Q&A with Katie Spotz

  • Article by: MICHAEL RAND , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 1, 2011 - 12:14 AM

In 2010, at age 22, Katie Spotz became the youngest person to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean -- a 3,038-mile journey. She will make appearances at local schools this week.

In 2010, at age 22, Katie Spotz became the youngest person to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean -- a 3,038-mile journey that lasted 70 days and helped raise awareness of the need for clean drinking water worldwide. Spotz, a native of Ohio who just turned 24, works in marketing for Kinetico Incorporated, a water treatment company that also sponsored her record-setting row. She will make appearances at local schools this week and on Saturday at Aquarius Water Conditioning in Little Canada. In advance of her trip, Spotz took some time to chat with the Star Tribune's Michael Rand.

Let's start with your mindset. You graduated high school at age 16. You started numerous other endeavors at a very young age. Have you always had an inkling that you wanted to live an extraordinary life, or was there an "a-ha!" moment for you?

If you would ask any of my sport coaches growing up -- swimming, track, rowing -- and told them what I was doing right now, they wouldn't believe it. I was a benchwarmer in every single sport I was involved in. But when I turned 18, I signed up for a running/walking group, running a couple miles a few times a week. I remember my first five-mile run I was so thrilled. I was slowly and gradually adding miles each week, and I considered doing a marathon. And that was the moment I realized, "We are all capable of doing a lot more than we think" and the only thing holding me back was me. I was curious to see what else I could do. It started very small with breaking through that first wall.

That led to a 3,300-mile bike ride from Seattle to Washington D.C., a 150-mile desert run, a river swim, not to mention your ocean row. What motivates you?

When you are doing something where things will go wrong, and things will come up constantly, you have to have something you believe in. ... When I was in Australia going to college, they were experiencing extreme drought, all sorts of restrictions on water issues. I was studying environmental science and I remember the professor saying the war of the future will be on water, not oil. A week later I was on a bus and someone mentioned a friend had rowed across the Atlantic Ocean twice. I became intrigued, borderline obsessed.

Seventy days and 3,000 miles are a long time and distance. Aside from focusing on technique, what sorts of things does a person think about with all that solitude?

I'd love to say I figured out and pondered all of life's greatest questions. But honestly I was listening to audio books and music on my iPod. Sometimes when I was really tired I could only think about food and very basic things.

But one thing I can say is that when you are out there and experiencing any emotion, they are heightened. The highs were the deepest highs, and the lows were the deepest lows. It was a roller-coaster because I was alone. I didn't have a support boat.

Seriously?

That's the one thing people assume. But I don't think it would appeal to me to know that I could quit at any given moment. I wanted to put myself in a situation that required me to dig deeper, and knowing that if something was broke I had to fix it.

I was after an experience that would challenge me on all levels. The best moments were encounters with the wildlife. At one point I had 20 dolphins around my boat, and they were doing all sorts of flips and tricks.

So what's the next big project?

The event is called Ride For Your Lives (www.ridefor yourlives.com) and it's a non-profit bicycle race with a partner where we ride two hours on and two hours off for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, across the country (starting June 18 in California). The record is seven days, 21 hours. That's what we're going for.

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