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5 Lessons from Ocean Rowing with Adventurer Sally Kettle

5 Lessons from Ocean Rowing with Adventurer Sally Kettle

Sally Kettle just wanted an interesting life. Now, she’s a professional adventurer, author, speaker, and Guinness World Record Holder. Sally’s story of pushing her limits to row the Atlantic Ocean and create a life of exploration and adventure is an inspiring saga of facing fears, developing resilience, and adapting to change.

What can you learn from a life of challenge and ocean rowing? Sally came on the Tough Girl podcast to share the many lessons she’s learned along the way.

1. Solve Crises with a New Aim

The London Marathon was Sally’s first challenge and with never having run much before, it was a big one. After such an exhilarating achievement, it’s only natural to think about what’s next. Sally said, “There’s a demand to continue challenging yourself so you don’t fall into inactivity.”

When a partner suggested rowing across the Atlantic, Sally was intrigued. She’s never thought of that particular sport before and with a little research found that it was something people actually did. Then the idea formed that this could be it.

Sally had been experiencing a bit of a crisis after Uni, as so many people do. Seeing her peers figure out what they wanted to do and earn money doing it propelled her to take on something massive. Sally remembered that someone once told her happy people don’t climb mountains.

With the decision to give ocean rowing a go, Sally finally had a plan and something to aim towards. This ended up being a huge life changer. This adventurer shows how planning a challenge can be the perfect solution for a crisis and take you places in your life that you never imagined.

2. Talk to Everyone You Can

Having never been ocean rowing before, Sally had a lot to learn. She shared that talking to a lot of people was critically important. “You only gain knowledge by asking a lot of stupid questions,” she said.

Luckily, all the ocean rowers Sally could find were keen to talk about their experience. They shared the good, bad, and downright hideous stories they had from their adventures. This massive knowledge download continued all the way to the start of the race and helped Sally have the confidence to step in the boat and start rowing.

In her speaking work, Sally often talks about how important visualisation is to achieving your goals. As a new ocean rower, Sally was doing a lot of visualisation as she spoke to people and learned about what it was like. Seeing herself in the boat on the ocean in her mind helped her once she actually got there.

Where could you go to find people who’ve done a similar challenge? Do everything you can to find them and chat them up. Remember, they’ll likely want to share their experience with you, so there’s no reason to be timid!

3. Prepare with Physical Toughness

Having never been on a boat before she set off, Sally wasn’t sure how to properly prepare physically for the challenge. So she and her partner spent a lot of time on the rowing machine. Unfortunately, this was all wrong.

What Sally and her partner really needed to do was build muscle because of all the muscle mass they would lose at sea. With that lesson under her belt, Sally related, “You don’t have to rely on mental toughness if you’re physically tough.”

Before your next challenge, really think about how to prepare physically. While there are many adventures you can take on without being fit or perfectly in shape, every bit of physical toughness you develop will help when things get tough. Then, it’s time to move on to mental preparation and prepare to push yourself.

4. Live the Adventure Lifestyle

Sally found that most people who took part in ocean rowing were average joes. Not many professionals were attracted to the sport. Sally appreciates that ocean rowing attracts average people who want an adventure at sea.

After six days at sea from the start of the race, Sally’s partner ended up having a seizure due to epilepsy and had to be picked up from the race. But that wasn’t the end for Sally. With another race only two months away, she convinced her mum to join her.

As the two rowed across the ocean, their goal was to not fail and to simply get across. They rowed a maximum of one hour on, one hour off during the day and slept at night. Sometimes they drifted at night more than they rowed during the day, but they knew that schedule was best for them. It was easy to feel depressed and alone at night.

Sally described the ocean row as a lifestyle, not an adventure. The pair was on the water for 106 days. “Every day feels like a week and week like a year. When you see land it all flashes away,” Sally described. This experience is a great reminder to get into the lifestyle of your challenge rather than having an eye single to the achievement.

5. Step Up to Lead

With one row done, the newly successful ocean rower was ready for another. Sally wanted to form a team of women and set a record. While things didn’t work out at first with an injured team member and shark attacking the boat, Sally moved forward with her goal.

Pursuing a goal with a team was much different than what Sally had done before. She found stepping into a leadership role difficult. She felt lonely and paranoid about how she was being perceived by her teammates.

Sally found that teams of women generally defaulted to a democracy. Because everyone was afraid of taking a stand and telling people what to do, they all had a voice that often led to clashes of opinion. Sally doesn’t do that now. She’s learned to ask opinions and make the decision to avoid discomfort and instability.

She related, “If everyone’s engaged and working toward the goal, you will achieve what you want.”

Sally is a fantastic example of a leader and an adventurer set on living life to the fullest.


For more information on Sally please see her website, she is also on Facebook and twitter @sallykettle.


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