Chautauqua Rowers Mark First 10 Years: Famed Adventurer Joins Celebration

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Katie Spotz will speak at the Chautauqua Lake Rowing Association's 10th Anniversary on Feb. 8.
Katie Spotz will speak at the Chautauqua Lake Rowing Association’s 10th Anniversary on Feb. 8.

Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut

“We all have something that seems out of reach,” Katie Spotz told attendees at a recent TED conference in Dallas, Texas. “Realize that it is possible if you just take one step after another. Whatever you do, just take that first step.”

With those words to propel her – along with four sets of oars, four iPods, 300 chocolate bars and a lot of determination – Ohio native Katie Spotz became the youngest person ever to row a boat across the Atlantic Ocean solo. Her feat took her 3,038 miles from Africa to South America in 70 days, 5 hours and 22 minutes rowing her 19-foot rowboat named “Liv”. “It’s not the muscle that makes it possible, it’s the mind,” she added with her trademark enthusiasm.

CLRA High School 8+ at the  Mercyhurst Prep Invitational Erie, PA.
CLRA High School 8+ at the Mercyhurst Prep Invitational Erie, PA.

A Guest to Celebrate With
At 6:30 on Monday evening, February 8, Katie Spots will come to Jamestown to talk about her record breaking adventure. She accepted the invitation to speak to help the Chautauqua Lake Rowing Association (CLRA) celebrate its 10th anniversary at the Reg Lenna Theater.

“She’s a young lady who found her calling,” said Kevin Sixbey, president and co-founder (in December, 2005) of Jamestown’s CLRA. “And that’s exactly aligned with the way we see things.” Since its founding, the rowing association can claim more than 1,000 people who have learned how to row or been introduced to the sport.

Katie Spotz will also be available for a meet-‘n-greet and for signing copies of her book, Just Keep Rowing, at CLRA’s celebration event. A portion of Spotz’s book sales and appearances support the mission of her partner, H2O for Life, an organization dedicated to providing safe access to clean water for the one billion people around the world who live without it every day. Her cross-Atlantic row raised $150,000 for the cause in 2010, a sum now approaching a half million dollars.

Women's 4+ at the Head of the Niagara  in Buffalo NY
Women’s 4+ at the Head of the Niagara
in Buffalo NY

The Same Spirit
Competitive rowing is a sport that calls on the same spirit of adventure and high achievement that Katie Spotz talks about, according to Sixbey.
“We now have almost 60 high school students from seven area schools every year who are involved,” Sixbey said, “and 25 adult master rowers (age 21+) along with a number of coaches.” Local membership is approaching 100. Testing the earliest spring waters on the Chadakoin River and Chautauqua Lake, the club launches its first boats for the high schoolers’ four-day-per-week practices in March and April. “It is definitely a character building experience for the students,” Sixbey said.

“It’s only been about six years for the high schoolers,” Sixbey added, “but they’ve come home with a lot of competition medals already, including a few firsts.” The master rowers, rowing both competitively and recreationally, can boast of the same, according to Sixbey, often against larger and more seasoned schools and clubs.

“The Chautauqua rowers, along with all the riverfront redevelopment projects, many city initiatives, Lucy-Desi Center, downtown Jamestown redevelopment, community renaissance movements and more,” Sixbey explained, “parallel Katie’s remarkable outlook on life. ‘Take the initiative, put a plan together and then DO IT, stay on course’”.

Spring 2015 High School Crew
Spring 2015 High School Crew

Those Amazing Boats
Katie Spotz’s boat, “Liv”, had been used previously in 2009 for a successful North Atlantic crossing. The light and sleek 19-footer was designed to survive extreme ocean conditions by British boat designer Phil Morrison for Scottish rower Chay Blyth. The design was later modified, for instance with solar panels to power GPS, satellite phone and Internet communications, during Spotz’s solo adventure from Senegal on the western shore of Africa to French Guiana in South America.

The boat, however, was far from luxurious. On rolling seas, Spotz reported, she rarely enjoyed more than two hours of sleep at night and fought 30-foot waves in bad weather.

“I first met Katie among the 2000 participants at the Cuyahoga Regatta at Cleveland’s Rivergate Park last fall while my crew and I were competing in our own boat. Katie had a tent set up and was signing her books.”
“A regatta is a fantastic ballet of boats and rowers,” Sixbey said, “and the presence of somebody like Katie added a lot to an already spectacular event. We’re delighted she accepted our invitation to join us in celebrating our 10th anniversary.”

“We launched our first boat on the Chadakoin River in the spring of 2006,” Sixbey said. “Now we have about 15 of them, all previously owned and in excellent condition. They can cost $2,500 to $3,000 each. A new one costs 10 times as much, $25,000 or more. High tech construction means a half-ton or more of rowers can power a 60-foot boat that weighs no more than 200 pounds,” he said. “They are strong for their purpose but can be fragile under the wrong conditions. Maybe that’s why each boat is called a ‘shell’”.

A part of the proceeds from the 10th anniversary event on February 8 will go toward the Chautauqua Lake Rowing Association’s purchase of their first ever, all new, never-before-been-rowed boat and a portion will support H2O for Life for which Spotz is a worldwide ambassador.

CLRA masters rowers who competed at the 2015 Head of the Cuyahoga in Cleveland OH (September).
CLRA masters rowers who competed at the 2015 Head of the Cuyahoga in Cleveland OH (September).

H2O for Life
Katie Spotz believes water adventures are a good starting point for raising awareness and support to deliver clean water to the 1-in-6 people around the world who are growing sick daily and dying without it.

Some of Spotz’s earliest water adventures began in Western New York. In 2008 she became the first person – and remains the only one – to swim the entire length of the Allegheny River, which runs 325 miles between New York and Pennsylvania. Starting at Roulette, Pennsylvania at a swimming depth 27 miles downstream from the river’s origin, she swam to downtown Pittsburgh where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers merge to form the Ohio River. She accomplished that feat in less than a month.

“One half of all the schools in the world do not have access to clean water,” Spotz tells her audiences. “There are places in the world where children have to walk four miles or wait in line for hours just to fill a jug with water and lug the 40-pound burden back home every day. Many have no choice but to simply ladle muddy water from farm puddles.”
“When I learned that, my ‘Row for Water’ was born,” she said. “As little as $30 invested right is enough to help one person gain access to clean water for life.”

“The reasons may be different,” Sixbey said, “but there are even some families in Jamestown who don’t have access to clean water. Katie Spotz’s quest can be ours, too.”

“And like her, we wanted to do something that didn’t exist. We had to step outside our boundaries and make it happen. ‘This is what it’s going to be,’ we said. Her ambition seemed to mirror ours, though we were doing something on a much smaller scale. We’re not done with our 70 days at sea yet. We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re on the way.”

Katie Spots has been praised as an entertaining and engaging speaker, friendly and easy to talk to for all she meets in person. Kevin Sixbey and the Chautauqua Lake Rowing Association invite all to come to the Reg Lenna Theater on November 8 to meet this inspiring guest and support two great causes at home and around the world.

To learn more visit http://www.rowchautauqua.org/ and http://www.katiespotz.com/. Tickets are available at the Reg Lenna box office. Admission $15 adults, $10 students.

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Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.