Today marks the year anniversary of Jenn Gibbons’s return from her 2012 rowing trip. RedEye celebrated the anniversary with a cover story, the 8th story I’ve written about Jenn since the summer of 2010. Here are my complete Jenn Gibbons archives along with video stories from last summer.
Shout to the great Maggie Schutz of Learnapalooza for making the intro three years ago!
7 JUL 2010 People With Passion, Part I
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, 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.
7 JUL 2010 People With Passion, Part II
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.”
7 OCT 2010 People With Passion, Part III
Jenn, on the process of fundraising to buy LIV, the boat
I drafted a couple emails. I sent it to a few people, and said, you know, “How should we frame this?” The first couple times I wrote it, it was like, “God, you don’t want to sound that desperate, but you do want to sound a little desperate.” It was the first time I had personally begged anyone for money.
At that point, I had to decide. I knew, “This is my out.” Because I could have told nobody. I could have said, “I just couldn’t raise the money in time, and now I’m screwed, and maybe I’ll wait until 2013. Or maybe I won’t do it.” You know? I knew that was kind of my moment of, like, “Do I really want to do this?” And I knew that the moment I sent that email to everyone there was no turning back.
15 JUN 2012 Jenn leaves for her Lake Michigan trip
She sleeps on the boat. Even in a storm, even at a port, her bed rests inside a 6-foot long air- and watertight sleeping cabin. And it’s not really a bed. Just a thin mattress pressed between walls with enough room to stretch her legs, and a seat belt used to keep her buckled in.
Inside the cabin are the essentials. A radio providing weather updates. A life vest. A rain coat. A fan. And of course a map of Lake Michigan that covers the ceiling, along with a small, tinted window that looks up to the sky. Outside the sleeping cabin is the rowing seat, and beyond that is a smaller cabin that holds food. The boat is 19 feet long and, when fully packed, weighs 700 pounds.
For two months, this is the home of Jenn Gibbons.
1 AUG 2012 Jenn returns to her boat after her assault
“I’m feeling good about today,” she said with a yawn. She spoke slowly, pausing after each sentence. This was not her usual fast-paced ebullience. She told me about the strain of biking and the difference in the soreness compared to the soreness of rowing. She told me about laying in the cabin for the first time since the attack, about the black chalk on the boat from the police checking for fingerprints. She breathed.
“I don’t have to sleep in there, so it’s not really scary. We were here really early, and I was laying down in the boat before the sun came up, and (pause) just getting used to the smell of the boat again, and what it feels like to lay in there. It’s still a positive feeling. I still feel safe in the boat. Everything just kind of changes, and I’ll be home soon, you know? I’ll be home in two weeks. And it will be good.”
14 AUG 2012 Jenn returns to Chicago
The women came from Chicago, Evanston and Oak Park, and at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday they were under a tent at the Chicago Yacht Club, glowing in readiness to see their coach return. There were around 30 of them, all breast cancer survivors, all of them wearing shirts promoting either their group, Recovery on Water, or their group’s co-founder, Jenn Gibbons.
One woman arrived with a bouquet of flowers. She walked up the steps from the dock to the yacht club’s back patio where the tent was set up and embraced her friends. She locked eyes with a woman with short gray hair, and then smiled. “Hair,” she said, touching her hand to her mouth. “You’ve got hair.” The woman with the short gray hair smiled and said, “Yes, I do.”
8 FEB 2013 Jenn sells her boat
“LIV was an essential part of this goal that I had, and she allowed me to accomplish the goal,” Gibbons told RedEye. “And that’s not to say that I can’t imagine ever having an open water challenge again. It’s just not the next thing that I want to do. To have a $35,000 asset sitting around and not using it wasn’t in my best interest. So to be able to sell her frees up some assets we can use for another adventure that makes more sense for now.”
Following the sexual assault episode, Gibbons began to see a therapist regularly, a practice she discontinued after feeling emotionally recovered. The effects weren’t merely in the trauma of being attacked, but also in her frustration with those who accused her of faking the attack to drum up publicity.