Katie Spotz speaks with a surprising serenity when reflecting on the incredible feats she's already accomplished at 24 years old.
Spotz is so calm, in fact, that she makes it seem like rowing across the entire Atlantic Ocean -- which she did in 2010 at 22 years old, the youngest person ever to complete the journey -- was something we could all do if we really wanted to.
And her physical accomplishments become that much more impressive when you consider that, growing up, Katie wasn't even a star athlete.
"I was more or less a benchwarmer in most sports I was involved in," she told HuffPost, remembering her high school years in Mentor, Ohio. "But at 18 I started running like two or three times a week, and from there I had the courage to sign up for my first marathon. And I realized that hey, I'm capable of doing a lot more than I think."
The marathon sparked her curiosity, she said, and made her wonder what else she could do. So, at 19, Spotz embarked on her first cross-country bike trip, to raise money for the American Lung Association.
"I just started seeing what else I could do, what else was out there," she said.
Turns out, she could also swim the entire length of the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania. The 325-mile swim took Spotz a month, and made her the only person in history to accomplish the feat.
"I love swimming. I could keep going," she told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review after she got out of the water. "I've had a blast."
The trip was sponsored by the Blue Planet Network, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing safe drinking water to communities across the globe.
Spotz, then an environmental studies major at Woodrow Wilson College, soon headed off to Australia to study abroad, and came face to face with the epic droughts facing the country.
"I was always interested in water issues around the world," she said. "One day I was on this bus and I was sitting next to someone whose friend had rowed across the Atlantic, and of course I was instantly intrigued. Borderline obsessed."
Spotz decided that rowing across the Atlantic Ocean was something she had to do, mostly because it didn't seem humanly possible. "I didn’t know of any other challenge that would push you on every aspect -– mentally, physically, emotionally," she said. "I was buzzing."
She partnered again with Blue Planet, and had a custom rowboat designed for her trip. She packed two sets of oars, four iPods full of audio books, three hundred chocolate bars, and "a lot of determination," as she puts it. On her way, she was surrounded by dolphins, slapped in the face by a fish, and used as a perch for seagulls. She saw a few sharks.
"It was mainly eat, sleep, row. 10,000 oar strokes a day for 70 days straight," she said. But she made it, and raised $100,000 for Blue Planet in the process.
This Saturday, June 18, Spotz will attempt another cross-country bike trip, "Ride4Water," but this time she'll be riding along with her close friend and mentor, Sam Williams, who, back in 2007, also rowed across the Atlantic. The trip is sponsored and supported by Levi's and the Blue Planet Network. Three teams will race 3,000 miles non-stop across the United States, from Oceanside, Calif., to Annapolis, Maryland. That's 170,000 feet of climbing.
"For me, it wasn’t about the running or the rowing or the sport, it was just about that feeling I got from pushing beyond what I thought was possible," Spotz said.
Unfortunately, she suffered a pelvic injury just this past week, which will keep her from completing the journey on her own. But that's not going to stop her from the race. She'll complete as much of the trip as she can using a custom hand bike, and her teammates will fill in the extra miles.
"That’s the nature of challenging yourself, of really challenging yourself. Knowing if or how you’ll be able to get through," she said. "It definitely helps me knowing that what I do is part of something bigger."
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