Through New Eyes, Story Seven

    Run faster, throw higher, swim farther. Play longer, hit harder, get stronger.
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All of our lives, since we were children, we have been told time and time again to push ourselves; to push ourselves to the next level and to rise to the next challenge. We feed off the satisfaction of knowing we have reached our goal, and we become addicted to the feeling of working harder and reaching farther, all for the sake of hitting the goal we have set for ourselves. We antagonize and tease our boundaries, trying to expand our limits of what we can and cannot do, trying to define our “maximum”, and without a doubt, we seem to always find ourselves astonished at what feats we have conquered. The limits we think we have are exactly that; limits that we have created and established for ourselves. We tell ourselves every day what we are able of doing; we define our limits constantly. We know we are capable of going into work every day, we are confident we can run a few miles every week, but climb a mountain, train for a marathon, or row a boat across the ocean, well, those may be things that many of us agree we will never be able to do. And we each have one million excuses as to why we can’t do those things. Maybe we don’t think we are fit enough, maybe we believe we don’t have enough time, and we lecture ourselves that we are too overweight, too underweight, too tired, or maybe just too plain out lazy to really tackle those seemingly impossible and insane goals. We convince ourselves that those things, those ambitions, are for other people, people who were just born with the gift of being able to tackle outrageous challenges. Because those challenges were not meant for us.

But guess what? They were. And anyone who has taken on one of those challenges started at the exact same spot as us. The only difference is, when faced with something crazy and unknown, they said “Let’s do it”.

All of that said, for the seventh installment of the “Through New Eyes” series, I am VERY excited to introduce you to Katie Spotz, a true adventurer, thrill-seeker, and just straight out rock star. I had the pleasure of meeting Katie when she came and spoke at my church in November, and I was floored, and completely inspired, when I heard her story. She’s been interviewed by Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, Diane Sawyer, been featured in Sports Illustrated Magazine, The New York Times, Huffington Post, and was named Woman of the Year in Glamour Magazine. Let’s just say, this girl has done it all. From tackling marathons, to swimming the entire length of the Allegheny River, to eventually being the youngest person to row a boat solo across the Atlantic Ocean (yepp, you read that right), she brings a whole new meaning to grabbing life by the horns. Or an oar, in this case.

Here is her story, in her own words…

Have you always been into doing adventurous things? What was the first adventurous thing that you did that really got the ball rolling in developing your passion for adventure and endurance challenges?
​Not at all. Most of my life I was the benchwarmer and was not a star athlete. Then, at 18 I signed up for a walking and running class in college. I started running a few times each week and week by week would run a few miles more. After doing a ten mile run, that’s when I considered doing my first endurance challenge – a 26.2 mile marathon.

The first “big” adventure that you did was swim across the Allegheny River. How did you get the idea to do something like this in the first place?
Not swim across! That would take a few minutes. I swam the entire length at 325 miles. I got the idea after learning about another man that had swum the Mississippi River.

When you swam across the river, how did you go about training for this? Had you had past swimming experience, say, for instance, being on a swim team?
Most of my training happened during the swim! I had been swimming since I was very young. I was never that fast but could go forever!

How many miles did you swim and how long did it take you? How many hours did you swim straight at one time?
About 12-15 miles a day. The most was 22 miles in a day and I would usually swim one or two hours at a time before taking a break for food.

What kinds of thoughts were going through your head when you were doing this challenge? How did you motivate yourself to keep going, even when maybe you didn’t want to continue?
I actually had a waterproof music player so I would listen to that. There were only 50 or 60 songs to listen to but it helped! The best part of endurance is getting in “the zone” when you don’t really think at all.

Was there a boat alongside you that made sure you were ok? What kind of support system did you have?
Yes, I had my good friend join as my safety kayaker. It was just me, my friend, some camping gear, and a lot of trail mix and ramen noodles!

What did you eat during this swim? How were you able to stay hydrated and energized?
I had a way to purify the river water and would fill up whenever we were near any towns. I ate lots of high calories foods – nuts, bars, dried fruit – and lots of carbohydrate rich foods.

What kind of feeling did you experience when the swim was over? Were you relived it was over or was it more of a bittersweet feeling?
It was very bittersweet. I wanted to keep going because physically I adjusted to the mileage and loved the sense of adventure and freedom on living eat, sleep, swim.

Do you actively swim now? Would you ever consider doing a challenge like this again?
Yes, I do triathlon now so it’s lots of swimming, biking, and running. My main focus now it triathlon and I’d prefer to exercise and then have a bed to go to at night!

What kind of advice would you give someone who was interested in doing a similar challenge?
Don’t waste energy doubting yourself. There are no “special people” that are only capable of doing challenges like this. We are all very capable of doing whatever it is that we set our minds to.

Ok, moving on to our big solo trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Can you explain how you initially got the idea to travel solo across the Atlantic Ocean in a row boat?
I was sitting on a bus in Australia chatting to the person next to me. He mentioned his friend had rowed the Atlantic and it was an idea I never forgot! I had no rowing or boating experience and yet I was s intrigued by something I thought was not humanly possible!

What was your starting point and what was your ending point?
Dakar, Senegal to Georgetown, Guyana.

Why did you want to do this challenge? What was it about this challenge that really inspired you to do it?
The challenge but also the opportunity to help. It was a “Row for Water” and I was able to raise funds and awareness for a good cause along the way. After learning that over 1 billion people on our planet didn’t have clean water to drink I knew I had to do something!

How many miles was it and how long did it take you?
3,000 miles in 70 days

How did you go about training for this? How much time did you give yourself to train for your challenge?
It took about 2 years to prepare learning everything from celestial navigation to how to use a desalinator and everything in between! It felt like I was learning how to go into space with all the gadgets that I would rely on to get my across.

How did you go about making your dream a reality? What were the steps you had to take in setting up this challenge (i.e., where/how did you get the boat, how did you know what to eat and bring with you, etc.)?
It felt like I was looking at a million piece puzzle and it was a matter of trying to figure out how it would fit together along the way. It didn’t always feel like I was making progress. There would be months and months of trying to find a sponsor and just when I thought it wouldn’t happen I would get surprised by a new supporter or sponsor.

Did you know anyone else that had done anything like this?
I did contact a few other ocean rowers before the challenge although none lived close to me. Most of my communications were with British ocean rowers as there aren’t many in the states!

Why did you choose the route that you did? Had others done this challenge going on the same route you did?
It was right near the equator and I love the heat! Most of the others went from islands off the coast of Africa to islands in the Caribbean because it’s an easier route with being right within the trade winds/current.

What did you eat on the boat? Did you constantly feel hungry or was the food that you brought along sufficient for the trip?
Lots of dehydrated meals. I had half a million calories on the boat and more than I could possibly need to make it across! It worked although you can only eat the same meals so many times until it gets a bit boring.

Where did you sleep, and did you sleep well on the boat?
I slept on a cabin in the boat but would wake up several times throughout the night, often every two or three hours.

Did the isolation of being completely alone ever really get to you? If so, how did you overcome that feeling?
I got overwhelmed but I never felt alone. I knew that I had my family and friends with me in spirit and knew that they cared about me even if I was thousands of miles away.

Did you bring anything to entertain yourself on the boat?
Music was my main source of entertainment and then watching the dolphins do their tricks!

Did you ever take a break, just to relax and give your body some time off from rowing?
I did take one “mental health day” where all I did was lay in the cabin, eat chocolate, and watch movies on my iPod touch.

Did you ever just want to give up and quit? If so, what kinds of things did you do to push yourself and motivate yourself to continue your journey?
Absolutely! Several times I thought to myself that I didn’t know how it wouldn’t be possible to get through. When I couldn’t wrap my head around the big picture I would just focus on the next step ahead.

Did you run into any challenges while on your trip? Did the boat run ok during the course of the trip?
For sure. Fires, 30 foot waves, and sharks!

Did you see any animals while on your journey?
Lots! For example, I saw dolphins, shark, jelly fish, sea turtles, albatross, glowing plankton, etc.

Now you are clean water activist. Why did you initially want to get involved in this cause?
I was in class and my professor mentioned that the wars of the future would be on water. It was like someone told me the wars of the future would be on air! I didn’t understand the world water crisis living on one of the greatest sources of fresh water on our planet. After learning all the facts I knew I wanted to help.

How are you generating awareness for your foundation, Row for Water?
With the media and attention the adventures bring as well as the speaking I do in schools across America.

Interested in learning more about Katie and her Row for Water foundation? Check out her websites here:
http://katiespotz.com/
http://rowforwater.com/

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Katie's Route

Katie’s Route

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In A Fearless Fashion

Jump Into It

Jump Into It

Fear. It cripples us, blinds us, and holds our hands behind our backs. Fear paralyzes us into thinking we cannot do something before we have even begun, and it is the voice in our heads saying “No” when our hearts are saying “Yes!”. We retaliate against it, we push and we try to fight it with all of our power and might, and yet no matter what amount of energy or force we put behind resisting this idea of “Fear”, we continually succumb to its power. How do you fight in a battle that seems to be already lost? How do you muster the courage to halt the racings thoughts of “I can’t” and “I won’t”, and instead change your thoughts to “I can” and “I will”? Fear is a funny thing. It consumes us to the point where we truly believe we are not capable of doing something although everyone who ever accomplished anything started in the exact same spot. Fear belittles us, strips us of our confidence and courage, and ultimately has us wanting to hide under a rock, afraid and terrified of coming out from beneath.

But what if I told you that this can end? What if I said that there was a light at the end of this very dark tunnel , and that you are approaching that light right now? That “light”, is something I like to call “The New Year”, 2014. The beginning of a new story, the start of a new chapter. Make 2014 the year you Get Gutsy about the things that scare you, for the things that scare you are the things that will open your eyes to the world. Remove the word “Fear” from your vocabulary, remove the feeling of “Fear” from your heart, and replace it with the words “Getting Gutsy”. Through this, no goal will be too extreme, because you have the next 365 days to figure it out. The New Year is the open door inviting you inside to get gutsy about your life and to look fear straight dead in the eye.

Before I walk through that doorway though, I do need to pay my respects to the past year. 2013 was a year full of changes and much, MUCH self-reflection, both in a good and a not so good way. I discovered, the hard way of course (but isn’t it always the hard way), the price you pay for not listening to your gut instinct and for not listening to what your heart is really telling you. Don’t ignore that feeling, people! You feel that way for a reason, so act on it! However, on the flip side of things, I learned how to create my own happiness (let me tell you, easier said than done), and I put the pressure on myself to make things happen. I knew that the things I wanted weren’t just going to fall into my lap, so I made the decision to take matters into my own hands and actively pursue whatever it was that I wanted. In 2013, I became the creator of my own life (FINALLY!).

Boiled down, 2013 was all about me, in a more fearless form:) I traveled to Europe all on my own for a week filled with adventures and amazing new friends. I landed my first “big girl” job, I started blogging (and have LOVED it!) and volunteered with the Make A Wish foundation in which I have been afforded the opportunity to meet some truly amazing children who have touched my life in insurmountable ways. I traveled to New York City with one of my very best friends, went on a fabulous family reunion to the Caribbean, and learned how to dance the Argentina tango. I also really wanted to get into running, and as I have always been the leisurely running type (AKA I did a lot of the run/walk), I decided to push myself and to start running some races. I ran my first 10k in May, and then did three more before the end of the year (The Christmas Story race being my favorite!).

One of the most important lessons I learned in 2013 was that it is OK to grow apart from people. Sure, it’s not easy and it is certainly not what anyone wishes for, but in reality, it’s just life. And I think once you accept that, things kind of get easier. Because then the people you have in your life are the ones that you really want to hold on to and care about. As they say, quality over quantity, and that phrase could not hold more truth to it. The friends I have made this past year are people I know will be in my life for a long, long time (whether they want to be or not, haha just kidding), and I could not be more grateful that, if anything, 2013 has given me some absolutely terrific friends.

What’s in store for me in 2014? One word: TRAVEL. Anyone that knows me, knows that I am awkwardly obsessed with traveling, and taking the idea of resolutions to a larger scale, my life goal is to travel all over the world. But one step at a time I suppose, and since I cannot take off a year (or five) off of work to travel, I know that I’ll have to do it a little bit at a time. That said, I do have a pretty extraordinary trip planned in the summer, as well as some other travel plans up my sleeve that are currently top secret, but that will be another blog post for another day:)

All of my goals for 2014 can be summed up in the phrase Carpe Diem. I will seize every opportunity I can, in a most fearless and gutsy fashion. Nothing will slip by me unnoticed, and my life in 2014 will be lived with much laughter, dancing, and adventure. WITHOUT FEAR.

Getting gutsy is all about stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals. I’m participating in Jessica Lawlor’s #GetGutsy Essay Contest. To get involved and share your own gutsy story, check out this post for contest details.