Salty Science to Tackle the World’s Toughest Row | Concept2

Salty Science to Tackle the World’s Toughest Row

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Nov 22, 2023

salty science team
Left to right: Team members Isabelle Côté, Lauren Shea, Chantale Bégin and Noelle Helder.

Introduction by Coach Cady Hart-Petterssen

In December, a team of four determined women, all experienced marine scientists, will embark on a formidable challenge—rowing in the World’s Toughest Row™. Over the past year, they have undergone intense training, building strength, and developing their rowing skills from scratch. With a passion for marine conservation, these strong and competent women are not only breaking through gender barriers but also raising funds for ocean conservation efforts.

The Salty Science team epitomizes resilience, dedication, and the drive to make a difference. Chantale Bégin, Lauren Shea, Noelle Helder, and Isabelle Côté’s expertise as marine scientists equips them with invaluable knowledge about the oceans and the urgency to protect them. Individually, they are distinguished professors, endurance athletes and skilled captains and sailors, navigating various challenges in traditionally male-dominated fields. Now, they've taken on the task of rowing across the Atlantic, adding another remarkable accomplishment to their list.

The World’s Toughest Row kicks off from La Gomera, one of Spain's Canary Islands, on December 12, and finishes in Antigua. We caught up with the team recently and talked about why and how they got on the path to row the Atlantic Ocean.

What inspired you to start down this path you are on? Why the World’s Toughest Row?

Two of us, Lauren and Chantale, have had the unique opportunity to watch previous rowing teams finish in Antigua. Both worked on sailing vessels that would be docked in the winter months in English Harbor, Antigua, for maintenance work.

Watching the teams come in with the knowledge that they just rowed 3000 miles across the Atlantic was very inspiring and left us wondering if it was something we might want to do.

In January 2021, Lauren reached out to Chantale and Noelle from Antigua asking if they’d form a team with her. It wasn’t long before Isabelle joined in and we had a team of women marine biologists, rowing across the Atlantic to raise funds for marine conservation and education.

How was the team selected? Does each member bring a different strength?

From early on we wanted to have an all-women team. Women are under-represented in sport and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and this was an opportunity to show what women can do together. We are also marine biologists and tied together through years of mentorship. We all have extensive experience in the field—driving boats, sailing offshore, scuba diving, guiding remote expeditions—so we knew that together we would have a rich mix of skills and experience.

How are you preparing for the day-to-day monotony of the challenge? Can you describe what a typical day on the water will look like?

Spending time offshore can be monotonous at times, sure, but most often there is incredible wildlife that comes by, night skies full of shooting stars, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, and of course the risk that comes with being far away from anything. We will stay fairly busy checking weather, repairing equipment, preparing food, making water, communicating with our shore-side team, rowing, and eating!

A typical day on the water involves two-hour rowing shifts, alternating two people on and two people off. While on watch you row, keep the boat going in the right direction, and maintain a vigilant watch for ships and other navigational hazards.

When not on watch we might be:

  • Sleeping!
  • Sponge bathing.
  • Boiling water to rehydrate meals.
  • Desalinating water during peak sunlight hours.
  • Checking weather and planning course adjustments.
  • Cleaning solar panels and cleaning the bottom of the boat (when weather allows).
  • Eating 4000+ calories which breaks down to three meals and 12(ish) snacks!
  • Debriefing with the team sunset.
  • Monitoring satellite communications.

What does a typical training session for the World’s Toughest Row look like? Are you all on the same/similar training plan?

Many teams hire coaches/physical trainers to help them prepare for the Atlantic row. Our team has been training with Coach Cady Hart-Petterssen since July 2022. Our training is separated into different blocks, focusing on different elements, such as hypertrophy, cross-training, long hours on the erg, weight training, etc. Currently, we have probably had 75% rowing training and 25% strength training.

When did you first hear the name Concept2 or try one of our products?

We were all familiar with Concept2 rowing machines at our local gyms so Concept2 was one of the first companies that we reached out to regarding sponsorship for our campaign. Though we are all active on the water, none of us were rowers so we wanted to quickly begin partnering with people who knew a thing or two about rowing!

My first workout on a Concept2 rowing machine was at a gym in northern Norway. My boyfriend filmed me so I could compare my videos to instructional videos online. It was not pretty. It took many months of conditioning and coaching to help get me to where I am now. However, with practice, I now believe that the Concept2 rowing machine is an incredible training tool. Though, nothing compares to rowing on the water!

How is Concept2 supporting your effort?

Concept2 has supported us since the very beginning of our campaign. They have sponsored our physical training for the past 1.5 years which has been truly amazing and prepared us well for our upcoming journey. Concept2 has also supplied us with three new pairs of ocean rowing oars—which we love—and have already put them to the test during our training camps.

​​​​​What’s your favorite/go-to workout?

All of us love to be outside, cycling, swimming, running, or skiing. We also love rowing together on our ocean rowing boat, Emma.

What trainers or athletes do you look up to?

Our coach, Cady, has helped us a lot and we are so thankful for all of her coaching. She is highly motivating, kind, and supportive. We also have an amazing sports psychologist Terri Scheider, who has completed many amazing feats of endurance.

​​​Who have been your strongest influences in life? What or who inspires you to keep going?

We have each taken inspiration from pioneering women in STEM and marine science. Women like Dr. Sylvia Earle, a science author, explorer, and oceanographer, who has pushed the boundaries of our understanding of the ocean. Her deep commitment to marine conservation shows us the importance of stewarding our planet’s marine resources.

Through this campaign we have also spent some time in classrooms and interacting with young kids to talk about marine science and ocean rowing. Interacting with this next generation of marine scientists has offered a fresh perspective on the wonders of the ocean and the adventure of exploration. Their enthusiasm is infectious and serves as a reminder of why we started on this path.

Can you tell us more about the organization for whom you are raising money?

We are splitting our fundraising efforts three ways, which reflects our team’s origins and experiences. We aim to raise a total of $500,000 for marine conservation organizations, split evenly between the
Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre
, a non-profit marine station with large public education and field course programs, GreenWave, a non-profit based in Connecticut and dedicated to knowledge transfer related to sustainable ocean farming, and Shellback Expeditions, a non-profit started by Chantale and colleagues dedicated to involving budding marine scientists in conservation projects in the eastern Caribbean.

Each of these organizations has a significant teaching component and the funds we raise will financially support students from under-represented groups to participate in these programs.

What’s the last meal you’ll have before you leave and first meal you will eat when you finish?

I haven’t put much thought to this but I hope it involves fresh fruit and veggies and a cold beer at both sides of the race!

We will be following along with Team Salty Science on Instagram and Facebook. Best of luck!

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