The Big ‘O’……

It seems I can keep my secret no more.  Those of you who know me best of all, will know that I have been thinking about rowing an ocean for quite some time now.  Rather bizarrely, different friends in the ocean rowing world have passed my intentions on, and I’ve also been keeping an ear out for other Ocean Rowers looking for crew mates, and all of a sudden I was inundated with ocean rowing opportunities.  I knew from the start that it was not something I wished to do on my own, nor did any of my friends jump at the chance of time at sea.  Probably because they have either ‘been there and done that’, or they are just not getting the whole ocean vibe, and are into different hobbies and things!  Or they now have children and husbands or mortgages.  I on the other hand, like most things in my life, have done things back to front.  I grew up sensible, had the proper job, pension, mortgage, and ISA, then left it all behind for a ‘Gap year in Georgia’ in my mid thirty’s, and am now doing all the things which most people did when their joints ached less and they didnt have a single grey hair.  Perhaps it is my sense of impending older ageliness which is also spurring me on for one last expedition?  That, and for the first time in my life I feel like I have the space and freedom to do something for myself without any sense of guilt or obligation to others.  Being the Director of my own NGO is also very freeing and if we can get funding then it means I can really make the most of the opportunity to bring a lot of benefit back to my community.

I find it funny how life often does things for you when IT thinks you are ready for them, and no matter how much YOU want to do something, it is often when you are fighting for something the most, that it never works out, but when you are relaxed and carefree no matter what the outcome, then things just happen naturally.  So it was with the ocean rowing dream.  I’ve been looking to join a crew for some time, but most of my rowing friends are solo rowers, and I know that personality wise it wouldn’t really work sharing a journey with them, especially over a 6month period and in a very small space.  You need to have that personality and attitude to row an ocean solo, and its a totally different ballgame when you are an individual than when you are a part of team.  Just as the dynamics are different between a two person team and a four person team.

But I can’t tell you just how delighted I was to make contact with ‘The Coxless Rowers’, and to hear that they were selecting for team mates fo their expedition.  It was funny because I had contacted them to express my interest, and at the same time, several friends sent me messages to suggest that I contact them and that they thought they would be a really good team for me to join.  What’s more, they had already pretty much planned the route, sussed out boat requirements, sponsors, websites, PR, and a lot of the really detailed expedition plans.  This was perfect for me as, even though I really wanted to row an ocean, I knew I didn’t have it in me to raise the energy to do all those things, having been so immersed in setting up Oceans Project Georgia over the past year or so.  I didn’t want to be the main leader, decision maker, or person carrying the ultimate responsibility, I just wanted to be a team member, doing as was delegated to me.  Quite the opposite to how I felt on the Ice Warrior Geographic North Pole expedition planning, where I wanted to take on ownership of my own safety, clothing, etc.

I haven’t met the team in person yet, and the truth will really be in the meeting as to how we all get along, but so far, I have a really good feeling from them.  One major plus is that it turns out we have all worked in the NHS, Laura as a Physiotherapist, Annabel as a Speech and Language Therapist, and me as a Cognitive Neuropsychologist/Medic.  That also gives me a good sense of the personalities, and how we will function as a team.  As NHS folk it means that none of us will be especially sympathetic towards illness or injury, the physio will be driving us with a whip and making sure we do everything as ergonomically perfect as possible, I will be analysing and looking out for any changes in cognition, and the speech therapist will be talking a lot:)  The physio will be the most practical and logical, which will be good for fixing things like rudders or taping broken fingers together, the speech therapist will be bubbly and fun and good at jollying us along when we are a bit grumpy, and the neuropsychologist will be sat in the corner making ‘to do’ lists and reading into things far too much.  On the plus side, the pureness of the neuropsychologist has also been tainted by Royal Naval Unit training and deployment, and working as a geography teacher, so that should bode well, and I’m really encouraged by Laura and Annabel’s previous travels, charity work, and ‘live life to the full’ attitude.

What is more important is that we have the right balance of leaders and followers, especially in times when those roles are so essential, and also the savy of the other team mate will be very interesting.  Laura and Annabel have been planning this trip for a very long time, and there could be some risk that the other two team members feel a bit left out, but again, I’m actually really into this as it means that they have done a lot of the hard graft already and I’m looking forward to being able to follow and participate in someone else’s plans for once in my life, and not having to lead everyone else.  That doesn’t mean I won’t be pulling my weight though, far from it, but it means that the journey ahead should be easier as instead of four strong willed individuals who want to do their own thing, I’m just happy to be on the journey and I’ve no ego to massage or boxes to tick.  I’m just easy going, happy to get on with whatever tasks they need me to do, and to just enjoy the whole experience and put in a lot of hard graft.

For some people, that might prove to be an issue as they may feel undermined as a team player, or that they have nothing to contribute when pretty much everything has already been done, including media interviews for television.  But it actually excites me as I can participate in my own right, bringing something new to the pot and a slightly different focus.  Setting up Oceans Project Georgia has really helped me to overcome any issues I ever had, and to feel fulfilled and happy in life and free for the first time ever.  It feels like my destiny and as long as I have that, then I have everything I want in life.  It gives me a sense of who I am as I know I am being true to myself regardless of what others think.  I’m more confident and I have the courage now to stand up for what I feel to be the truth with that comes a massive sense of peace.  So I am coming to the team with a different focus, an environmental education one, that will allow me to use the journey to create educational material for my geography students, for my Oceans Ambassadors, and for my ETE role as Education Ambassador.  It also means we can use the journey to collect scientific data, and that gives me a great focus and role on the expedition, outside of rowing as hard and fast as we possibly can!

The timing could actually not be more perfect as far as I am concerned.  Oceans Project is at the tipping point of becoming something massive now, and this will hopefully bring in funding which will allow it to be self sufficient.  The Team Leaders are amazing and I’m at the stage where I’m confident about leaving my ‘baby’ with them whilst I’m away.  Such a journey would also really benefit us in terms of publicity and raising awareness of the oceans, and fits in so perfectly with my ethos of global citizenship and oceans being connected together.

I won’t know if I am on the team for quite some time, but I made my mind up to pursue an Ocean regardless of whether I’m what the team are looking for, and I’m truly inspired by their plans and hope to follow and support them no matter what the outcome.  They are raising money for two fantastic charities, and have already put in an incredible amount of effort and man hours.  Seeing what they have already achieved, I have a strong sense that they will achieve their goals and if I can be a part of that then I really will feel honoured.  We will be meeting for the first time over the summer, on a daunting training weekend with an ex-army instructor on Dartmoor! I’m very scared about that as I have to confess to doing absolutely no exercise at all since coming to Georgia, and gyms are ridiculously expensive if you even have the privilege of living near one.  I’d already asked my best friend who is a physiotherapist and who has nursed my body through lateral releases on my knees, numerous sprains and breaks, and paralysis from Guillain-Barre to put a beginners training schedule together.  However, I had banked on doing this at my own pace between now and May next year, rather than being ready for an army assault course type of affair in just a few months time!  I’m not as young as I was, and I’m up against some fierce competition from serious river rowers with awards and medals, and biceps.  I’m none of those things at all, not now anyway!  But I do have a desire to return to my former level of fitness, and I’m prepared to put in the hours, training with the girls via skype as is necessary.  I hate rowing machines, but running on a machine is my thing, so I plan to start with some yoga type exercises, running, and then when my muscles are in better shape, to use a rowing machine.  But I’m extremely overwhelmed as the other girls have already been training with personal trainers for over a year, are younger and fitter than me, have access to fruit and veg that I can’t get here in Georgia, and they are working with the infamous ocean rowing trainer ‘Tony’ who is the guy who knows absolutely EVERYTHING about rowing oceans.  They girls have even been videoed on their rowing machines and coached on technique, so I’m definitely out of my league on that account, and can barely make it up the stairs to school right now.

Getting fit is not the main worry, nor is the fact that my aunt and uncle had to be rescued from the Pacific Ocean after their ship capsized in bad weather in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, leaving them clinging to their life raft for 29hours until they could be rescued by a ship travelling up the Panama Canal.  I’m not worried about sleep deprivation or rowing through the night on shifts, and I’m not worried about eating dehydrated food for 6 months, or even going to the toilet from the side of the boat.  In fact I’m not worried about anything, apart from one thing.  I’m only worried about being naked! Its a common practice in ocean rowing, that you do it in the nuddy.  It apparently helps to prevent pressure sores and spots on your bum and elsewhere.  I’m not body shy, nor am I worried about anyone seeing me, but I am worried about chaffing!  And getting cold boobs, or them not being supported.  I’m also not entirely sure how I will feel living in such a small space with three other naked girls for 6months, or skyping the kids at school from the middle of the ocean, and having to make sure that everyone puts clothes on for the occasion!  I mean, that would be a tedious thing to fall out about, especially of the weather was hot!

What I am most looking forward to is educating my kids about Geography and being able to see the things that I have spent so long teaching them about….the Ring of Fire, volcanoes, currents, and most importantly Hawaii.  I’ve never been to that part of the world and it is somewhere that I have been longing to visit for some time.  I want to inspire the kids and bring geography alive for them, no matter what it takes, and this journey would be an incredible way to do this for them.  I’m also looking forward to achieving something for myself, leaving my legacy and doing so for Oceans Project would be the icing on the cake.

I don’t know how things will pan out, but I’m looking forward to the training weekend and meeting the girls no matter what the outcome.  If i is meant to be then it is meant to be, if not then another opportunity will come along when fate thinks I am ready for it.  I’d rather go on an expedition where the team gels really well than do a half arsed effort resenting everyone and feeling bitter towards them throughout the journey.  This is too much of a once in a lifetime opportunity not to enjoy it and make the most of every minute and so, that is why I’m just going with the flow for once in my life.  Better to go it alone than to be stuck with people you dislike or don’t bond with.

But I really hope we will get on well, and I really like them from my interactions so far.  I think we each have our own area of speciality and personality, and that is what makes the magic in a team.  Not only do I need to get myself fit now, but I also need to raise the money, get my wisdom teeth fixed, and figure out what kind of data I wish to collect on the way.  I’m not so worried about the fundraising side, as I’m already in the process of raising around half a million pounds, so a little more won’t make a massive difference!

So much more to share with you today, but after a busy day at school, I’m nodding off, so I really hope things make sense today.  If you have any suggestions or ideas, then I’m always open to them.

We each have our own ocean to row.  I’ve finally found mine, and I’d love to hear more about your ocean.

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About Sarah Rows Solo

British YouTuber and Founder of Environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project, preparing for a solo row around the coast of Great Britain.
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