Alum Conquers ‘World’s Toughest Row’

Terp, Teammate Complete Race Across Atlantic in Record Time

For Lauren “Nini” Champion ’16, rowing a boat doesn’t so much happen gently down the stream as it does fiercely across the ocean, amid towering waves, roaring winds and unforgiving sun.

In January, the alum completed the World’s Toughest Row, an unassisted 3,000-mile trek on the open sea from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to the Caribbean island of Antigua. Along with her teammate, Lisa Roland, Champion lived up to her name, setting a world record for a female duo rowing across the Atlantic.

“I felt kind of a security and confidence that I just didn’t know I had,” she says.

The Annapolis native grew up sailing with her family, and after graduating from the University of Maryland, she joined her brother in the sailing industry in Antigua. That’s where she met Roland, who was also working on yachts there, and first witnessed participants finishing the annual World’s Toughest Row race.

“Both of us as sailors looked at it as an additional challenge,” Roland says.

They then started their “row-lationship,” Champion says, logging over 100 hours in their racing vessel. Named Invictus, the 7-meter-long boat features solar panels, two small cabins and rowing stations.

Race organizers checked in with the eight competing pairs—as well as 11 solo rowers, six trios, 12 teams of four and one team of five—via satellite phone every 48 hours, but that was all the outside contact they got as they braved stories-high waves and endured sun-soaked stretches of an unchanging seascape. Those check-ins broke up the monotony of eating freeze-dried meals, sleeping in two-hour shifts and having hours upon hours to think.

After braving a partial capsize, uncooperative winds and blazing heat, the duo clocked in at Antigua at 45 days, one hour and 27 minutes, breaking the previous world record by nearly six hours.

“The most memorable part of it for me was just stepping on shore and how shocked I was with how I felt in my body,” Champion says. “I honestly felt nearly intoxicated.”

The team scored another victory, too. Champion and Roland, who was raised in the foster care system, developed the Bridges Over Water fund to help young adults aging out of foster care find jobs in the maritime industry. As part of a fundraising campaign, they collected nearly $60,000 to go toward 10 scholarships.

Now, as they promote the fund, they’re considering future rowing races—possibly across the Pacific next.

“I definitely think there’s a part of me that seeks interesting (challenges),” Champion says.


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