made to inspire and empower women

The Coxless Crew


Posted on April 20 2016

A year ago today these incredible women set off on adventure to row across the Pacific Ocean in aid of two fantastic charities: Breast Cancer Care and Walking With The Wounded. In the process they set two World Records becoming the first all female team and the first team of four to row the Pacific. Today's Wednesday Women are the awesome Coxless Crew, read about their inspiring journey here:

Newnham: Can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds and what you were all like growing up?
Coxless Crew: As a group of six girls we are all incredibly diverse. Between us there are many different interests and career choices including a previous Tour Guide, a Solicitor and a Physiotherapist. However, a common thread that runs between us is our adventurous natures. Growing up we were all active, energetic and the ‘outdoorsy’ types.

We would most likely have chosen a bicycle over Barbie, or exploring the forest instead of painting nails.

Personally for me (Lizanne), growing up with two brothers definitely had an influence on my active childhood.

Newnham: What idea/conversation led to your trip and how did you all come together for it? What was the selection process like / what were the criteria?
Coxless Crew: Our row started with Laura Penhaul. The original idea was planted when Laura was invited to join another girl who was putting a team together to row across the Indian Ocean. Their plans evolved and changed to tackle the Pacific Ocean instead. This extended the row from a two month journey to a minimum commitment of six months at sea, and what started as a one year preparation process eventually became four years.

The sacrifices and commitment meant that there were lots of team changes, so Laura finally did a team recruitment process that looked at psychometrics, strength markers, stress testing under sleep deprived conditions and teamwork etc. From those results Coxless Crew was developed. Every member of Coxless Crew brings a different strength to our diverse team, and thankfully we stepped onto the boat as team mates and stepped off as true friends.  

Newnham: What were some of the bigger obstacles you faced on your journey and how did you overcome them?
Coxless Crew: 12 Days after leaving San Francisco the boat sustained flooding into the hatch that housed our batteries; unfortunately there was a screw missing which is how the water got in. This meant that a necessary decision was made by the girls to head back to land as the navigation system and water maker relied on the charge from the batteries. Of course it was difficult to have encountered a problem so early on in the journey; however amidst the frustration and disappointment the team saw opportunity. Arriving back on land the girls made any necessary adjustments to the boat, and set out to sea again as experienced rowers. If at first you don’t succeed… Try again!

Many of us also struggled with sea sickness. There is no escaping on the boat; no breaks and no “weekends off”. I struggled with sea sickness on/off for about 6 weeks. We rowed two at a time; two hours on, two hours off, which also introduced sleep deprivation. With any difficulties like those we drew together as a team and just “got on with it”.  Not wanting to let the team down no-one ever missed a rowing shift.

Our team is incredibly strong, and is a great example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. We found strength in each other, and when someone was struggling the others would pull them up. Failure was not an option for any of us, so we just soldiered on. Ultimately we all had the same goal; rowing across the Pacific Ocean unsupported, and to step off the boat as friends.

Newnham: What were some of the highs of the trip and how did you lift each other up when your spirits needed raising?
Coxless Crew: Swimming in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was definitely the high of my trip. Suspended in 64 million square MILES of water is an incredible feeling! We also had numerous amazing wildlife encounters including whales circling our boat, dolphins, sharks and a turtle swimming next to us. The one thing that always lifted spirits was laughter. We would suffer, but together we could laugh at our frustrations, sore hands and bums! Without laughter we would all have had a very different experience.

Newnham: What are some of the big lessons you took away from the trip that you can apply to other areas of your life?
Coxless Crew: The biggest lesson I learnt was the importance of a strong team, and that together you can achieve so much. I am constantly looking at the groups in my life to see how we can make a better team; from work life to friendships and family.

I also saw the importance of preparation. Not only for the logistical and physical aspects but also psychological. We had “What If” cards for pretty much any situation; there was almost no circumstance we did not plan for. We also worked closely with a Sports Psychologist, Keith Goddard who helped us prepare mentally. This meant we were equipped with tools to cope with any situation. This became particularly important when dealing with our frustrations when we were on the boat for an extra 37 days longer than expected on the second leg! (97 days in total!).

The values we lived by on the boat were Strength, Perseverance, Integrity, Resilience, Inspiration and Trust. I still live by these every day.

Newnham: What’s next for each of you, and also as the Coxless Crew?
Coxless Crew: For Laura who is a Physio it’s back into preparations for Rio Paralympics 2016 in August/September.

Natalia is giving motivational talks and deciding what life adventure comes next!

Emma is working as an expedition leader at the moment, doing school talks about our row and doing some other freelance work.

Izzy is back working at a law firm in London, and trying to spend as much time as possible in the mountains.

Meg is ‘funemployed’, currently keeping very busy doing various talks about the row and also doing freelance work.

Myself (Lizanne), I'm back in Cape Town running my business and working as an Osteopath. I am also starting to plan my next adventure which will be in two years for my 30th... I think it will be land-based this time :)

Also very excited to be reunited as a team when I go to the UK in June.

For the team; it's all about sharing our story. Everyone has their own Pacific to cross. You can never cross an ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of shore, and that’s where you achieve your goals.

Coxless Crew Website / Twitter / Facebook


Huge thanks to Lizanne van Vuuren of the Coxless Crew for coordinating this interview.

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