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One Woman. One Great Lake. One great cause.

March 29, 2012


In 10 weeks exactly, Jenn Gibbons will begin her two-month row (yes, row) around Lake Michigan.

Jenn refers to herself as a normal and typical 27-year-old woman taking on a (big) challenge. Jenn began rowing at Michigan State University (after we went to Lakeview High School together). “I fell in love with it immediately: the sport, the community- and most of all, the opportunity to learn about who I was, who I wasn’t and who I wanted to become,” Jenn said.

Jenn is a head coach for Recovery on Water (ROW) which is a mutually-empowering rowing team that gives survivors of breast cancer the unique opportunity to interact, become active in their recovery, and gain support from fellow survivors.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenn after stalking following her journey on Facebook. Get to know Jenn and her row4Row journey:


How did you get involved with Row4ROW?
I started looking at long distance rowing a few years ago. I was coaching rowing and I running marathons to stay in shape. I told very few people about the idea at first-people called me crazy. They still do. You have to be careful about what reactions to take to heart when you tell people about your dreams. If I let all the negativity get to me three years ago when this idea hatched-it would have never taken off the ground and be what it is today.

You were going to go across the Atlantic Ocean at one point, weren't you? Why not now?
 Yep, you’re right. I initially set out to row the Atlantic in 2012. In 2011, I took a better look at the goals of Row4ROW and decided that Lake Michigan made more sense.

The two goals for Row4ROW are to 1. Raise funds for Recovery on Water, and 2. Bring awareness to the positive benefits of exercise for cancer survivors. Research shows that exercise reduces cancer recurrence in breast cancer survivors by fifty percent, and women who have no history of the disease can reduce their risk with exercise by thirty percent.

By rowing Lake Michigan I have the opportunity to share ROW with people face to face-accomplishing a challenge and goal that people can see, experience, and be a part of through awareness events, facebook and the blog.

With that said, I still want to row the Atlantic. 

What, if anything, makes you nervous about your upcoming trip?

Funny you should ask. A lot of people have been asking me this question recently.

I get nervous- but I don’t really worry about the rowing trip itself. I don’t stress out about the hell I’m going to put my body through this summer. The pain, the sunburn, the time on the lake will come and go. It’s only a few months. If I can inspire people to exercise and change their lives-I’ll be satisfied.
Fitness Magazine

What does a typical day in the life of Jenn look like?
 Oh boy. Nothing is typical these days. I will have to quit my job at some point. Between fundraising, speaking engagements, working, planning, learning about the lake, rowing, yoga, Crossfit, and eating a lot of food (and most recently, once I quit my job-how I’m going to pay for all the food…)--life is complicated.  I try to stay balanced just like everyone else--making time for exercise, work, family, and friends. Some weeks I’m better at it than others-it’s a constant struggle. I forgot to call my dad on his birthday this year. I haven’t done my own laundry in a month (thank God for drop off service).
to sponsor a mile of Jenn's journey, click here 

What do you wish people knew about you and rowing?
Rowing is the best sport, ever. It’s accessible to almost anyone and you can do it for a lifetime. To me, rowing is about being consistent and constantly improving. It keeps you accountable to yourself (and your teammates) and challenges you to push yourself further every single day. Rowing has given me the opportunity to prove myself wrong, to grow, and to commit to getting stronger and better with every single stroke.

Sometimes when I meet someone for the first time (and they know about the trip), they look at me like I’m a superhero. I wish more people knew that I’m the most normal person, ever.  I try to be as transparent as possible and share as much as I can because deep down- I’m a typical 27 year old woman. Taking on a challenge like this has had its ups and downs-but if I can do this-you can do this.  There’s sacrifice and hard work involved-but that doesn’t make me a superhero. You can do anything if you want it bad enough.

There has to be one question you get tired of answering or at least hearing- what is it?
One? Try 100. Where are you going to go to the bathroom? Are you married (followed by-can I come with you)? What does your mom think about your trip? What if there’s a storm? What do you eat?
Read the answers to these questions here

After you conquer Lake Michigan, what's next?
 No idea. This trip will change my life. I have no idea how I’ll feel when it’s over or what I’ll want to do next. 



Are you afraid you'll get lost? I have a good sense of direction, but I don't think I would do very well when everything around me looks the same.
I have a terrible sense of direction-but I’ll have a compass and GPS to keep me on track.  Having a mileage goal for each day is key because then I’m just rowing from one point to the next.  The altering weather, seasickness and sleep deprivation will make it challenging to get from one stop to the next. 

row4ROW is one boat, one lake and one awesome cause, but the efforts of row4ROW are lead by more than just one woman. Jenn has a team of hard-working volunteers that will make this trip as safe and successful as possible 

When does your journey start?
My journey begins June 15. I leave from Chicago and begin rowing north along the Wisconsin coast.  My trip will cover the entire perimeter clockwise so after covering Michigan’s coast I’ll return back to Chicago in mid August. Follow me on the website at www.row4row.org.

How will you entertain yourself on your journey? Of course you'll be concentrated on rowing, but you don't want to go crazy.
I have a few iPods with audio books and music. Not going crazy will be a huge challenge.

Want to help? 
  • Send Jenn a CD of your favorite music to: Recovery on Water (ROW), P.O. Box 617636, Chicago, IL 60661



Bon Voyage, Jenn! 






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