Patience, Endurance, Resourcefulness

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The impossible just takes a little longer.

Igrew up with a mentally handicapped brother, along with a

sense of helplessness and a desire to want to make things

better, make things different, make things okay for those who

are different. I was raging against the wind in the sense of

really wanting to make things better for a lot of folks. Life

really isn’t fair for everyone. For some of us it is, for some of

us it’s more than fair, and I felt that I could make things better

by doing things people admire, and some of the things that

are admired by people are embraced for fairly odd reasons

. . . like rowing a boat across the Atlantic Ocean.

My favorite quotation comes from Theodore Roosevelt,

who said, “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious

triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank

with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer

Source: Printed with permission from Tori Murden McClure.

much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither

victory nor defeat.”

The truest challenges for humanity are not found in the

wilderness; they are found in civilization. My hope is that

my adventures have taught me the patience, endurance, and

resourcefulness necessary to take on far more important

challenges. Challenges like ignorance, poverty, racism, and

despair.

In my quest to make things better and different, I went

from one driven element to the next driven element, and it

was education that opened the doors to all my opportunities.

My educational experiences have taught me to believe in the

saying “The impossible just takes a little longer.”

No one can guess where the things you are learning now

will take you in the future. I learned to cross-country ski at

Smith College on a pair of skis I purchased from a graduating

senior for $25.00. In 1989, I skied across the continent of

Antarctica to the geographic South Pole. I learned to row at

Smith. In 1999, I rowed a boat solo and unassisted across the

Atlantic Ocean.

I tried out for the U.S. Olympic team as a rower and didn’t

make it. Then, I saw this flyer about this rowing race across

the Atlantic and, I thought, ahhhh, this is the race for me,

because I can go for ever—I’m just not particularly fast over

short distances. It didn’t work out terribly well: it was a twoperson

race, and I had revolving partners. My eventual partner

was not really an athlete and was not versed in facing

hardship. We made it about 90 miles off shore, and our electrical

system crashed, forcing us to come back.

Things did not turn out as planned, and we were not able

to complete the race. I returned to work fixated on the premise

of crossing the Atlantic in a rowboat. “I told hundreds of

school children that I was going to row across the Atlantic.”

A year passed and a watch company in Italy called me offer-

ing to sponsor me if I would attempt to row solo and without

assistance across the Atlantic Ocean.

In my first attempt, I was trying to row from west to east.

I rowed 3,400 miles before I was hit by Hurricane Danielle. I

was no match for the waves of the storm. During the hurricane,

my boat capsized 13 times in the course of a single day

and the next day the boat capsized some more. One capsize

dislocated my shoulder and the next one popped it back into

place. The boat also flipped end over end twice: For the boat

to flip in that direction, the waves have to be twice as tall as

the boat is long. My boat was 23 feet long and 6 feet wide at

the water line, with a little cabin in the stern. The entire boat

weighed about 2,000 pounds, meaning the waves that capsized

me had to be at least 50 feet high.

There was one time when I thought to myself, “This is the

end.” I went out intending to set off my distress beacon,

which I deliberately put along the bow bulkhead so I couldn’t

just set it off in a raving panic as I could if it were in the cabin.

I really had to think about whether I wanted to set it off and,

if I decided to do it, then I wanted to have to work hard at it.

I got out of the cabin and crawled across the deck to get to

the Emergency Position Indicating Radiobeacon (EPIRB), a

device designed to save your life by identifying that you are

in distress and giving your location. But during the time it

took for me to get out there, crawl across the deck, and get

hold of the distress beacon, I recognized that I really couldn’t

ask another human being to come out into that storm to get

me. So I tied the distress beacon to my life vest and went

back inside the cabin, fully expecting to die. But by God, I

wasn’t going to have someone else killed rescuing me.

This was my responsibility. I put myself in the middle of

the Atlantic. Nobody forced me to go out there, and I wasn’t

out there earning a living, fishing, or running a cruise ship. I

was in a rowboat, and I chose to be there. So I went through

five or six more capsizes that day with a distress beacon in

one hand, and another hand that would not push the button.

There were times when I wanted to die. I thought, “Let’s just

get this over with because I can’t take the terror.” Yet there

were other times I thought that I really wanted to live. But

finally I made it home.

After my first attempt, I went home disheartened. I found

a job working for the famous boxer Muhammad Ali. As I was

sitting with Muhammad eating lunch, he looked across at me

and said, “Were there ever times when you were out there and

you wondered, ‘why am I here?’” I looked back at him and responded,

“Muhammad, were there times when you were out

in the boxing ring and asked yourself, ‘Why am I here?’” He

looked at me and just laughed. Through the months of working

with Ali, I learned some significant lessons. As I studied

the life of Muhammad Ali, I realized that “a failure is not a

person who falls; a failure is a person who falls and does not

try to get up again.”

On September 13, 1999, the day of my second attempt to

cross the Atlantic in a rowboat, I left from an island off the

coast of Africa. On December 3, 1999, I landed on the other

side of the ocean on the island of Guadeloupe. Going from

east to west, I felt that I was rowing a kinder and gentler part

of the ocean than on my first try. Not once did I get the feeling

that I wasn’t going to make it. Not once did I get that

feeling of terror that I had experienced during my first attempt.

The big fear on the second trip was Hurricane Lenny and

not knowing how bad the storm was going to be. The storm

kept turning back and forth, but by the time it came directly

over my boat, it had lost its teeth. It was barely of tropical

storm force, as the waves were roughly half of those of

Danielle. But sitting out there listening to the weather report,

there was no way for me to know if the storm was going to

hit me or if I was going to make it. I was absolutely petrified.

I found myself thinking, “I cannot go through another hurricane

in a rowboat. I just can’t do it.”

During the second row, the experiences may have been

similar to the first, but I knew how to make it different. I

was reacting out of my heart rather than my head and came

away thinking that in the beginning I was searching for

enlightenment.

I came home recognizing that if there was going to be

enlightenment for me, it wasn’t going to be intellectual. It

would always be a matter of heart. I could not have made it

to where I am today without some wonderful support systems.

I was fortunate enough to have had wonderful teachers

who filled the surrogate parenting role, considering I came

from the All-American dysfunctional family. At every fork in

the road, I had some magical mentor. Usually it was a teacher

who made the difference.

I’m on to a new chapter in my life, although not as physical

as before. I’m now focusing on other challenges, along

with being married to the most wonderful man in the world.

I’m putting the physical challenges on hold for a while, although

I’m set to climb Mt. McKinley in June. Okay, so maybe

not all the physical challenges.