the start line, so having support at this stage is crucial. We need to raise a lot of money - £200,000 in total.” But that’s not the only challenge.

“Once we set off we’ll be encountering waves measuring up to 40ft high,” says Ed. “I was seasick once as a young boy, so I’m hoping I can manage that side of things. I’m especially worried about the sleep deprivation. We have to row two hours on, two hours off for about 40 days. We’ll burn 12,000 calories a day and lose up to 20 per cent of our body weight.

“But I can do it, because I’m doing this for Anna,” he says. “I want to carry on her legacy of getting people to follow their dreams. When she was dying, she told me: ‘Tell Alba she can do whatever she wants; be whatever she want. And when Alba asks me what Mummy was like, or what she sounded like, this is one of the things I tell her about. This is Anna’s legacy.”

To donate, visit annavictorious.co.uk

Team Anna Victorious are being aided by marketing expert Maggie Robinson through her business, Smart Thinking Consultancy. Maggie is a marketing Fellow at the Chartered Institute of Marketing in Cookham, Berkshire

“I met Ed and the rest of the crew at a business event last year. They gave a presentation, and were truly inspiring. My heart went out to Ed on hearing about how his wife’s life was tragically taken by cancer. I was inspired by everything they and Anna stood for.

“Ed and his team have already put so much effort into training and raising money, but there is still a long way to go, so I felt I could offer support by using my marketing expertise to help spread the word and raise funds to get them to the start line and for Victoria’s Promise.”

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