2003 – London, England: Rosalind Savage was divorced, overweight and out of shape. She had spent the past 11 years working in a cubicle for a London computer company and hated her job and miserable life. One day at work she wrote two obituaries. The first one about the conventional, ordinary life that she was living – the second about a life of adventure that she would like to live. At age 36, Savage became a most unlikely adventurer.
Savage was born in Leeds, England, the daughter of two Methodist ministers. Her parents frequently moved between churches and Savage lived a typical preacher’s kid life. As a child, she was the one chosen last when it came to neighborhood teams. Savage loved books and eating. By her teens, her big appetite and aversion to exercise had resulted in plenty of unwanted pounds on her 5’4” frame.
After high school, Savage attended Cambridge University in Cambridge, England. When a crew team member mentioned that rowing workouts burned 5,000 calories a day, she was intrigued. Loving the idea of eating all she wanted without gaining weight, Savage tried out for the team. She was chosen for the No. 2 position on the women’s crew team and rowed for three years at Cambridge. After graduation, Savage continued competitive rowing on the Thames for five years before workouts got lost in the busyness of 12-14 hour days in the corporate world.
After the obituary exercise, Savage quit her job. She sold everything she owned and then used the money from her savings and divorce settlement to buy a 24-foot ocean rowboat. Her idea for a must-be-more-to-life adventure was way off the absurd chart. Savage planned to enter the 2005 Atlantic Rowing race, a rowing race across the Atlantic Ocean. The annual event, which began in 1997, was billed as the “world’s toughest rowing race,” without any hint of exaggeration.
Savage only had 14 months to prepare for the race, which began in the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa and ended in Antigua, in the Caribbean Sea 3,000 miles to the west. Only about 300 boats had successfully rowed across the Atlantic, most of those were two, three or four person crews. Savage would be the first solo woman to compete in the 26-boat race. She prepared by rowing for up to 12 hours a day on the Thames River, but rowing on the river to prepare for the Atlantic was like climbing stairs to scale Mt. Everest.
The race began on November 30, 2005. On day one, Savage’s water-maker, her most important piece of equipment failed. Embarrassed, she had to radio for instructions on how to repair the equipment. Day two found her seasick and throwing up over the boat railing. During the first month, Savage developed saltwater boils on her posterior and tendinitis in her shoulders. At some point, all four oars broke, requiring splinting and her stove failed. Savage discovered that getting out of your comfort zone is extremely uncomfortable.
During the race, Savage almost gave up on numerous occasions. The physical challenges were unimaginable, but the psychological ones were worse. She frequently threw her oars down in disgust, screamed and cried, but she realized that she alone had volunteered for the race and the only way out was to row out of it. So she picked up her oars and returned to rowing. On good days, she rowed for 12 hours and covered 30 miles. On bad days, the wind blew her back 5-7 miles in the wrong direction. She finished dead last, a full two months behind the winner and 103 days after she began, but on March 12, Savage rowed into Antigua.
Today Roz Savage is the author of three books and numerous magazine articles. She is sought-after motivational speaker on courage, resilience and change. Savage holds four Guinness World Records for ocean rowing, including the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.
“No matter how hard it got, I always believed that the only thing worse than carrying on would be to quit.” Rosalind Savage