Wayne Bertsch

The Woodvale Events Atlantic Rowing competition is quite a monumental undertaking. It's a two months long race across the Atlantic by rowboat. One hundred and thirty one attempts to row across the Atlantic along this route have been made, but only 97 have completed the task. Woodvale Events hosts this competition on odd-numbered years, and this year two women from Purdue University will be the only American team to attempt it.

Sarah Kessans and Emily Kohl are recent Purdue University graduates who met as members of the competitive rowing team. They're currently training around the clock in Florida in preparation for the race but took time out to speak with us by phone. The race starts in La Gomera in the Canary Islands on Nov. 27 and ends in Antigua in the West Indies - just a little over 2900 nautical miles (3335 land miles).

Q: How many female teams have done this before?

Emily: I don't know the exact numbers. There have been 17 women who have successfully crossed the ocean by rowboat. That includes the Atlantic and Pacific. Some have rowed solo, and some as part of a team with a male rower.

Sarah: We will be the youngest women's team to do it, though.

Q: How did this come about?

Sarah: I was in Dublin, Ireland, for a two-month summer internship. I picked up a book to read on the flight back: Debra Veal's Rowing It Alone about her experience rowing in the 2001 race, and it was absolutely inspiring. I thought it was a really neat idea so I presented it to the rest of the Purdue rowing team. Emily thought it was an amazing idea and we immediately started researching the next race.

Q: What's been your biggest obstacle?

Emily: Finding sponsorship. Just being two students fresh out of college and trying to find the funding for something like this has been a huge obstacle. Making it to the starting line will definitely be the hardest part for us.

Sarah: We really need to raise about $200,000 total. We're about halfway there.

Q: What kind of equipment do you take?

Emily: We've got a medical kit, an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), a satellite phone, GPS, 500 pounds of food (which is enough to last 75 days) and a water desalinator.

Q: What's your training regimen?

Sarah: We're on the water about eight to ten hours. We'll row on the intercoastal for a couple miles and then maybe down to Miami and row on Biscayne Bay.

Q: Once you're out on the open ocean how do you do simple things - like sleeping?

Emily: We'll be doing two-hour shifts. I'll row while Sarah sleeps and then we'll be switching. We'll be doing that 24 hours a day.

Q: What kind of food will you eat?

Emily: Freeze-dried stuff. We just bought a few to try and they're really not that bad ... chili, stew and lasagna. We have a little propane stove on board to heat the food with.

Q: How about going to the restroom?

Emily: "Bucket and chuck it!"

Q: Why put yourself through this?

Sarah: We're not just doing this to test our own limits and the limits of the human spirit, but also to inspire others.

Emily: Because you've only got one life to live and because it's there.

Potential sponsors and individual donors can contact Emily and Sarah through their website: Americanfirerowing.com.


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