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Roz Savage, Ocean Rower

In our regular story series Mighty Oats for Mighty People, Mornflake meets inspirational people worldwide to talk stellar achievements, complex challenges and incredible accomplishments. This month, the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, Roz Savage, talks to us about courage, sisterhood, and life at sea.

As if crossing a total of 15,000 miles of ocean weren’t achievement enough, Roz has also completed the New York and London marathons; she’s an Oxford law graduate, author, a lecturer at Yale, an MBE, sustainability advocate, public speaker… OK, we’re officially intimidated – is there anything she hasn’t done? ‘I have yet to conquer the Serpentine,’ she says, with a smile.

Intrigued by the sheer scope of her adventures, we asked Roz to talk us through it from the beginning. When did she first get her sea legs? ‘I first took up rowing at university,’ Roz explains. ‘I wanted to be able to eat more without getting fat – not very inspiring!’

But there’s a world of difference between crewing for Oxford and attempting feats that for most of us seem near-impossible. What was the impetus behind her first solo voyage, crossing the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Antigua in 2005–2006? ‘I’d decided a) I didn’t want to work in an office for the rest of my life, and b) that we need to take better care of earth,’ she says. ‘I wanted an original way to get that message across. I decided to row three oceans and use my adventures as a platform to talk about environmental challenges.’

And what a platform it is. Since completing her oceanic trio, Roz has given talks everywhere from Google to TED, appeared on Channel Four and the BBC, written for Forbes and the Huffington Post, and been featured in publications from the New York Times to Grazia. We conclude: message coming through loud and clear.

We assume a typical day for Roz involves the usual powerhouse-superwoman routine: you know, up at 4am, straight into a Rocky-style workout, then egg-white omelettes for breakfast – but Roz corrects us. ‘On dry land, I wake up, snuggle with my husband, do my stretching and meditating routine, have a shower, and make my tea and porridge!’

Now we’re talking – porridge is more our level of expertise than battling 20-foot waves. How about a quick-fire round, starting with: toppings. ‘I’ve mixed all kinds of weird things into porridge, like those green powders, but at the moment I’m going with fresh banana, dried apricots, a mixture of nuts and seeds, and a sprinkling of ground ginger and cinnamon.’ What about the porridge itself? ‘I make it the Scottish way, with salt and water. No milk. Yuck!’

‘Here’s a tip from my rowing days,’ Roz adds. ‘I had a Jetboil stove for boiling water, but no way of cooking over a flame. I would mix up my porridge in a thermal mug, add boiling water, and leave for about 10 minutes. I still make it the same way, in the same mug.’

Moving on, Roz has rowed over 15,000 miles – that’s around five million oar strokes – spending a cumulative 500 days at sea, solo, in a 23-foot rowboat. Crossing the Atlantic, her stove broke; as did her navigation equipment, music player and satellite phone. The Pacific took two attempts: on the first, she capsized three times. It’s safe to say she’s faced some almighty challenges. But her biggest? ‘Myself!’ she says. ‘Really, I think for all of us, it’s what’s going on in our heads that makes life heaven, or hell.

‘My first ocean crossing was incredibly hard. Lots of my equipment broke, including all four oars before I even reached halfway,’ she continues, ‘but I learned a lot about my attitude. My last ocean crossing was also very hard – five months alone at sea, with many capsizes along the way – but I coped much better mentally, because I’d got the hang of it. I’m convinced it’s not so much what happens to us, it’s much more about the story we tell ourselves about what’s happening.’

We’re feeling thoroughly inspired by this positive mind-set, so how about Roz’s best memories of her adventures? ‘Two very different moments,’ she recalls. ‘The first was stepping ashore after my Atlantic crossing. I was so incredibly proud of myself for not having given up, and so happy to be back on dry land!

‘The second was a magical moment in the middle of the Pacific, at night time, looking up at the stars and feeling at once so tiny and insignificant, and so connected to everything.’

We don’t know about you, but we’ve got goose bumps. It’s enough to have us grabbing the oars and charting a course ourselves. How about it, Roz? ‘No more physical adventures for me, thanks. I enjoy lovely long walks in nature, but that’s as far as my physical endeavour goes these days. I’m still pushing my boundaries, but in different ways. Now I am in the process of launching a global network for women and girls, called The Sisters, to help the female half of the world’s population work together to create a better future.’

Finally, we wanted to know her advice for mighty people. Take it away, Roz: ‘I used to have all kinds of doubts and fears. I used to think I wasn’t strong, or brave, or a leader. I used to think you had to have courage BEFORE you did something brave. Now I know you only get brave by doing. You have to feel the fear, and do it anyway. How do you do that? You get really motivated. Find something bigger than you that you really care about – the environment, justice, women’s rights, education – whatever. And you will find you have all the courage you need.’

Read more about Roz at rozsavage.com