Roz Savage is the first (and so far only) woman to row solo across the world’s “Big Three” oceans: Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian. She holds four Guinness World Records, and was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to fundraising and the environment.
It was an unexpected career move for a former management consultant who doesn’t particularly enjoy exercise. She was inspired to brave the oceans when she realised two things: 1) we are all capable of much more than we tend to believe we are, and 2) we need to make some changes if we're going to live healthy lives on a thriving planet. So she used her voyages to expand her own limits, and to promote sustainable living.
She now writes, speaks, and lectures on sustainability, courage, resilience, and change.
What was the path that lead you to today?
Definitely a very winding path. At school I was good at exams, bad at sports. At Oxford I got good at rowing, bad at exams. Spent 11 years working in an office, then did an exercise that changed my life. I wrote two versions of my own obituary – the one I wanted and the one I was heading for, and realised the security of a steady salary was less important to me than living a life of purpose, meaning, and adventure. That led to seven years rowing across oceans to raise environmental awareness.
Who inspired you to do what you do?
My first adventure after I escaped the office was to travel around Peru for 3 months. I spent a lot of time with Peruvian Indians, and especially remember a pilgrimage to a glacier in the mountains above Cuzco, where my new friends told me how the glacier is retreating every year. That inspired me to find out more about what’s happening on the planet. Then I happened to make friends with a guy at the Royal Geographical Society who had rowed across the Atlantic with his mother. His mother!!! So environmental concern + realising you don’t have to have a beard to have a big adventure => rowing oceans.
What have been the biggest obstacles you have encountered?
Storms, capsizes, all oars broken, watermaker broken, tendinitis, saltwater sores, broken finger, unwanted rescue, pirates, doldrums, counter-currents, headwinds…. But probably the biggest obstacles were in my head. If you can get past those ones, you can deal with all the rest.
The best moment ever was stepping ashore at the end of my first ocean crossing, the Atlantic. I’d spent 103 days alone at sea, the last 24 days with no communications. My stereo had broken within the first month, so I’d spent most of the time alone with my thoughts. Practically every day I’d felt like I couldn’t go on. But somehow I did, and after enough time and enough oarstrokes I finally got to the end. And that felt so good, because I knew I had conquered myself.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
When adventure calls – whatever form that adventure might take – it is inviting you to grow. Your brain will think of a hundred reasons not to do it, because your brain’s job is to keep you safe. So listen to the brain, because it has good advice for you, but don’t let it persuade you not to answer the call. Follow your heart.
What helps you get through each adventure and why?
I call this my bifocal approach – have one eye on the vision of what it will feel like when I achieve my goal, and the other eye on what I have to do right here and now to get closer to that goal. And don’t worry about all the things that could go wrong in between – just trust that when I get to those problems I’ll be ready.
What scares you and how do you deal with fear?
My experience has been that, if your motivation is greater than your fear, you can do just about anything. So if I’m feeling fearful, I remind myself of all the reasons why I’m doing what I’m doing to pump up my motivation. And I take a good look at my fear, because it tends to shrink when you look hard at it. And that gets me through.
Why is getting outdoors so important in modern life?
I really worry about what we’re doing to our brains by spending so much time indoors and on our devices. We’ve evolved to be in nature, and to have time alone, and our minds and bodies become stressed if we don’t make time for that. What I love about being in nature is how damn good it feels. I can feel my shoulders un-hunching and my mind expanding. And it doesn’t even have to be energetic. Some of my favourite times are simply sitting in nature somewhere – a beach, a forest, my garden, whatever - and watching what happens. I start really paying attention to even the tiniest forms of life.
Which adventure has been your most unforgettable and why?
My life IS the adventure. I try to bring the same curiosity and openness to expansion to everything I do.
Who has been an unsung hero in your life?
My mother. She inspires me with her tenacity, calmness, and stick-to-it-iveness.
What's next for you?
I strongly feel that this would be a better and more sustainable world if we had more women in positions of power and influence. So I’m launching a new global platform to help women become the best version of themselves, and to support each other, as we speak up for a better future. It’s called The Sisters, and we launch in just a few days. Exciting times!
Do you have a motto you live by?
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