Rowing the Great Lake for breast cancer

Chicago rowing coach and charity founder hopes to be the first to row the 1,500 mile perimeter of Lake Michigan

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Jenn Gibbons

This is the banner from Jenn Gibbons' website, ( / July 24, 2012)

"One woman. One Great Lake. One great cause."

In her attempt to become the first person to row – yes row – the 1,500 mile perimeter of Lake Michigan, 27-year-old Jenn Gibbons will be completely self-sufficient. She’ll pack 210 dehydrated meals and hundreds of Luna bars into Liv, her bright yellow, 700-pound rowboat. She’ll sleep while buckled into an airtight and watertight cabin.

And when she returns after spending two months at sea -- with little opportunity to stand up --  she’ll have to learn to walk again as some muscles will atrophy. 

But while Gibbons is in it for the physical challenge, her real mission is to spread the word about Recovery on Water, the rowing team for breast cancer survivors that she founded and coaches.

During her trip, Gibbons will stop only to visit 10 port towns along the lake to raise funds for her charity – the team’s boats cost approximately $25,000 each -- and highlight the vital role exercise plays in the fight against breast cancer.

It’s all so survivors can “get fit, fight back and have fun,” said Gibbons, recently named one of 20 inspiring Chicago women by Today’s Chicago Woman magazine.

Gibbons leaves at 7 a.m. from Diversey Harbor on June 15; there’s a departure party for her at the Chicago Yacht Club on June 14.  Her progress will be tracked via satellites and you can find her on her website

She recently discussed the challenges related to her trip, which she’s been planning for more than two years. Among them: being ticketed on Lake Michigan for disorderly conduct.

Q: How many miles can you row a day?

A: I can do 15 miles a day, but if there’s really good weather it could be 30 miles. A storm can set you back three days of rowing, or 100 miles.

Q: How fast will you be going?

A: About the same speed as walking, about three to four knots. But I’ll be rowing 650 pounds of boat through the water. It’s not like I’m sprinting the boat. It’s important to make sure I’m not rowing at a crazy rate. But certainly there will be days where weather and wind help.

Q: Have you ever done long-distance rowing? A: I rowed in college (at Michigan State) and coach rowing. I’ve run marathons and like endurance sports. But it’s my first long rowing trip.

Q: How have you trained for this?
A: Cross Fit (at RowFit Chicago) has been a big part and helped me build up muscle around the joints to protect them and keep them strong. I row every day and do heated yoga.

Q: Where will you be stopping?

A: I start in Chicago, then to Racine, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Mackinac Island, Traverse City, Luddington, Muskegon, South Haven, St. Joe and New Buffalo. I’ll be speaking at hospitals, bars and coffee shops to just let people know what I’m doing and why.

Q: Will you have any help at the stops?

A: The trip is entirely unsupported. I won’t have people bring me things (at the stops), but if someone wants to hand me a hamburger I’m not going to say no. I have a water purifier to remove bacteria and viruses. If I were rowing in the middle of the lake it wouldn’t be as big of an issue. Along the shore, the water isn’t the best.

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