A big challenge

There are still a few world records that have not yet been set. Although humans have done some truly amazing things, if you look around you can find some things that have not yet been done. If you are going for a world record, there are two ways to do so. You can find an area where you are better than anyone else who has don it: run faster, climb higher, endure longer. At the moment Usain Bolt holds the record for the fastest 100m race. His fastest time, 9.58 scones beat his previous record of 9.6 seconds. That was faster than the 9.63 seconds with which he won the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But, like the rest of us, Bolt is growing older. It is unlikely that he will set another record. Tyson Gay and Yohan Blake have both run the course at 9.69 seconds and both have beat Bold in individual runs. There are a half dozen runners who have broken 9.8 seconds. But breaking Bolt’s record is going to be a monumental challenge. It is conceivable that the only way to run faster would be to discover some breakthrough in nutrition for some evolution in human beings to occur.

The second way to set a world record is to do something that fewer people have done. If you accomplish something that no one else has done, you’ll hold the record just for having finished the task. Of course the easy things have already been done. You’ll still need strength, resourcefulness and endurance to set a world record.

There is a third way to set a record: wait, age and become the oldest person to do something.

Irish born Shirley Thompson is going for two of the three. She intends to set off in December to row solo across the Atlantic ocean. If she makes it she will be the oldest female to row solo across any ocean and the first Irish female to row solo across an ocean.

There aren’t too many ocean rowers out there. Fewer people have rowed across an ocean than climbed Everest. Rowing across the Atlantic is a significant challenge. It can take up to three months of rowing 16 to 18 hours per day. Solo rowers face sleep deprivation. Because of the fragile nature of their craft, they have to keep the boat headed in the correct direction in relationship to the waves and therefore generally cannot sleep for more than tow hours at a time, even with a directional autopilot. No days off for 90 days on two hours of sleep at a time is definitely a feat of endurance.

There are real dangers in ocean rowing. Whales, sharks, submarines and submerged gas bubbles all may be encountered. Tankers and cruise ships pose the danger of fatal collisions. Small craft have become entangled in lost fishing nets. Although she plans to row outside of hurricane season, early hurricanes have occurred. She’ll likely encounter thunderstorms with lightning. There can always be rogue waves that will roll or capsize her boat. She will have to be capable to self rescue. Being thrown off the boat, even with a safety tether requires strength and mental fitness to get back in the boat. She’ll probably have to endure sea sickness, salt sores, blisters and could face sunstroke.

Oh, and did I mention that Shirley Thompson doesn’t have much experience with rowing. She decided to attempt the record in March. She wasn’t a sailor. She wasn’t a rower. She didn’t know how to swim. She started with a water rowing machine and worked her way up from four hours a day to 16 - 18 hours a day on the rowing machine. When she wasn’t rowing the machine, she took courses in sea survival, First Aid, Navigation, Seamanship.

Then there was the challenge of the boat. She didn’t own a boat. And ocean rowers are all custom boats. She did manage to find one that would do, but it had to be rebuilt and refurbished to meet her needs. The cost of the boat, when ready for the adventure will be close to $100,000.

It is a significant challenge for someone with a few of her peers already retired and plenty more of them more focused on retirement than on a monumental physical challenge.

It can be done. Canadian Jean-Guy Sauriol rowed across the Atlantic at 60 years of age. He made it in 74 days and three hours. At one point he capsized twice in the same night. The first time he was washed out of the boat and had to climb back in. The second time he was in the cabin with a helmet, but his face was slammed against a wall hard enough to give him a fat lip, a loose tooth and a bruise on his knee. Rowers have to bend their knees with every stroke. A sliding seat allows them to put the power of their legs as well as their arms into their strokes.

Human beings have achieved a lot of things that were once thought to be impossible. Humans are amazing in their capacity for strength, endurance and mental fitness. Shirley Thompson actually has done quite a bit of mental preparation for her challenge. She has run a lot of foot races over the years and has done several endurance feats including ultra runs in the desert, the mountains, Antarctica and the jungle. She is a pioneer of jungle racing and was a race organizer of the Brazil Amazon Jungle race. She has been in hostile environments.

But rowing solo across the Atlantic will pose a new and different challenge for her. She’ll be alone for the entire trip. Out in the middle of the ocean, there is plenty of time for your mind to wander and plenty of time to wonder why you are doing this in the first place.

I wish her well in her adventure. It is the challenge of a lifetime. And, if she succeeds, her name will be in the record books. The next Irish woman over 60 to attempt will have to do it faster to claim a record.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!