Meet The Toughest Women in the World: The Coxless Crew
Late last night, Laura Penhaul, 31, and her team of three other women started an epic journey: a 8,446-mile row from San Francisco, California to Cairns, Australia. The United Kingdom-based team, known at the Coxless Crew, are aiming to become the first team of four to complete a Pacific Ocean Row unsupported. WOW, right?!
Ambitious and adventurous, their journey will be no easy feat. It will take about six months of constant rowing in harsh sunlight, eating freeze-dried food and sleeping in the cabin of the canoe.
SELF chatted with Penhaul before she set sail to learn more about why she's embarking on this incredible ocean adventure.
SELF: What sparked your passion for ocean rowing?
Laura Penhaul: I started rowing at 29 years old. I had been looking to do something for years that would challenge me, both physically and mentally, on a scale that would make me question giving up. Working with Paralympic athletes [her day job, where she’s the lead physiotherapist for the British team] has inspired me with their resilience and determination that’s actually made me question what my own abilities are.
When I heard of the idea to row an entire ocean, it immediately appealed to me. I had to learn a new sport from scratch, I would have to manage the project and support a team throughout it, all whilst working—it sounded perfect!
SELF: How did you form the Coxless Crew team?
LP: The team I was originally involved in unfortunately didn’t work out—this kind of row involves a serious level of commitment, which is difficult to envisage when first getting involved. But, it had given me the buzz and determination to want to see a row across an ocean through. I set up a new team and went about recruiting members. Around 20 women were invited to join us on a recruitment day, they were tested by our support team which included strength and conditioning coach Alex Wolf and sports psychologist Keith Goddard. Goddard performed psychometric analysis on all the applicants to get a thorough understanding of their response under stressful situations. [Because you know, rowing across an ocean is way stressful.]
The final selection process involved a 48-hour sleep deprivation row across the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales that tested the girl’s response as a team, as leaders under different task situations and their communication skills. Then Natalia, Isabel, Lizanne and Meg were selected to be involved.
SELF: What challenges are you gearing up for?
LP: I think one of the hardest things will be more mental than physical. Simply going from a hectic, busy lifestyle to the monotony and slow pace we’ll keep at sea will be a challenge in itself to overcome the boredom. I’m also nervous about rowing during the evening on big seas, and I know it’s inevitable, but capsizing at night is certainly a scary thought.
SELF: When your motivation starts to dip, what do you tell yourself to push through?
LP: For me, when I’m struggling and need to give myself a kick, I just remind myself of the people that have inspired me in my life—the women who have been injured at war but didn’t let that stop them, the women that fought for their lives as they had no other choice and didn’t give up to fight against breast cancer. So I ask myself why should I give up when I’ve got a life worth fighting for, and so many others don’t get that choice.
SELF: You’ve said that you want to inspire other women to pursue their dreams. What does it feel like to be gearing up to accomplish one of your own?
LP: I don’t think I can fully answer this until we’ve actually accomplished it. After three and a half years of not knowing if the day will come to be at the startline and we’re now here, is slightly unbelievable, but it is really humbling to see what you can achieve if you are determined, focused and give something everything you’ve got without giving up on it.