Former Olympic rower hopes to raise $1 million by traveling the Mississippi


John Pritchard has a nice visit with Richmond.

These are what the Victorian skiffs look like that John and his Challenge Crew will be rowing down the Mississippi River.

By Ted Pennekamp

It’s not all that unusual anymore for someone to paddle the length of the Mississippi River from its source in Lake Itasca to New Orleans. A trip planned to begin in August by John Pritchard of England does have its unusual features, however, along with a local connection.

Pritchard is the husband of Julie Williamson Pritchard, who is a cousin of Angie Finney of Wauzeka. Pritchard, a former Olympic and Cambridge Blue rower, will row in a wooden Victorian skiff on his journey down the Mighty Mississippi.

In addition, Pritchard is attempting to raise $1 million for the charity “Right to Play,” and will take people with him along the way. Pritchard will be in one skiff and another experienced rower will be in another skiff. People can join them in their skiffs at numerous points on the journey for two days of rowing which will consist of about 30 miles per day.

Finney said that among Pritchard’s many stops will be De Soto, Ferryville, Prairie du Chien and Guttenberg.

The idea for the Mississippi Million Challenge began when Pritchard, his wife Julie and his 10-year-old son Charlie visited Ghana with “Right To Play.” They arrived in a place called the Three Kings School in Battor, which is way out in the bush. This school is for children with learning disabilities and physical disabilities.

John and his family were in the school playing with the kids and John noticed Richmond. “I now know he was 10, the same age as my son, but Richmond was half Charlie’s size,” says John. “Richmond has down’s syndrome and he was too small to play with the big kids, but he was clearly something of a character. All the other kids knew him and all the teachers knew him. He was also bouncing around like a little jumping bean.”

And so began John and Richmond’s friendship. Moreover, it led to the Mississippi Million Challenge.

The Mississippi Million Challenge is scheduled to begin on Aug. 2. The 2,320-mile-long Mississippi River is bordered by 10 states and John hopes to complete the journey in approximately 86 days. This great excursion is divided into 36 two-day stages. John hopes that he and his skiff, which he named “Richmond,” will reach De Soto by Aug. 30, Prairie du Chien by Aug. 31 and Guttenberg by Sept. 2. Of course, the schedule is subject to change.   

“Right To Play” is a global organization that uses the transformative power of play to educate and empower children facing adversity. It was founded in 2000 by Johann Olav Koss, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and social entrepreneur. Through sports and games, it helps children build essential life skills and better futures, while driving social change in their communities with lasting impact.

“Helping children learn about tolerance and peace through play, improving academic performance by using games as a tool for education and fostering physical, cognitive and social development are integral to our mission,” explained Johann. “Working with local communities, we promote health, teach conflict resolution and deliver programs in more than 20 countries affected by war, poverty and disease in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and North America.

“When John first suggested the idea, I thought it was a great challenge,” said Johann. “It’s an ideal fit. I love the idea of this man undertaking an exceptionally hard challenge in a difficult sport. This is a great tool to raise funds and awareness for children who have no access to sport or play in their lives. Rowing alongside him will certainly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for anyone who dares themselves to take part.”

Anyone wishing to take part in the Mississippi Million Challenge with John or to donate can log onto the website www.mississippimillion.com for more information. John is looking for 60 people to row along with him on the Mississippi Million Challenge. He and “Right To Play” will also gladly accept support and donations from wherever they may come.

Editor’s note: Much of the information in the above article was gleaned from the website www.mississippimillion.com.

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