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Breaking Out

From a life sentence and sharing a prison wing with Abu Hamza, to breaking nearly every UK indoor rowing record going. John McAvoy’s is the quintessential story of redemption through sport.
PHOTOGRAPHY BENEDICT TUFNELL

It was amazing," says John McAvoy, former maximum security prisoner turned indoor rowing world record holder, on rowing 263,560m (c. 163 miles) in 24 hours. "Out of every record and everything I did, that was the one where it really opened up my eyes to what I was physically capable of doing, because it wasn’t just the physical element of it, it wasn’t just doing that much distance, it was the kind of belief that it gave me. It meant I knew that not only could I physically suffer but I knew mentally I had the strength too. No matter how bad things got, I knew I could mentally push through it".

This was an early peak in McAvoy’s indoor rowing career – at one point he held all British indoor rowing records in his category but the 2k – but he has had deeper troughs than most. Rock bottom came on 14th November 2009. Inside his cell in the high security prison where he was serving eight years for conspiracy to commit armed robbery, McAvoy discovered that his closest friend had just died in a car chase in Holland whilst trying to steal £200,000. However, from this unlikely low, John McAvoy has rebuilt his life, and rowing played an integral part.

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About Row360

Welcome to Row360, the world’s only global, independent rowing magazine. Row360 brings you features from around the world, profiling the best athletes, coaches, and others from the whole rowing community – Olympic, Paralympic, college, club, ocean, and more.