I wasn't a star athlete when I was growing up. Sports were fun, but once they started getting competitive, I checked out. It wasn't until my senior year of high school that I was forced to take a running class as a requirement for graduation, and that's when things changed for me. The sense of accomplishment I felt after each run was so rewarding; it motivated me to push further the next time I hit the pavement.
Six months later, I ran my first marathon. And by the time I turned 21, I had biked 3,300 miles across America to benefit a charity in memory of my grandmother, became the first person to swim across the Allegheny River, and ran a 100K trail race in Australia. After that ultramarathon, I really understood that anything was possible if I just put my mind to it. (Looking to upgrade your workout? Here are the best extreme sports to try)
I also happened to strike up a conversation with a guy who was just as into endurance challenges as I was. At the time, I thought I had heard of everything "big" that was out there, but he told me about a friend who had rowed across an ocean alone. Immediately, I was intrigued. I kept asking myself, "How does a person ever do that?" "Is it physically possible?" "What kind of equipment did he use?" "What would accomplishing something like that feel like?" It was so far beyond anything I'd ever experienced, and I had no rowing experience, but still—I wondered.
During my senior year of college, I decided to go for it—I wanted to become the youngest person to row across the Atlantic Ocean by myself.
I gave myself almost two years to prepare for the 2,817-mile trip, and set a goal of raising $30,000 for the Blue Planet Run Foundation to raise awareness for safe drinking water. I aimed to fit in about 10 hours of exercise each week, in between my full-time job, and an additional six to eight hours of rowing on the weekends.
The toughest part, though, was the mental preparation. I had to learn to meditate, and even took a 10-day course where I meditated for 12 hours a day without making eye contact with another person. (Here's how to meditate, and why you should.) Then there were the basics: I had to learn about first aid at sea, and sea survival in general, just so I could learn to withstand being confined to a 19-foot, 750-pound boat for 70 days.
Eventually, the time came—I started the journey on January 3, 2010, with everything I could possibly need piled into the yellow boat that I now called home.