Roz Savage: Saving the Environment One Stroke at a Time

Alone in a boat for 103 days is a nightmare for most, for Roz Savage its a dream come true. A 23-foot long rowboat, no sail, no motor; all you have is your own thoughts and 83 audio books. No, this is not the plot for a modern day The Life of Pi and there is no Bengal tiger in the boat. This is Roz Savage’s legacy. After 15,000 miles and three oceans, the record-setting rower came to Syracuse University on Wednesday night to discuss her life experiences and promote environmental sustainability. Savage, the 2010 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, gave the first lecture of the spring semester in the University Lecture Series. She spoke for over an hour to an estimated one hundred and fifty people in Hendricks Chapel. Savage’s lecture titled “The Human Condition: An Ocean Rower’s Perspective,” talked about her life both on and off the water. She described her personal outlook and how it shaped her journey rowing across the world’s three largest oceans (Savage, 2013).

Savage divided the lecture into three parts based on the different stages of her life: the quest for learning, the quest for material comfort, and the quest for self-actualization. She wrapped up the lecture talking about ways to decrease consumption and how an individual’s actions can have a large impact on the environment.

Savage began the lecture by talking about her early life and her quest for knowledge. She was born in Cheshire, England to two Methodist preachers. Savage said, “I was never great at sports, but I always did well in school and loved to learn.” At the age of 16 Savage’s parents went on a work exchange to San Diego, California. This is where Savage fell in love with the ocean. “California was so different from England. There was the beach and the interesting people. Being 16 in California was an amazing experience.” After returning to England, Savage finished primary school and enrolled in Oxford University. At Oxford she joined the rowing team. Savage said, “the highlight of my rowing career was beating Cambridge twice.”

Savage graduated from Oxford and took a job in London as a technical consultant at an investment bank. This was the beginning of the quest for material comfort stage. She said, “Growing up the daughter of two preachers, we didn’t have a lot of money. I moved to London to get a good job and earn a good living.” At 34, Savage had the big house in East London, the nice car, and a well paying job, but she was not happy.

One day she decided to sit down and write her own obituary. She wrote one version that listed all of her accomplishments up to now and she wrote one version where she did all the things she dreamed of doing. At that moment Savage decided she wanted to do something great. She wanted to leave a legacy and do something bigger than herself, but she had no idea what to do (Savage, 2013).

On a chance occurrence, Savage ran into a friend from college at the London Geographic Society. He had just rowed across the Atlantic Ocean with his mother. Savage said, “If someone’s mum can row across the ocean, it can’t be that hard.”

At that exact moment Savage decided she would make her mark on the world by rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. She entered the Atlantic Rowing Race and began furiously training for over six months. Some days Savage would spend over ten hours on the rowing machine. Besides getting in the “the best physical shape of her life,” Savage also took classes on celestial navigation and ocean safety. On November 30, 2005 she began her voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

She started off in the Canary Islands. After 50 days Savage broke all four of her oars. On day 79, her satellite phone had stopped working and she had no contact with the mainland. For the last 24 days Savage was completely alone with no lifeline to the outside world (Savage, 2006). On March 14, Savage reached Antigua. She came in second to last place in the race, but was the third women in history ever to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean. This was not enough for Savage. She wanted more (Savage, 2013).

Savage decided she wanted to row across the Pacific Ocean, the world’s largest body of water. She started on August 12, 2007 under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. During her trip, she met two men in a boat made out of recycled plastic water bottles near Hawaii. The two men sailed the boat from Long Beach, California to Hawaii in order to raise awareness about plastic debris and pollution in the Pacific Ocean (Savage, 2013).

After reaching Hawaii, Savage took a break to recover from illness and to repair her boat. On May 24, 2009 she finished her voyage in the small island nation of Tuvalu, where she was greeted by thousands of people, ranging from school children to the island’s President.

Even after rowing across the world’s largest ocean, Savage was not satisfied. In 2011 she decided to row across the Indian Ocean. She started her journey in Australia and finished in Grand Baie, Mauritius. Once Savage reached Mauritius she decided that she would retire from rowing (Dujmovic, 2011).

After rowing across the world’s three largest ocean, Savage decided to impact the world by promoting a message of environmental sustainability. Savage became an ambassador for the “One World One Ocean project.” She now travels the world talking about how people can reduce consumption and make a positive impact on the environment. Savage said one thing she learned after rowing across the world was, “The world is not as big as we think of it. Most people think that the Earth has limitless resources, but one day they will run out” (Savage, 2013).

Savage finished the lecture with a discussion about happiness. She used her life in London as an example. Even with the nice house and good job she wasn’t truly happy. Savage said that only 10 percent of happiness comes from consumption. If people begin to realize this and reduce consumption humans can prevent “climate change and the acidification of the oceans.”

One of the most interesting parts of the lecture was when Savage discussed what rowing has taught her about herself and how it has affected her personal outlook on life. Savage said, “ The toughest thing about rowing across an ocean is the psychological aspect.” My favorite thing Savage talked about was how, “life has no intrinsic meaning. It can be whatever you make it.” It was very fascinating to hear about how being isolated from the world shaped Savage’s personal philosophy. She said, “You learn a lot about yourself alone in the rowboat in the middle of the ocean” (Savage, 2013).

Savage commanded the audience for the entire lecture. She eloquently combined humor with inspiration. Before going to the lecture I thought listening to a woman talk about rowing across the ocean would be boring, but I was wrong. Savage was very personable. Her impressive feats motivated me to do something great with my life; something bigger than myself. Savage’s main message was that any single person could leave a legacy and impact the world. Overall I would give Savage an A.