You’re Rowing WHERE?! Nini’s Story

When I share with friends, family, or even strangers, that I am going to row across the Atlantic Ocean, I am often met with something along the lines of, “You’re nuts…” followed by, “Why?”

So, this is the big question, or rather, “What is your motivation?”

I have been turning this question over in my head for some time now, trying to find the words to express what drove me to take on the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge; and it was not a decision made after a few whiskey drinks. At the root of it all, I find that there are two main motivators, which in simple form can be broken into the categories of: inspiration from others, and ambition within myself.

First, I want to take you back to my introduction to the challenge. About 4 years ago in Antigua, I was chatting to my brother (who, at the time was the deckhand, but is now the bosun to Sailing Yacht Velsheda) about taking a stab at working in the professional sailing industry. Growing up in a sailing family in Annapolis, MD, and with my experience working in a boatyard, I took to walking the docks with my CV in hand in search of work. It was January, and the announcement of the first rowers approaching shore echoed in exchanges throughout the day. The following evening, a warm welcome of cheers and horns rippled throughout the crowd awaiting the group of four rowers approaching the pier. It was the first time I had ever heard of the event; people rowing across an ocean?! How incredible!

What’s more, My brother introduced me to his good friend’s uncle, Charlie Pitcher, who I learned is an absolute legend. In 2010, Charlie Pitcher beat other solos and pairs in the Wood-Vale Transatlantic Race, and in 2013, he broke the world record for fastest unassisted solo row. He is also the founder of Roannach Adventure, designing and building ocean row boats for international use. In fact, I am so grateful to know this man, as he has been advising myself and my incredible rowing partner, Lisa Roland, from training advice to financial insight and suggestions in finding a boat for our team.

It was in Antigua a couple of years later, where I had the pleasure of sailing alongside Mary Sutherland. Mary Sutherland holds a record as one of a 5 women crew that took on the North Atlantic from New York to the Isles of Scilly. She is currently training with three other women, team “Ocean Sheroes”,  to take on the transpacific race from San Francisco to Hawaii. So, what happens when you find yourself in a conversation with Mary Sutherland and Charlie Pitcher as you enjoy the local bands at Life Bar? Well, you tell them how you have been seeing these rowers come in to shore the past couple of years, and how you have been playing with the idea of that person being you. Then, these idols tell you, that in fact, it can be.

Now, there are a few more important ingredients missing to this concoction of a crazy idea; one of those being that while I knew some people did the row solo, I wanted a team. The following year, after my conversation with Charlie and Mary, I found myself, again, in Antigua, in the familiar setting of the Skullduggery Bar. I sat down with Lisa Roland to share the excitement of seeing the rowers come in, and learned that she too had the desire to do the row. Less than a year later, the team “Ocean Grown” was created.

Lisa is an absolute inspiration, as a woman that grew up in foster care, to becoming a captain, she has been the driving force to developing an outstanding cause for our proceeds to go to. The Homebridge Youth Society provides support through finding a home, education programs, and more, to fostered and at-risk youth. Lisa has worked with the Homebridge Society in teaching kids sailing, and is now establishing opportunities for education and awareness to future career paths in the maritime industry. This is a cause where we will actually be able to see the results. Direct connections with organizations that provide maritime career support and advice provide to those from the homebridge youth society who seek this path. I am beyond excited to be a part of this process and see the effects: life-changing.

It is these relationships and experiences that are a huge source of inspiration to take on this row, but there is also an internal source of determination. Which brings me back to the resurfacing question of, “What is your motivation?”

To be honest, in one conversation I had in which I attempted to respond to this question,  I expressed that I believed fear to be the driving force. To which I was told, “you should never be motivated by fear.” Which, in retrospect, I whole-heartedly agree. So I decided to sit with it further. I began to understand that it was not fear that was the motivator, though they share a place where this feeling is sourced from. Deep in my chest, where I often find that fear resides, I find the same source that led me to the desire to take on this challenge. I am not sure if I can give it a name, but perhaps it is courage. Which seems funny, to confuse something of the sort with the complete opposite. It would not be until after reading this aloud to my stepmom that she shared with me the idea that courage is not found in the absence of fear, but instead from confronting it.

So, to answer you, my reader, my motivation to take on the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge is the result of those that have inspired me to this day, and a courage I found as my life has unraveled in such a way to lead to me being the woman sitting down to write this blog today.