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Neither Jenn Gibbons, nor anyone in her close family, has ever had breast cancer. But the 27-year-old has dedicated her life to supporting survivors, and on Friday she set out for her biggest challenge motivated by that cause yet.
Gibbons is attempting to complete the first solo rowing trip from Illinois to Michigan along the lake's coast, a journey that will take her two months and cover 1,500 miles, according to her fundraising site.
Sponsor donations for the trip ("Row4ROW") helped Gibbons raise more than $45,000 for Recovery on Water (ROW), a rowing team of breast cancer survivors she co-founded in 2007 and coaches. The group follows the wisdom Gibbons has preached for years: Regular exercise is a crucial step in recovering from breast cancer and preventing its return.
"Exercise is a huge tool, it's a weapon for survivors," Gibbons told NBC Chicago. "It allows them to cut their cancer risk in half."
In addition to the physical benefits of rowing on Gibbons' team, members say it also has an impact on their emotional recoveries.
Alice Singleton, a Chicago-based writer and survivor who joined Gibbons' team, told Gapers Block the group returned a sense of power that cancer had taken away.
"Recovery On Water has made me release the shame and 'rudderless-ness' I've felt in my treatment and recovery process," Singleton told the news site.
Gibbons will be rowing 30 miles a day for two months, sleeping in her vessel, Liv, and eating dehydrated food, according to her site. Her only stops will be occasional port visits, where she will speak about her group's mission and the importance of fitness during cancer recovery.
"I decided to take on this personal challenge because I'm always asking the women to challenge themselves in so many ways," Gibbons says in a video describing her trip. (Watch below.)