Dealing with fear and breaking records

Dealing with fear and breaking records


This week, it's another one of my occasional book recommendations.

My good friend Julia Immonen has written an awesome book called Row For Freedom. Having known her for many years, I was astonished when one day she casually announced, "I'm going to row the Atlantic". Astonished because she'd never before mentioned rowing, and indeed she merrily proceeded to tell me she'd never even rowed in open water. (I don't think a rowing machine counts.) I couldn't think for one minute how this crazy plan was going to succeed.

The book is the story of what happened next and her gruelling journey to becoming a double world record holder. It's a perfect fit for this blog - want to know how to raise your game, deal with fear, and do stuff you never dreamt possible? Read on...

  • You can read a dramatic little snippet from the book below, simply scroll down.
  • You can listen to the 10-minute interview Julia and I recorded over lunch at Sky by clicking below - there's a few inspirational thoughts, laughs, and tales from her journey.

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Obligatory selfie also taken, of course.

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Excerpt from Row For Freedom.

I wake to the sensation of being shaken, but I’m alone in this tiny cabin. Almost immediately it happens again, the great shove from the left pushing me violently against the thin sheets of foam that barely disguise the hard walls of the boat beyond it. In seas this ferocious, beneath waves this huge, I could eas­ily end up breaking some bones. I brace myself, my hands and feet stretched out against the walls, holding back the force of the ocean. It’s ridiculous that I think I can take on these waters. Like the other four girls on this boat, I’m here only because the ocean allows it.

I close my eyes and picture the scene outside. The only light on the boat is the feebly shining navigation light on the bow. All around us are waves hidden by darkness until the moment they strike. Judging by the way this cabin moves, some of these beasts must be thirty, forty feet high. Sometimes they lift us up before throwing us back down; other times they seem happier to land with their full weight on top of us. Three of my friends are out there on the deck, holding on to their oars, trying desperately to pull against the waters and ride to the top of the waves. They are soaked through and unable to hear each other over the noise of the wind and the waves. At least two of them love every minute of it.

These conditions are tough, possibly the worst yet. Again and again the waves play with the boat, tilting her farther and farther over on her side, every time sending me crashing into the too ­thin foam. It’s a bad sign, this sideways rolling. It means that we lie parallel to the waves. If a big enough one comes along, it’ll send us right over.

“Capsizing is a normal part of ocean rowing,” said Simon, our ocean rowing guru. “It’s not a matter of if you capsize, girls. It’s about when.” We’ve talked so often about what will happen that I feel as though I know exactly what each of us will do. Whoever’s in the bow and stern cabins will work together to rock the boat backward and forward, building up the momentum until the boat flips over. They’ll use the handheld radios to let each other know that they’re okay, and I guess they’ll hope that they won’t run out of air before the boat gets righted and that the hatch doors are strong enough to hold back the water. The ones on deck at the time of capsize have to hope that their foot leashes hold fast and keep them tethered to the boat. There’s not much more that they can do.

Rehearsing these plans in my head does little to calm my nerves. I’m slammed into the side again. The pushes are harder, and the cabin wall has almost become the floor. Is this what it feels like to be born? I can’t believe that we can take this much force and still float, but we do. Just. I desperately want to open the tiny hatch door that is the only way in and out of this space, but I can’t. The possibility of a large wave barging its way through the hatch is too great a risk to take. I stay in my cabin that’s little larger than a coffin and wait.

For the first time in many minutes, I can hear something other than the slap of water on the boat or the raging whispers of the wind around us. Really loud shouts come from the deck. I decide to risk it and open the hatch.

The moment I edge open the door and put my head outside, a load of spray attacks my face like a swarm of bees. The three girls are not on their rowing seats, sliding back and forth as they haul us in the direction of Barbados; they are crowded at the far end, peering into the other cabin.

“What’s going on?” I shout. “What’s the problem?”

“It’s on fire!” screams Debs, her eyes wide as she turns to face me. “The watermaker is on fire!”

Buy Row For Freedom by Julia Immonen here.

The next step? Click below and listen to the 10-minute interview with Julia and I.

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I particularly liked her answer when I asked how she dealt with the fear of the big waves. Her answer is something we can all learn from I reckon.

Read any good books yourself? Please do recommend them below in the comments section - it's always good to pick up a new inspiring read.


And have a great week.

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