‘I was prepared to die’: Rower in cross-Atlantic race

Julia Immonen talks about the discipline it took her and four other women to row unaided 3,000 miles across the Atlantic, breaking a world record. – Photos: Matt Lamers

As Julia Immonen tells the story, she’s just “an ordinary girl from an ordinary town.” But on Jan. 21, 2012, her five-woman rowing team set two world records during a race across the Atlantic Ocean, unaided.

A pretty incredible feat for someone so ordinary.

The feat – 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to Barbados – has been accomplished by fewer people than have climbed Mount Everest.

Ms. Immonen was at Books & Books in Camana Bay on Saturday to share her story, sign copies of her book, “Row For Freedom: Crossing an ocean in search of hope,” and talk about her anti-human trafficking initiatives.

“The book really shares that it was the most stretching time of my life,” she told the crowd. “There are two stories, the wind and the waves and the rowing and the pain, but there’s the real personal story.”

Ms. Immonen is the founder of Sport for Freedom, a charity based in London that raises awareness of and fights human trafficking.

She wants people to take action.

“I hope it inspires others to dream it and do it and push the boundaries,” she said. “The big thing I learned was that I just did it afraid. It was scary, but I just did it. It was the most thrilling and life-changing experience.”

Den Prado meets ‘Row For Freedom’ author Julia Immonen. - PHOTO: MATT LAMERS
Den Prado meets ‘Row For Freedom’ author Julia Immonen. – PHOTO: MATT LAMERS

Seventeen boats started the race, but only 11 made it. Ms. Immonen said her crew did not see another boat the whole way across. Part of that was by design: While the other racers took a more southerly route, her team stayed as far north as possible in an attempt to break the world record.

“It’s a scary thing, but I was willing to put my life on the line. We made it.”

On her passion

“Human trafficking will be my passion and purpose. I want to see the abolition of slavery. I don’t know if it will ever be eradicated, but we can sure do a lot to change it. It comes down to consumers and investors. I think this is going to be the thing I fight for to my dying days. It’s amazing to have such passion and purpose to wake up to every day.”

On adventure

“Adventure was absolutely born in me. I just love what adventure does to us. I feel like there’s such a big world out there to explore. When I see people now, as I used to, just watching TV in the evening not really doing much, I just think ‘there’s a world to live out there’; just dream it and live it and do it. There’s so much to explore and so much to see. It’s going to be hard, but if you get to the other side, or to the top of a mountain, it’s worth it. Few see it because they’re not willing to push their boundaries. The Julia I found at the other end is a way better Julia than the one who started.”

On journaling

“I’ve always been a bit of a journaler. It just gets everything out. The emotions and the feelings fade. They do. As much as I remember, I forget the pain. So when you read it, it just comes flooding back. So I am so thankful I did my journal.”