- Run faster, throw higher, swim farther. Play longer, hit harder, get stronger.
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.