People with Passion: ocean rower Jenn Gibbons


July 7, 2010

"I have to remember three things. To make the trip, I need food, and I need water, and I need oars, so if anything else breaks it doesn’t really matter. If I have a compass, I can figure it out..."

In January 2012, Chicagoan Jenn Gibbons will solo row the Atlantic Ocean, from Senegal to French 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 second 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 pre-trip fears and jitters, and why the specific rewards of rowing outweigh the specific risks.

I thought a lot about it, and I think if I wanted to do it – and I do want to do it – this is the right time. Once I accepted that, and once I started to get into the meat of what it is that I need to do, it excited me more than anything else, to be honest. I’ve been waiting for that moment to get really scared, and I won’t say that’s happened yet, but the first time I saw the boat, and I got in and started rowing, I just got really excited. I wasn’t scared.

I’m still in the beginning process for this whole thing. I’m still kind of, you know, feeling everything out. I can think of two instances when I’ve been in the boat and thought, “Oh shit. I don’t know. This is really scary.” And like, “What if I can’t do this? And what if I’ve committed to this, and I just decide that it’s not for me? How am I going to back out in a good way?” And I’m definitely past that point. I don’t think I can…

You know, actually, I shouldn’t say that. One of my mentors said to me that I always have to be willing to say, “Okay…” like, at any point, “I don’t want to do this anymore, I don’t think that I can do it,” and be able to walk away. I don’t think I can do that, personally, just because of the way I am. (Pause.) I am open to the idea. (Pause.) In a healthy mind, there should never be a point where – you know, if something happened and I physically couldn’t do it, I’d need to get over it. There’s so much preparation and so much control that you can have over so much right now, that by the time you actually get in the boat, I think I will be less stressed. I have so much to do, so much funding to raise before I get on this trip – by the time I actually get in the boat, I think I’ll just be like “Alright, time to row.”

What happens if you have one of those, but, like, on Day 30, for instance? You’re out there and you start to go…

I have to remember three things. To make the trip, I need food, and I need water, and I need oars, so if anything else breaks it doesn’t really matter. If I have a compass, I can figure it out. And like I said, making sure I’ve taken all of the navigation classes, or first aid, in case I rip something open on my body, being able to control so many things before I go will probably make me feel better. I’ve run marathons and I’ve gotten to The Wall, and at least with running, the best thing is to just push through it. You’ll find a good place somewhere.

I noticed on your quote, and I don’t have it exactly, but that “rowing helped me discover who I was, who I wasn’t, and win the fight between that…” What is it about rowing that allows you to do that better than someone who might say the same thing about – you know, “I learned this from playing the guitar.” “I learned this from biking.” “I learned this from teaching.” “I learned this from what-have-you.” Why rowing?

It’s such an individual thing, that I wish I could just chalk it up to that, but honestly, I’m not the only person who feels this way about rowing. When you’re in a boat by yourself, you’re the only one that can be accountable for what’s going on in a race. It’s different when you’re with other people, but at the same time you want to be accountable to the other people in your boat, and I think it just asks so much of you, and then it asks for a little more, and a little more. One of the coolest things I learned about myself when I was rowing, and the reason that I really love it, is that it asks more of me than I was willing to ask of myself.

It’s the ultimate team sport. It’s individual, and it’s really team oriented. Obviously there’s individual training that you’re doing, and you’re competing with yourself. But when you get in a boat with people… I tell this to my athletes as well: you know, I don’t care how well you think you can row if you can’t row together. Because the whole idea is that you’re getting the blades in together, at the same time, and you’re doing it with this fluid motion.

You also just learn so much about teamwork. If you’re on a softball team and you’ve got a dud player, you just kind of deal with that person. And maybe they’ll be cut from the team, or you have weird feelings toward them or whatever.

You stick ‘em in right field, try to bat someone good around ‘em.

Or you sit ‘em on the bench, or whatever. Yeah. There’s no sitting on the bench in rowing. Everyone’s in the boat, and you have to make it work. I found that with coaching, it’s been really inspiring to watch these kids, because they so often are the first ones to find someone to be an outsider. And they really try to make things work, because at the end of the day, they’re not gonna row to the finish line by themselves. They have to do it with the seven other people in their boat. I don’t think there’s many sports like that. You’re really dependent on each other. That’s what I love about it.


For Part I of our July 7 interview, click here

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!


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

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