People with Passion: ocean rower Jenn Gibbons


July 7, 2010

Jenn Gibbons, rowing in Liv (photo: Kyle Weaver,

In January 2012, Chicagoan Jenn Gibbons will solo row the Atlantic Ocean, from Senegal to Guyana. She will travel in the custom-designed ocean rower Liv, and will make the trip in 70 to 100 days.

The following is the first part of the first interview between Gibbons and, a series of interviews that will continue until her departure, and resume upon her safe arrival on land. In this portion, Gibbons discusses her new training regimen – one that includes physical, mental, and emotional preparation – and the fears and concerns inherent in the journey.

I’m working in six-week pyramids. I start off doing one to two hours of cardio a day, and weightlifting, and Yoga, and I kind of go up in the pyramid in the six weeks. It gets up to where I’m doing eight hours of rowing a day. And then it comes back down again. And then it will go back up in another six weeks. I’m doing everything in these pyramids to make sure that as I get closer to the trip itself – and I have lots of time now – I’ll start to really increase my hours to make sure my body can do it.

I haven’t taken any long trips. And that’s the reason I have Liv[1] here for the summer. What I’m doing now is getting comfortable rowing on the lake. The Great Lakes can be even more choppy than the ocean. There’s nowhere for the waves to be absorbed. And in the ocean they don’t end up hitting each other again.

Each week I have new goals. Next week, my goal is to get to Navy Pier and back[2], see how that goes every day, try it out. Week after that, maybe I’ll row up to Rogers Park and back, and then maybe it’s Evanston. If I row to Evanston and back every day, that will be about the distance, because I need to row at least 30 miles a day during my trip.

And you’re out there, and it’s just you. There’s no chopper following or anything.

No. I’m entirely alone. I have dehydrated food, and the dehydrated food is really simple. It comes in these packs that are airtight, and I have a little container that boils water. I turn the flame on, boil the water, drop in my dehydrated food, cook it for seven to eight minutes, and then I have a high calorie meal. That’s where the majority of my calories will come. The rest will be really high calorie snacks, Power Bars, you know, electrolytes… things like that.

You really have to pack precisely. And then you gotta follow that.

Oh exactly. I have to row it the whole way. The boat itself weighs 400 pounds. After three months of provisions, it will probably be 700 pounds.

Sleeping is rough. The waves are constantly there, and at night I sleep in the airtight cabin. So if there was a storm – for sleeping, obviously, I keep it airtight, so if there’s a storm I’m not gonna know about it in my sleep. And if I am to flip – the boat is self-righting – so if there is a bad storm and the boat does flip, it will flip upright.

With all that in mind, with the new process of eating, of making food, of de-salting, of sleeping, of waste disposal… With all of these new, large challenges, what do you see as the largest?

Mental health. It’s boring. I mean, yeah, it’s gonna be physically challenging. But I’m not going to have social interaction outside of maybe a few satellite phone calls. Which, you know, it won’t be much. I’m going to be rowing ten hours a day. Rowing for two hour shifts, eating, rowing, sleeping, and I’ll be able to do some updates on the website, things like that. I think the scariest thing is definitely being alone for that long. To prepare for that, I’m doing some meditation, to get up to where I’m meditating for hours and hours on end. I’m hoping that will be helpful. Audio books, tons of music… You know, Katie[3], she packed four iPods – two of ‘em had audio books and comedy skits, stuff like that, and two of ‘em had music on them. I really think being alone, the boredom of it, you go a little crazy… and I guess, that I’m a little afraid of. I’m a really social person, so I like and need to be around people.

I do want to work with a sports psychologist. That’s one thing on my list of in-kind stuff that I need to reach out for. It would be really healthy for me to do that, not only for me, but – it’s kind of like a reverse culture shock when you get back, because you’ve been through this experience that no one understands. Emotionally, mentally, it’s probably the most challenging.


For more on Jenn and her quest, check out, and follow her on facebook. Also, check out for more on the photographer credited above.

Stay tuned to for more conversations with this bold athlete!

[1] From “The boat is a state-of-the-art, custom-built fiberglass composite craft [and] is the product of a unique collaboration between the accomplished British ocean rowboat designer Phil Morrison and the world-class Rhode Island boat builders Aquidneck Custom.”


[2] Her starting point is the Lincoln Park Lagoon.

[3] On March 14, 2010, Katie Spotz landed in Guyana to become, at the age of 22, the youngest person to make the trek solo.


6 Replies to “People with Passion: ocean rower Jenn Gibbons”

  1. We spend far too much time focused on the foibles and failures of famous fuck-ups in our society, be it in politics, entertainment or the nut case down the block. This idea to interview and focus on the passions and joie de vivre of those who inspire us, is pure genius. You’re on to something, Jack! Stay with it and hopefully the world will follow.

    And best of luck to Jenn. She has already succeeded in having the personal courage and strength to take up the challenge. Completing the trip will simply be her affirmation.

  2. I can’t help but see the parallel between Jenn and Bill Pinkney, the sailor who circumnagivated the world solo in a sail boat. I’m struck by what feels to me like an act of unnecessary peril self-imposed. I get hurt enough just walking around! So that fuels interest in the question why does Jenn have this passion in the first place? What is it in her life that gives birth to this drive?

    I did wonder how old she was and would like to know although it probably doesn’t matter.

    It’s a wonderful article and I look forward to hearing more about her trip. Of course, I wish her the very best!!

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