Jessica White | Staff Writer
Two years ago, Katie Spotz spent 70 days alone at sea with little more than a pair of oars, 300 chocolate bars and determination.
On March 14, 2010, after 3,038 miles, she became the youngest person to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and the first American to row solo from Africa to South America. By campaigning her journey, Spotz — who was 22 at the time — raised more than $100,000 for Blue Planet Network, a nonprofit organization that provides sustainable, safe drinking water to people throughout the world.
Spotz will share hair-raising stories of sharks, fires and 20-foot waves from her journey, as well as her mission and motivation behind the row, at the 2 p.m. Interfaith Lecture Friday in the Hall of Philosophy.
“I was really starting to wonder what I could do to help water, and I just felt really called to do (ocean rowing),” she said. “It’s not sensible, it’s not logical, but there’s something in it for me. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that there was some reason I had that gut intuitive feeling that this should happen.”
Spotz first heard about ocean rowing when she was living in Australia during the country’s devastating 10-year drought. She began researching charities and sponsors, and she set up a “Row for Water” website, where people could follow her journey and donate to her cause. Sponsors like GaREAT, Pentair Water, Kinetico Water Systems and dozens more covered the entire cost of Spotz’s journey so that all donations went directly to Blue Planet Network. Costs included things such as her 19-foot rowboat, pounds of dehydrated foods, solar-powered navigators and water desalinators.
The 70-day, five-hour and 22-minute row was the most physically and mentally challenging journey of Spotz’s life, but it wasn’t her first endurance challenge. Before Row for Water, Spotz ran 150 miles solo across the Mojave and Colorado deserts, cycled 3,300 miles across the United States, and swam the 325-mile length of the Allegheny River — which she was the first person to do. Spotz did that and more to challenge herself and to raise money for charity.
Since the row, Spotz has launched more campaigns to raise money for safe drinking water in Kenya. In “Ride for your Lives,” Spotz and a team of 12 others raced more than 3,000 miles across the U.S., from California to Maryland. The team cycled non-stop from start to finish, with members rotating for brief breaks to eat and sleep in a following RV. In “Schools for Water,” Spotz paired 10 schools in the U.S. with 10 schools in Kenya to provide safe drinking water for more than 10,000 children.
“I saw how kids wouldn’t go to school, because they’d have to walk four miles to get water,” she said. “I wanted to find a way to connect kids in Kenya with kids in the States and really bring that story to life.”
One in six people does not have access to clean water. It is easy to be unaware of the problem while living in the U.S., Spotz said, but it is also easy to help.
“I don’t want to say that everyone should care about water, but everyone should know that they can make a difference and do a lot by simply donating,” she said. “With Blue Planet Network, $30 is enough to help one person gain access to clean drinking water for life.”
For Spotz, water is life. She doesn’t know how long she will do endurance challenges, but she said water is a lifelong passion.
“I think that fitness will always be a big part of my life, but I see the potential is even greater when it’s inclusive and shared instead of the solo endurance challenges,” she said.