I feel like the transatlantic crossing has always had a very special place in the history of travel. It demonstrates so fantastically the advances we’ve made – from arduous two-month voyages in sailing ships to 7-day crossings with early cruise liners , we can now pop across to the US in about 8 hours in the comfort of modern-age airliners. Yet despite the availability of these quick and convenient connections, there are some who do it the hard way – by rowing!
Damian Browne is one of them. Hailing from Galway, he took part in the 2017/18 race of the Tallisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. The aim of this challenge is simple – depart from the Canary Islands and row the 4,800 kilometres to the Caribbean with no assistance. It took him 63 and a half days.
A solo row across the Atlantic Ocean is a far cry from his illustrious career in rugby, a sport that’s steeped in team spirit. So what was it that motivated him to take on such a challenge? To get to the bottom of it all I sat down with him for a little chat to discuss the amazing feats he’s been up to.
Exclusive Interview with Damian Browne
Background | Ultra-Endurance | The Transatlantic Row | Future Plans
I’m certain that for the rugby fans reading this, Damian Browne will already be a familiar name. He’s had an action-packed career in rugby, having gone straight into the sport full-time after finishing school at the age of 18.
He made his debut at local team Galwegians, before moving on to professional-level rugby at the age of 19 when he made it to the Connacht Rugby team. The rest as they say is history – Damian went on to boast an incredible 16-year career. In Ireland he represented both Connacht and Leinster, before moving to England to play with the Northampton Saints. He also spent 5 years in France playing for both Brive and Oyonnax, before finally retiring from the sport in 2015.
Since his career in rugby finished three years ago, it seems that Damian has been consistently on the move. It’s easy to sense that he has a real sense of wanderlust and adventure deep at heart, and his retirement from sport has given him loads of time to really pursue this passion to new levels and new heights.
Even when he was playing rugby he was using his spare time to travel, heading off on solo holidays and using them as an incentive for himself as something look forward to after the end of a busy season. From there, Damian’s passion for travel evolved into a sense of adventure. He would always be looking to travel to countries that were far off the beaten path.
Take the Sahara Desert, for example. Damian is no stranger to this part of the world – he’s hitch-hiked on the legendary Iron Ore train in Mauritiana, and more recently he’s completed the 31st Marathon des Sables back in April 2017. Said to be the toughest foot race on the planet, the Marathon des Sables is a 251km ultra-marathon that snakes its way through the mountains and plains of the Sahara in southern Morocco. Competitors have to endure not just the physical length of the race, but also the sweltering day-time temperatures and freezing nights that deserts are so imfamous for.
This is of course a far-cry from his days as a rugby player. A lot of these ultra-endurance events are just as much a test of your mental strength as well as physical. After having been immersed in a team environment with rugby for so long, Damian felt like there wasn’t much left for him to learn. But with ultra-endurance, he clearly felt that he had a lot of potential to not just further himself physically, but even learn more about himself as a person and how he would psychologically stand up to these amazing feats.
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Brutal, Challenging Amazing, Epic, Arduous, Privileged, Adventure, Primal, Experience, Fun, Measured, Military, Resilience, Tough, Liberating, Enduring, Phenomenal, Sand, Relentless, Frustrating, Freedom, Humbling, Enlightening, Unforgettable, Energising, Invigorating, Wondrous, Camaraderie and Transforming -- Some of the Irish Competitors describing their MdS experience in 3 words. Morocco 🇲🇦#marathondessables #MDS #morocco
Even during his rugby career, Damian was already planning which adventures he wanted to embark on once his time with the sport was over. But it was a book that ultimately led him to his recently-completed transatlantic journey. The Crossing was a book written by two Britons, James Cracknell and Ben Fogle, documenting their journey during their own transatlantic row. Damian had never heard of people rowing across the Atlantic before, but before he had even finished the book, he knew that this was the adventure for him. The transatlantic row earned a spot on his ‘bucket list’ of challenges.
588 days before the start of his row, Damian paid the entrance fee for the 2017 Atlantic Challenge – and his 18-month training regimen began. Damian had to adjust the training to his own physical build and his joints that had been weakened by the years of playing rugby. The goal was to ultimately peak in fitness in the November.
Damian started his row from the Canary Island of La Gomera, heading east towards the Caribbean. The first day was a grind – a localised low pressure system whipped up strong headwinds, leading to three other rowers in the race having to forfeit. Damian himself was pushed back a mile towards La Gomera, and even the vessel’s power anchor (which is meant to stop it from drifting back) still wasn’t helping. I can imagine that having all of this happen on the first day would be a huge blow to anyone, but despite the discouraging start to the event, Damian displayed his resilience and pushed on and on.
Damian was at sea by himself for a total of 63 days, 6 hours and 25 minutes. His only connection to the outside world was satellite phone, his only view the endless blue expanse of the Atlantic. But he never gave up despite the physical and mental challenges along the way. On the 15th of February, 2018, he made landfall in Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua, finishing 21st in the race. His family and friends were already there on the dock to welcome him.
I can’t imagine the emotions Damian must’ve been going through – in fact he couldn’t really quite describe himself how he felt! But that very image of being reunited with all your nearest and dearest was what Damian had in his head the whole time during the race. The sheer determination of this man really does blow me away when I think about it, and it goes to show that you can do pretty much anything you put your mind to.
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Is there anything left to do for man who’s completed an ultra-marathon in the Sahara Desert and rowed the breadth of the Atlantic? Well, as a matter of fact there is still plenty left on Damian’s bucket list that he wants to conquer, and it’s the mountains that are calling his name this time. He wants to tackle the ‘Seven Summits‘, a circuit where climbers conquer the highest mountain in each continent. He has his sights fixed on Mount Everest this summer, while he’s also looking to conquer Mount Damavand in Iran, the highest volcano in Asia. In fact he’s trekking across Iran as we speak!
Something he’s also considering is cycling the full length of the legendary Pan-American Highway. This is a road that spans roughly 30,000 kilometres from the top of Alaska to the southernmost tip of Argentina. Damian reckons that he if he does it, it’ll take him a whopping 2 years to do!
Listen to the interview over at the Gurucast!
It seems like there’s no limit to Damian’s ambition and sense of adventure and I’ll be really excited to see what amazing journeys and new challenges he takes part in over the next few years. If you want to have a listen to the interview with the man himself, then you can check out our podcast on Soundcloud or have a little listen on YouTube! Or you can even subscribe to us on iTunes. Enjoy!
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