Meet The Women Attempting To Make History On The High Seas In Rowing

Sonya-Baumstein

We were all inspired by Olympic swimmer and all-round badass Diana Nyad who at the age of 64 finally realized a lifelong goal to swim across the Cuba to Florida channel solo. She became not just the first woman, but the first PERSON to do this without the aid of a shark cage. It wasn’t easy for Diana, who has literally spent her life preparing for that moment when she reached the shore to the awaiting media and frenzy.

She had 4 failed attempts throughout her life but she didn’t allow that to stop her trying again, and again, and again. Her story of determination no small feat, and she is certainly not alone in trying to break through barriers in sport.

There are women all over the world who are attempting to set new records and at the same time make a previously unheard of path possible.

Staying on the ocean, let’s take a look at the world of rowing and sailing. At the end of 2014 an all-female sailing crew set sail for one of the most prestigious sailing races in the world, the Volvo Ocean Race. Corporate sponsor SCA created the first all-female team who have been sailing around the world for the past 9 months and are getting ready to finish their final leg.

diana-nyad

They are only the 5th all-female crew to take part in this iconic race and hope to become the first female team to win it. They want to be role models to the next generation of female sailors who only see men in this sport mostly.

Take away the obvious accolades of winning, prize money and the prestige, there is the added attention of breaking gender barriers that seems to push these women to “swim upstream” so to speak.

And now there is another woman to add to that mix. Florida athlete Sonya Baumstein is aiming to set a world record as the first women to row solo across the Pacific Ocean. She started her journey in Tokyo and aims to row 6000 miles to end San Francisco by September.

Only three solo row boats have done this feat before and none of them have been women. The 29 year old has already rowed the Atlantic ocean from the Canary Islands to Barbados in January 2012, according to the Seattle Times who spoke with her before she set out on her potentially history-making journey.

Sonya-Baumstein

Sonya rowed competitively in high school and university, and has previously conquered large distances in other sports. She has kayaked from Washington state to Alaska, stand-up paddle-boarded across the Bering Strait and bicycled 1,800 miles from the Mexican border to Seattle. While she knows the Pacific Ocean row is ambitious, she is determined.

“I worked three years of my life for this. It’s 6,000 miles. It’s going to get bad at times. I just keep my eyes on the prize,” she said.

 

“What’s gotten her across oceans and to this point is sheer drive and willpower. I was impressed by her drive and intrigued by her extremely intense and long adventures. I remember our second call; she was on a rowing machine for 24 hours straight with a partner while Skyping sponsors to sort out logistics,” said Andrew Cull, founder of Remote Medical International who is one of Sonya’s sponsors. He also trained her for her paddle board feat mentioned above.

After she set out for her journey, Sonya had to abandon her attempt and sent a distress signal in order be rescued after only one week when she was less than 200 miles off the coast of Japan.

Her boat suffered a critical steering system failure and the weather conditions meant she was not able to navigate properly. She has not yet made a decision whether to make the attempt again. While it must be disappointing for her, like Diana Nyad we know one failed attempt doesn’t mean the end of hr mission.

We often wonder why these women would actively choose to put themselves in a situation out of their comfort zone. It’s not about proving to the men that they can do it, it’s more about the personal challenge of knowing that whatever they put their mind to is possible. It also sets a really strong example for young women who want to find role models outside of entertainment and the celebrity world.

It’s about visibility and knowing that each record and barrier women break, they make the journey a little easier for the next group of women. In the UK rowing has predominantly been seen as a male-dominated sport. But in April, for the first time women’s rowing teams competed on the men’s course for the big BNY Mellon University race between Oxford and Cambridge.

oxford-womens-rowing-team

The move was hailed as a step forward for women in the sport, and it also enabled the race to be given more broadcast coverage than ever before. Oxford University beat Cambridge in both races, which were held on the Tideway in west London on Saturday for the first time since the men’s race started in 1829.

The women’s edition, dating to 1927, got equal billing and funding thanks to more than 250,000 pounds ($366,000) sponsorship by Newton Asset Management. The event was broadcast around the world and saw more than 250,000 spectators standing watch at the site of the race.

“It’s been a real step forward, a real advert for rowing,” said four-time Olympic champion Matthew Pinsent to the BBC.

Oxford coach Christine Wilson said in the past women have been absent from this event, and this was a turning point.

“What’s happening here in 2015 is really just allowing this particular sporting event to catch up. The Olympics don’t identify as the women’s Olympics and the men’s Olympics. That is important for this event, because there is so much global spotlight on it.”

President of the Oxford University Women’s Boat Club Anastasia Chitty called it a special moment.

“There were so many women before us who have not had this opportunity. It’s really humbling that we are at Oxford at the right time,” she said.

Closer to home, another group of women are attempting to make the rowing world a little less intimidating for other young women and girls. Similar to Sonya Baumstein’s journey, 4 women are attempting to row from San Francisco to Australia across the Pacific Ocean. They are the subject of a forthcoming documentary by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Sarah Moshmen (creator of ‘The Empowerment Project’) who will spend the next few months filming their journey for ‘Losing Sight of Shore‘.

coxless-crew-losing-sight-of-shore

The Coxless Crew set sail in April 2015 and plan to land in Cairns, Australia by the fall. They have been documenting the ups, downs and challenges of the journey so far (which included one team member quitting and being replaced) which they hope will be a record-breaking journey in more ways than one:

They want to be the first all female team to row the Pacific Ocean, the first ever fours boat to row the Pacific Ocean, and the fastest ever Pacific Ocean row.

The tagline for this film is “everyone has a Pacific Ocean to cross” which beautifully sums up what each of the women in this article are setting out to do. To cross their own barriers, those put up by the world and it’s often misogynistic systems, and show future generations that anything is possible.

We can see what a difference the visibility of challenges like these can make. Diana Nyad telling women in their 60s it is never too late to conquer their fears or their mountains, Sonya Baumstein wanting to show other young women that continually setting yourself bigger and more demanding challenges pushes you to be your best, and the Coxless Crew women persevering to cross an ocean that is symbolic of crossing over into a life where barriers do not determine what you can and can’t achieve.

Our conclusion is that dreams are just made of vision and ambition, they are created with hard work, difficulty and the will to success despite the odds.

Sonya-Baumstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

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