Nothing's Impossible: Meet Katie Spotz, the Rower Who Tamed the Atlantic

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IMarch 26, 2010

One reason why athletes are often admired by the masses is that they often push themselves to the limits to do amazing things—whether it's scoring 38 points with the flu in Game Five of the NBA Finals, winning the U.S. Open with an ACL-stricken left knee, or rowing across the Atlantic Ocean solo style.

Is it truly mind over matter? Sanity over insanity? Or just the fact that once an individual gets past the rationalization factor of "playing it safe," one is capable of doing what's deemed impossible?

Katie Spotz, a sensational 22-year-old adventurer and athlete from Mentor, OH, knows a thing or two about accomplishing many athletic achievements in style. She doesn't just merely settle for what's reachable for most people—she tests the human strength to the absolute maximum!

Like any other athlete, she trains hard—physically and mentally, getting herself in tip-top shape for her next endeavor. After all, it's not a simple decision to pursue a challenging goal such as a 70-day rowing journey across the second-largest ocean in the world.

Witness: Spotz swam the entire length of the 325-mile long Allegheny River, located between New York state and Pennsylvania. That's just for starters.

Spotz also participated in the Big Ride Across America, the Oxfam Trail Run in Australia, and a Half Ironman Triathalon. Simply put: She's the epitome of a genuine, all-around athlete who accomplishes the incredible!

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Just a few weeks ago, Spotz completed what may have been her greatest individual accolade when she completed her row across the Atlantic Ocean—a two-month journey. Her rowing expedition was in the name of advocating safe drinking water projects worldwide.

Imagine being around water for so long—alone, with limited options for food, drink, and room for sanity. At any moment, dangers lurked—such as choppy waves, as well as inclement weather—which could easily intimidate even the best athlete.

In other words, this wasn't your cruise ship experience or recreational sail around Martha's Vineyard.

Perhaps what struck me most when I followed Spotz' progress across the ocean was how she handled each day without human interaction. Sure, there were ways to track her through Twitter, but the fact that she didn't talk to anyone verbally had to be quite strange and a bit of a lonely feeling. Try to imagine having only yourself and sea creatures that accompany you on an adventure like Spotz' from January through mid-March.

Earlier this week, I interviewed the pride of Ohio, who has been catching up with her family and friends back in her hometown—as well as getting used to the fact that she's back on land after two months. For someone who only saw water all around her for that duration of time, Spotz possessed the kind of smarts, wittiness, and kindness of any athlete I've come across in my work.

To say the very least, it's not an assumption to note that reading her accomplishments are inspiring. Maybe she'll be an impetus to us trying a little harder when we're out there in our arena.

Whatever it may be, it's quite certain that this will not be the last time we'll hear from Spotz, who might just plan to outdo her latest accomplishment with the most daring and daunting goal in mind. As the "Big Apple" is often billed as "the city that never sleeps," Spotz is the athlete who likes to keep at it, ready for the next big sporting challenge!

So catch your breath, sit for a while, and read on about Katie Spotz, the athlete who truly knows that bigger is indeed better!

Rob Tiongson : You're certainly an adventure seeker with two tremendous accolades along with your various athletic accomplishments. What drives you to do what many would consider impossible?

Katie Spotz : I am constantly looking for new ways to challenge myself. My passion for endurance started by completing my first marathon at age 18. Before taking on this challenge, I was not particularly athletic, so immediately after completing the marathon, I was curious to see how far I could go.

This curiosity fueled a 150-mile run across the Mojave and Colorado desert, 325-mile swim of the Allegheny River, 3,300-mile bike ride across the country, and now, my latest (but certainly not my final) challenge, a solo row across the Atlantic Ocean.

Beyond my curiosity, I see each challenge as an opportunity to raise funds and awareness for charity. My row was a 'Row for Water' with the goal of helping thousands of people gain access to safe drinking water for life.

RT
: Not many 22-year-olds would even dare to swim the entire length of a river, which you did two years ago when you went the entire distance of the Allegheny River—that's incredible enough.

This year, perhaps, tops your amazing athletic achievements with you rowing the entire Atlantic alone. How'd you do it mentally and physically? It had to be quite a strain and taxing ordeal for two months.

KS : Before setting off on the 3,000-mile row, 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 12 hours a day for 10 days straight, without any sort of human interaction similar to the isolation at sea.

RT : Your journey made the news internationally, with the press recognizing your incredible experiences from start to finish. Did it ever cross your mind that you'd be an inspiration to many out there who may feel that they can overcome adversities and obstacles in life?

KS : Before taking on this challenge I didn't realize how people would respond but one of the most rewarding parts is when it inspires action in others. 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.

RT
: Certainly, while the events you've competed are of an extreme degree, they require some of the same discipline and mindset that popular sports like baseball and football require, in terms of endurance and agility. Do you have a particular regimen or routine that you do to be in such pristine shape?

KS : Surprisingly, most of the challenges I have completed do not require the amount of training many expect. You really only need a basic level of fitness and a huge amount of determination. I've spent much more time sorting out the logistics, the gear, and the boat than the physical preparation.

RT : Growing up in Mentor, Ohio, what did you want to do before realizing, perhaps, your calling as an adventurer? Ohio's a long way from Melborne, Australia, when you participated in the Oxfam Trail Run, and certainly, from Senegal to Georgetown, Guyana.

KS : In 2008, I graduated with a Business and Economics degree from Warren Wilson College. For the past few years, I have worked for several nonprofit organizations and my last position was for a local charity in Cleveland. I have some ideas for my next big challenge but at the moment I'm going where the wind takes me.

RT : Having some time back on land and with family and friends, I'm sure you've had some time to think it over and catch your breath on your experiences. What are some of the high points, and low points of your rowing across the Atlantic? Were there times that you had to remind yourself, "Katie, it's truly mind over matter...just do it?"

KS : There were moments I would have given anything to be back on land and others where I felt there was no other place to be but the sea. The high moments were filled with abundant wildlife, endless sky, and the simplicity of life on a rowboat. Fires on-board, close encounters with passing freighters, and near capsizes on twenty-foot waves were an exciting treat.

The lowest points were fueled by sleep deprivation. An ocean rowboat is good for rowing but not necessarily sleeping. I struggled to sleep the entire way across as if rowing 10 hours a day wasn't difficult enough. I never lost sight of my overall goal but there were countless times that I wasn't sure where I would find the strength to continue on.

RT : If for race car drivers the thrills of being in motorsports are the speed and trips to victory lane, for you, as a truly remarkable athlete, what are your moments of euphoria?

KS : As soon as I had my feet firmly planted on dry land again, I was glowing. The first day back on land...it was like I was seeing and experiencing everything for the first time. To hear different sounds after two and half months alone at sea was a wonder.

RT : When there's free time and you're back home near family and friends, what do you enjoy doing? Any particular hobby or recreation that you enjoy?

KS : The things I missed most at sea were good food and good people. I'm not so concerned with what I'm doing but who I'm with and so I spend my free time with good friends and family. Yoga is fun, too.

RT : While it may be apples and oranges with regards to your career highlights as an athlete, personally, what would be your most memorable one so far? Would it have to be rowing the Atlantic or cycling from Seattle to Washington, D.C.?

KS : Rowing the Atlantic was the most exciting and rewarding. The stakes were as high as they could be without a support boat. I was alone in the middle of an ocean for months. In many ways, I was one moment away from disaster. On the other side, I had an intimate connection to my surroundings and experiences few have ever had. 

RT : Free Association time for you, Katie! I've tested the best in auto racing, and now one of the world's most amazing athletes will be on the hot seat! You game? Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind with the following:

Fatigue.

KS : It will pass.

RT : Marathon.

KS : For breakfast.

RT : Family.

KS : No worries.

RT : Limits.

KS : In the mind.

RT : Challenge.

KS : Yes, please.

RT : Traveling.

KS : Which way?

RT : Favorite music.

KS : Imogen Heap.

RT : If I could meet someone, dead or alive, it'd be...

KS : You!

RT : Life. 

KS : Is a journey.

RT : Thrills.

KS : Big waves.

RT : Do you ever see yourself slowing down in the long haul or do you plan to keep on seeking more adventures? It seems like there's lots to be realized in our small world.

KS : I'll sleep when I'm dead (but I'm quite looking forward to it). All jokes aside, I love challenges and am already excited for the next one. Stay tuned!

For more information about Katie Spotz or if you want to follow her next journey, wherever it'll be, check out her Twitter by visiting http://twitter.com/KatieSpotz , as well as her official website at http://rowforwater.com !