Interview with Adventurer Katie Spotz – the youngest person to row solo across the Atlantic

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1.If you couldn’t raise money for charities when doing these expeditions, would you continue to do them? Basically do you do it for the love of the adventure or is the whole point of it to raise money?

Adventure and supporting water charities are both deep passions of mine and I learned that there was a way to combine both passions. Some of my smaller-scale events have been purely for the love of adventure while I have also launched several campaigns purely to support charities without the adventure component.

 

2.You were the youngest person to row solo across the Atlantic.  What made you come up with that idea and commit to it?

The idea found me when I least expected. I was on a bus in Australia and the person sitting next to me mentioned that his friend had rowed across the Atlantic Ocean. I was so intrigued by the raw and elemental nature of the challenge being so far removed from the known. I had no rowing or boating experience but after completing other endurance challenges is gave me the courage to pursue it.

 

3.How much experience did you have rowing before you did it?

After learning about ocean rowing I joined my college rowing team for about a year and then spent lots of time training on my boat on Lake Erie. I also spent some time in California training on the Pacific Ocean.

 

 

4. Things got tough during the 2,817 mile journey; the cable that allowed you to steer with your foot broke and your GPS tracker caught fire. How did you keep yourself going when things got tough?

I had to taking things one step at a time. If I thought too far in the future I would get overwhelmed but even the biggest challenges in life can be faced one day or one moment at a time.

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5.How did your parents deal with it all when you told them you were going off exploring?

It was tough. They were as supportive as they could be but inevitably would prefer me to be safe at home. They understand that it’s in my nature to explore and have accepted that from time to time I venture off. It means a lot to me to have them part of the adventures. They’ve been there to cheer me on whether it be sending me off on my cycle across America or meeting me in South America to celebrate the Atlantic crossing.

 

6.How did you keep your energy levels up throughout the row?

The sleep deprivation was brutal. I would not be able to sleep more than a couple of hours because of the crashing waves against my boat. Music was one tool I used to pump up my energy as well as consuming a diet that matched the amount of energy I exerted.

 

7.At 19, you embarked on a cross-country cycle. Where is your fear?!

Whenever you do something that challenges you, there is always the risk that you won’t succeed. What has really helped me in finding the courage to embark on these journeys is not being afraid to fail. The only real failure is failing to try.

 

8.How long did it take you to plan the expedition?

My first cross-country expedition was with a charity called the American Lung Association. Most of the logistics were handled by the event organizers so it took me a few months to pull together the fundraising and training.
9.How many miles did you travel?

3,300 miles or about 85 miles per day.

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10.Have you ever encountered any problems as a solo female traveller?

Sometimes there can be unwanted attention directed towards solo female travelers. However the majority of the time people are generally willing to help and are just curious about my travels.

 

11.You are the only person in history to swim the entire length of the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania. Where do you come up with your ideas for these challenges?

After embarking on a cycling and running adventure I knew I wanted to try a long-distance swim. The Allegheny River one of the closest major rivers from my home in Ohio. I heard about Martin Strel who swam many of the worlds longest rivers including the Amazon and wanted to see what river swimming was all about!


12.So you are a swimmer, rower and cyclist. What else can you do?!
Origami and puzzles.


13.Professional adventurer Is this what you had in mind for a career growing up?

My dream job as a kid was to be a bicycle messenger so it’s close enough.
14.What is next for you?
My focus has shifted from adventure to charity work. I am in the process of founding a nonprofit organization called Schools for Water to motivate and inspire schools in the states to help schools all around the world gain access to safe drinking water. Last year we raised more than $100,000 for water projects and to celebrate we broke a world record for the most people carrying water jugs on their heads. I would love to continue to find fun and exciting ways to get people involved in the cause.

Follow Katies journey via her website  or Twitter page: @KatieSpotz

The Ultimate Trilogy – Interview with Margaret Bowling

“In 2013 four of the world’s most experienced female adventurers take on the Ultimate Trilogy of modern day exploration and adventure. 2000km of wilderness terrain covered in 10 weeks by human power: skiing, rowing, walking, climbing.”

Meet one of the team Margaret Bowling.

1.It is an all female expedition. Was this a conscious decision or just something that happened?

It was a conscious decision. I did my first ocean row with another woman. Since then I have been on mixed teams and worked with some pretty capable men, who I had become overly reliant on. After so many things went wrong on my first trip (19 major rudder repairs, electrical faults, broken watermaker, and much more) I knew I could deal with pretty much anything out in the field but I’d become lazy. I had slipped into patterns that are so familiar in our culture – always asking the guys to “just fix this for me” or “just carry that for me”. So this expedition is an opportunity to be the strong self-reliant woman that I know I am.

2.How do you think females are progressing in the field of adventure these days?

We may be in the minority but there are some big advantages to being a woman in the field of adventure. It’s easier to get sponsorship and the press are often much more interested in your story. Again I think this is cultural. I meet women every day who are capable of doing what I do. We just don’t live in a society where they are encouraged to give it a go. So when women do give it a go, it catches people’s attention.

3.How do you all know each other?

Tara and I met at the start of the 2007 Atlantic Rowing Race and have been hoping to do a row together ever since. Linda is one of my heroes so I aimed high and asked her to join us. We then needed a mountaineer to complete the team but nearly all of my contacts are ocean rowers or polar explorers so I came up with a shortlist of female mountaineers who had either done the 7 summits or spoke Spanish and sent out a cold call email inviting them to join us. And that’s how we found Cathy.

4. What does your training consist of for each section of the journey?

The main thing is to develop muscle memory in the disciplines I’m not familiar with. I can get in a boat and row without any problems so my focus is on climbing stairs and hills wearing a pack and pulling tyres along the beach. And of course general fitness is key. I work best with small training goals so have just entered the City2Surf here in Sydney.

5. In the team you all have a specialty!

  • Linda Beilharz  (AUS): Polar traveller – 1st Australian woman to ski to both South and North Poles.
  • Margaret Bowling (AUS): Ocean rower – 1st Australian woman to row an ocean (Atlantic) and the first Australian to row an ocean twice.
  • Cathy O’Dowd (ZA/AND): High-altitude mountaineer – 1st African to climb Everest. 1st woman in the world to climb Everest from both sides.
  • Tara Remington (USA/NZ): Ocean rower— World record holder for fastest all-women Atlantic crossing, east to west, with a four-person crew.

How do you think this will help the team?

It will help us immensely. Because we’re all specialists in our own disciplines we each bring a level of knowledge to the leg we’re leading which would be hard to find anywhere else. For me that’s what makes this an Ultimate adventure.

6.  There will be a lot of Expedition firsts in this journey:

  • 1st team to do a multi-terrain traverse of this nature in Chile
  • 1st all-female team to cross the Northern Patagonian Ice Cap
  • 1st team to attempt a modern-day ocean rowing expedition in South America
  • 1st women to do a sea to summit ascent of Aconcagua

Are you doing it so as to achieve these firsts or why are you doing it?

World records weren’t something I was thinking about until we put together our website and promotional material. My focus was always on putting together a cracking squad of female explorers and creating the Ultimate team.

7.You will embark in late December 2012 and return in  early March 2013, On average you will spend ten weeks completing the expedition. That is a fair chunk of time, how do you keep morale and enthusiasm up when going on long adventures such as this?

With difficulty. But our ability to manage the stresses and stay focussed is one of the things that really excites me about working with a team of such experienced women. With every expedition you do, your resilience improves so I expect fewer blow ups and dark moments than I’ve had when I’ve been with expedition novices.

8.What will you be packing?

EVERYTHING. We have to prepare for 3 legs which all have very different requirements so this is going to be one monster packing job and each leg has to be packed and carefully planned in advance. It’s lucky my mind works like a tetris game.

9.What will you be eating?

Freeze dried meals most of the way and lots of high protein snacks like salamis, chocolate and peanuts.

10.How will you navigate?

Compass, maps and handheld GPS devices are our main tools.

11.How did you come up with the idea?

I was working on a multidisciplinary endurance event called the Trip to Remember which gave me the idea to do an ultimate expedition trip that incorporated the big 3 disciplines of modern day exploration and adventure. I then spent a lot of time trawling through maps of the world to find the perfect location.

12.Why the charities you picked and why pick one’s based in different countries?

We’re doing this expedition for largely personal reasons and not ‘for charity’. Although we are focusing on the Charlotte Lucy Trust, the Wilderness Society and the Wilderness Foundation (who we each have longstanding affiliations with) we hope that by sharing our love for wilderness we will inspire people to either donate to or campaign for causes everywhere that embody our ethos of women and wilderness.

13.It is a physically demanding expedition, how will you keep your body in good condition?

On the ice any injuries we get won’t heal and on the water they will rot so preventing them is out top priority. And that is done by making sure we’ve done our research, have the right gear, are in great physical shape before we go and monitor any niggles and don’t let them turn into severe problems. Keeping hydrated and eating enough is also very important so we’ll be monitoring our daily calorie and fluid intake very carefully. We were quite concerned about muscle wastage and sea legs after the boat leg. Attempting to set off with big packs in that state is a no go so we’ll be fast packing for the walk from the port at Valparaiso to the base of Aconcagua and relying on the support team to carry the bulk of our gear.

14. How do you set a time limit for completion of a journey like this?

Sorry – pass. Not really relevant because we don’t have one.

15.Is there a level of fear in undertaking an expedition of this scale?

Yes, a massive one! I am scared shitless. I’m reliant on the skills and experience of my team mates to get me through 2 out of 3 legs so I have to be prepared to trust them 100% and let them lead those legs.

16.What kind of tent do you have to sleep in?

We’ll be taking Hillebergs. They’re the best tents on the market and I wouldn’t take anything else on an expedition like this.

Row 2 Recovery

Published in BeyondLimitsmag 13 February 2012

Everyone who walks this earth has a story.

Some are routine and dull. Some will take your breath away. But the sad truth is most will never get told.

You may have heard this story before or perhaps you may have not. I am going to tell you regardless, because these five men have a story worth telling and I plan to tell the world.

Lieutenant Will Dixon , Corporal Neil Heritage, Corporal Rory Mackenzie, Lance Corporal Carl Anstey, Ed Janvrin and Alex Mackenzie step up to the stage.
All are former servicemen. Three are amputees. One walks with a permanent brace. All have seen the realities of war. All rowed 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to bring about change. They rowed themselves to recovery.

Co-founder Alex Mackenzie explains why they entered the legendary Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, “We wanted to raise money to support the wounded and their families and to send out a positive message that inspired those who had been injured and galvanised and also to the general public to challenge what is possible in life whether wounded or not.”

I offer you the facts bluntly and once read they are not easy to ignore.

In two years the number of British service personnel undergoing single amputations has doubled. The number needing multiple amputations in that period increased six fold. Even when servicemen escape the physical ailments, war will switch tactics and consume their minds, filling it with nightmares, flashbacks and depression – “The scars you cannot see.”

“One word which summarizes our post-conflict view of the world is perspective. There is always someone worse off than you and that is something that motivated us in the difficult days of the row,” says Mackenzie.

If you donate to a cause you want to know where your money actually goes. Battleback, funds wounded soldiers return to support. Army Recovery Capability funds the whole life-cycle of recovery from rehabilitation to professional retraining. Quick Reaction Fund supports the families with short notice funding to cater for the particular challenges that they face when their family member has been wounded. It is for the families standing behind the uniformed men. The people who the world never fails to forget. Row2Recovery has totted up £782,770.00 for these organizations to date and is still counting.

The crew is adamant about the reasons behind this challenge. They are like all rowers of oceans, an elite but modest few. They shy away from the credit that the world is attempting to push on them.

“The elite group in our view are invisible, they are the wounded and their families who go through incredible challenges every day and are so rarely in the public eye,” MacKenzie says.

The crew embarked on this mission to suffer. They were not to be disappointed. Each day they rowed twelve hours on, twelve hours off.

Mackenzie says “Routine is critical in tackling one of the greatest challenges: psychological exhaustion. Finding the dogged determination to continue under extreme physical pain, sleep deprivation and severe weight loss can be difficult.”

The expedition was designed to push the participant to their absolute limits. The men could handle this, their boat on the other hand could not. First the watermaker gave in and then with 500 miles left to row, the rudder failed. Yet, somehow they endured, completing the 3000 mile journey in 51 days.

After fifty-one days on the water they have returned to real life, their family, their friends and their day jobs. They walk amongst us once more but beneath their facade their thoughts are stained with memories of those fifty-one days when there was nothing more important in the world than the oars they held between their hands.

McKenzie’s advice; “Think big and go for it, even when people tell you that something is not possible.”

Interview with Alex Mackenzie – Row2Recovery

1.What a story you guys have to tell. How did you decide to finally go out and start telling it to the world?

We always had 2 priories for the campaign, 1. To raise money to support the wounded and their families, and 2. To send out a positive message that inspired those who had been wounded and galvanised the general public to challenge what is possible in life whether wounded or not.

2.How have your war wounds changed your life – the way you think/see the world?

I am not wounded, but my friends have been wounded and killed and I think for all of the crew the one word which summarises our post-conflict view of the world is PERSPECTIVE. There is always someone worse off than you and that is something that motivated us in the difficult days of the row.

3.I don’t know if you’ll answer this question but Il ask it anyway, after all that has happened to your crew and what you have seen, are you all still pro-war?

Courtesy of Row 2 Recovery

We are a campaign that is focused on fundraising and inspiration. We are focused on the positives of human endeavour and inspiring the wounded and are not involved or engaged in politics or any view on the conflicts themselves.

4.Why did you pick rowing as the expedition sport?

It was the hardest thing that we could find that had the infrastructure for us to build the campaign around without having to go it alone (as a volunteer effort we did not have the time or resources for something like a polar expedition)

5.You’ve raised £721,195.00 so far for injured soldiers. What does that money actually go towards…equipment etc?

3 key areas:

Battleback – this funds wounded soldiers return to support.

Army Recovery Capability – this funds the whole lifecycle of recovery from rehabilitation to professional retraining.

Quick Reaction Fund – this supports the families with short notice funding to cater for the particular challenges that they face when their family member has been wounded. This covers anything from short notice visit expenses to adapting the family home.

6.”More than 4,000 people have climbed Everest. More than 500 people have been into space. Only 473 people have ever rowed an ocean.” – How does it feel to be a part of an elite group?

The elite group in our view are invisible, they are the wounded and their families who go through incredible challenges every day and are so rarely in the public eye.

7.The route was Canaries to Barbados, – How did you choose and plan the route?

The route is planned around 1. The best weather and currents, and 2. As part of a wider race organisation. Look at www.taliskerwhiskeyatlanticchallenge.com

How long have you being thinking and planning this?

The campaign is 2 years in the making.

Courtesy of Row 2 Recovery

8.Is Row2recovery affiliated at all with the Row4freedom women or was that just pure coincidence you  were going at the same time?

We entered the same race, we are good friends with the girls but our mission and objectives are different.

9.Whats next – more challenges or back to life before the row?

Most of us will be back to our day jobs, but there will no doubt be some more challenges on the horizon. I am doing the Haute Route bike race from Geneva to Nice in the summer.

10.Did you get to go swimming? If so, what was that like?

All of us swam and when it was going well it was a really great moment, an amazing feeling to have 2 miles of ocean underneath you.

11. – Best moment at sea?

The end!

-Worst moment at sea?

It was the watermaker  breaking, but then that was overtaken by the rudder breaking! With only 500 miles to go we thought this might be the end.

12. What sports did you do before this?

Ultra running, Kalahari desert marathon, Devizes to Westminster canoe race, Ironman and similar.

13.What was the daily routine like – how many hours of rowing, hours of sleep…?

12 hours of rowing, 12 hours of resting.

14.On the expedition, you had to live very simply, back to the basics. I bet you learned a lot from that? But now, back in reality, how do you hold on to those lessons, changes of perspective…?

I think that most of the lessons we learnt reinforced our military experiences rather than dramatically changed our outlook.  We all felt that it was very powerful to have a cause and a sense of purpose beyond the individual and that is something that many of us will continue to live by.

Courtesy of Row 2 Recovery

15.What is the most important thing you took out of this experience?

Think big and go for it, even when people tell you that something is not possible. …

Row For Freedom – The Girls who took on the Atlantic

Published in Beyond Limits Magazine 4th January 2012

“THE WORLD RECORD ATTEMPT FOR THE FASTEST FEMALE TRANS-ATLANTIC ROW

Five Women

40 Days

3,000 miles

Two World Records

One Ocean”

They were strangers. Now, together they endure seasickness, peeing in a bucket on deck and traversing a boat while being permanently clipped on because at any time a wave could hit and toss their bodies into the ocean’s gaping jaws.

On 7th December these five ‘Row for Freedom’ women from all over the world set out to conquer an ocean. They are the first all female crew to attempt to row 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean unaided. They departed from the Canary Islands and will anchor in Barbados in mid January. Beyond Limits was able to speak with the crew on Day 23, half way through their quest to learn more about their journey so far.

The team consists of Julia Immonen, Debbie Beadle, Helen Leigh, Kate Richardson and Katie Pattison-Hart. This is a team in which bravery is a characteristic present in abundance.

“Sometimes there is an element of fear,” Debbie Beadle admits, “but you get over it.  We are doing this because we really believe in the strength of women.”

This mission required a six day week training schedule consisting of several 24 hour rows as well as individual work on both endurance and strength. Throughout the 40 days the crew will row two hours on, two hours off, trying to rest as much as possible when not rowing.

“It is tough,” Beadle said, “We are tired, but our bodies are adapting to it.”

Meanwhile their boat ‘The Guardian’ appears to be crumbling around them.

“We now have to hand-pump for twelve hours a day, use our feet to steer and ration our ever diminishing battery life.” Beadle said, “Then there is obviously the physical element of the row that is a challenge.”

Despite the many adversities, they endure as a team and the voice of Debbie  Beadle contains not a hint of fatigue.  Instead it is riddled with excitement as she giggles with pride in the knowledge that they will succeed in achieving this Guinness World Record attempt for the fastest Trans- Atlantic row.

Weather patterns will define their progress and ultimately their success. But the team has planned accordingly.

“December is just after hurricane season so it will be calmer and we can get the most benefit from the easterly trade winds and Atlantic currents,” Beadle said, “We expect to arrive in Barbados during its high season, where we will rest up for a week.”

Perfectly timed for a small holiday.

In an adventure marked by mishaps and hard work, the crew agrees that their greatest luxury onboard are the sun hats and soap they might take for granted at any other time in their lives. But, while the crew is grateful for these luxuries, the real beauty of the adventure lies in nature.

“The sky at night, seeing the ocean teeming with life,” Beadle said, “We have seen a turtle, loads of fish, and we are just waiting to see a whale. When I look around me right now, I can see the blue ocean, high waves, two of the girls are rowing and one pumping, the sun is beating down upon us.  It is like a sauna.”

Although the adventure alone would make the voyage a worthwhile trip, the crew is quick to remind us that, they row in aid of two charities; ECPAT UK and the A1 Campaign.  Both charities work to raise awareness of human trafficking. The public can help support the women by following them on Facebook, Twitter or signing up and donating online at their website.