Sunday, April 18, 2010

Jeff Kozlovich Interviews Katie Spotz about Her Solo Non Stop Row Across the Atlantic Ocean



I have been following Katie Spotz and her Row for Water campaign since early fall. Her story is inspiring and includes over $80,000 raised for Blue Planet Run to  provide safe drinking water to those who otherwise would go without it. I've now taken up the challenge and will go on 2817 miles of endurance adventures (the number of miles she rowed ) to raise money for the same cause. Katie set the bar high but her story is so inspiring I think I'll be able to do it.
-Jeff Kozlovich

You are the youngest to row the Atlantic solo nonstop. But that's only half the story. You had to do a huge amount of organization and planning, chasing down sponsors  to get your adventure funded and crafting a campaign to raise money for Blue Planet Run.
Can you explain how that part went?

Before I took my first strokes across the Atlantic, I spent about two years planning and preparing. I spent much more time sorting out the logistics, the gear, and the boat than the physical preparation. I trained about an hour a day, working to increase endurance with a mixture of high-intensity cardio workouts, weight lifting focused on strengthening the core and back and weekly long rows on the erg machine. An essential part of training included trial rows on Lake Erie. But endurance is much more of a mental challenge than physical. A year before the row, I worked with a Sports Psychologist who helped me break down the challenge into manageable steps or phases. I have also participated in extensive meditation retreats, the last one in which I meditated twelve hours a day for ten days straight without any sort of human interaction similar to the isolation at sea. 
 What crazy replies did you get when you started asking for sponsorship?

Creating the Row for Water campaign was an adventure in itself! Although my many sponsorship rejection letters were fairly polite, I did receive a few emails right before I left explaining that rowing the Atlantic is a death wish and that the chance of me getting eaten by a shark is very high. 

Which  was more difficult, the logistics or all that happened after leaving the dock in Dakar?                                                                                           
The challenges on land and at sea where different but overcoming it all made the experience that much more rewarding. There were moments at sea I didn't know where I'd find the strength to continue on and there were days in the preparations stages where I questioned whether the efforts were going to amount to anything. 

Can you share some of the joy, any moment when you felt liked you belonged out there alone in the Atlantic? 
For a large part of the journey I felt present;  there’s no need to think beyond the moment. The high moments were filled with abundant wildlife, endless sky, and the simplicity of life on a rowboat. As I was approaching the fourth-way mark of the journey, I wanted to do something special to celebrate. The decision was made for me when fins started to appear. Moments later my boat was surrounded by a pod of ten or fifteen dolphins. They swam so close to my boat, I could nearly touch them. I felt like they were giving me a show mid-Atlantic by doing flips and tricks for twenty minutes.

I'm trying to figure out how intense those 10 plus hours a day of rowing  were. How many strokes per minute and do you have any idea of your average heart rate during your rowing?

My main goal was to be able to wake up and do another 10-12 hours of rowing the next day. I really had to pace myself for the 10,000 daily oar strokes so I wasn't working at a racing pace. Not only would this burn me out in the first day, but it would leave me vulnerable to injury. 

 I have always been curious about how you adapted to a largely dehydrated food diet. Did you notice any difference in performance? Did it take time for your body to adapt?
What was your favorite dehydrated meal?
What is your normal on land diet like?

My diet as sea and land are very different. At times, I struggled to force food down and keep it there! During the first two weeks, I lost my appetite due to the extreme heat. There were certain foods that worked on land but at sea , I had different food cravings and preferences. The one dehydrated meal that I enjoyed the most was fettuccine alfredo from a company called Enertia Trail Foods. Although the dehydrated meals helped me get in my daily 4,000-5,000 calories and keep the weight of the boat down, now that I'm on land again, I'm not going anywhere near these meals!

The one thing I missed the most at sea was fresh fruits and vegetables. While I did bring a sprouting kit on board, the first thing I was looking for once I arrived was watermelon (and, yes, they had it waiting for me). My diet now is filled with lots of fresh fruits and veggies. For breakfast I usually have yogurt and fruit, lunch a hearty salad and/or soup, and dinner a lean meat with more greens. 

Most endurance athletes are a bit older, mostly because of the mental/emotional component. You are a young endurance athlete. How did you decide that ultra distance events were for you?

It started small with my first marathon at age 18. Before this challenge, I wasn't particularly athletic so it was a thrill to realize that these challenges are available to me and all walks of life. I realized that I was the person holding me back by doubts and fears, and that the real challenge is the mental component. With endurance, no matter how fit your body is, there comes a moment where you're faced with a wall. And it's the mind that allows you to overcome.

After the first marathon, I was curious (very, very curious) to see how far I could go. A few adventures later (running across two deserts, swimming a 325-mile river, rowing 3,000-miles across the Atlantic, and a 3,300 mile bicycle ride across America) and I'm still hungry for more!


You are now an internationally respected endurance athlete so I'd like to get your take on Penny Palfrey's 72 mile open ocean swim attempt.

Huge kudos to Penny! She seems to be well-prepared, trained, and supported. With any endurance challenge I think its important to have your head on straight, especially with facing unknown dangers and Penny looks like she's taking the right approach. I'll be watching and cheering on from Ohio!

I've been following your adventure for many months mostly feeling inspired but on occasion feeling down because I can't go on a similar adventure.  I have decided go on 2817 miles of endurance adventures in the coming year here in Hawaii to raise money for Blue Planet Run. Out of respect for all you have accomplished with your Row for Water, that is the number of miles you rowed across the Atlantic.  Right now I'm in the oh my god what did i get myself into phase. Any advice for me?

When I was a bit younger and looking at other people's adventurous lifestyles, I remember feeling a bit jealous too. But that mindset will may not get me to the adventures so I started to look at what was within my reach. Adventures are available to all, whether it means sneaking in a two hour row across a lake or 70-day row across an ocean. 

Some of the best moments in endurance are those oh my god, what did I get myself into phases. It means you are stepping outside your comfort zone and that's the best place to grow, learn, and experience. For two and a half years, I asked myself that same question while planning, preparing, and executing the row. You're certainly not alone and with a bit of belief in yourself and you capabilities, I have no doubt that you can cover your 2817 miles of endurance adventures. Just believe and enjoy because it might not be long before you're asking for more!


You achieved your dream and are on your way to achieving  much more. Any advice to those still just dreaming?
I was the worst on my college crew team and I firmly believe we are all capable of achieving much more than we may think. Often, the number one thing to hold ourselves back is just that, our self. 

What are you planning for your next adventure?

Before setting off on my next adventure, I would like to write a book about the trials and tribulations preparing for and taking on my solo row across the Atlantic. For my next adventure, I would like to cycle from South to North America, visiting safe drinking water projects along the way. My mission would be to learn and share with others where the donations have gone and the lives affected as a result of the row. 


Click here to donate to Blue Planet Run

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