Two women from Vancouver are rowing into the history books

Leanne Zrum and Rebecca Berger set out to be first Canadians to row across the Pacific

About two and a half years ago, Rebecca Berger approached fellow rower Leanne Zrum at a local gym with an interesting proposal.

“I asked if she wanted to row to Hawaii with me,” Berger says. “And here we are.”

They are currently sitting in the airplane-like boat that will take them 3,900 kilometres from Monterey Bay, California to Honolulu, Hawaii as one of 14 teams in the inaugural Great Pacific Race in June. Should all go well, they’ll be the first Canadians ever to row the Pacific Ocean unassisted.

“When she asked me, I thought it was a great idea,” Zrum says. “I thought about it for a while and the more I thought about it, the cooler it seemed. You only live once.”

In two-hour shifts, the pair will take turns rowing, allowing minimal time for rest and making it a true test of physical and mental endurance.

“For me, it’s a whole new level of challenge,” says Zrum, who, like Berger, has competed in rowing on an international level. “Not just physical, but mental and psychological.”

Berger and Zrum are also raising money for the David Suzuki Foundation to increase awareness of ocean health issues.

“I admire the efforts the work of [the foundation’s] programs,” Berger says. “I wanted to help support everything they’re doing for BC and Canada. Growing up in Vancouver, I’ve respected them for a long time.”

“It’s kind of about bringing awareness to sustainability issues around this humongous natural resource,” Zrum says, pointing at the water in English Bay. “It all seems infinite — but it’s not, it’s finite.”

Using a foot-controlled steering system, the 22-foot fibreglass boat is equipped with three sets of oars, a water desalinator as well as solar panels on the back to power the navigation, communication and video systems. The front of the boat has a small sleeping compartment and four round, airtight compartments line the sides for food and any other essentials (“like chocolate and instant coffee”).

Berger says that she couldn’t have found a better partner to go on this expedition with.

“She’s perfect for me to do this,” Berger says looking at Zrum. “We’ve had some disagreements during preparation, we haven’t seen eye to eye on some things, but how we deal with it, in a productive and constructive way, gives me the confidence that we can do this. Communication is key.”

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Bergen Zrum rowing

Even after hundreds of hours of working out and training, the women are confident but not cocky about what they’re about to do.

“We have huge amount of respect for the environment we’re going into and not taking any of it lightly at all,” Zrum says. “We’ve both been hammered by the ocean before; we know what it’s like. It’ll trash you whenever it wants to trash you.”
To deal with the unpredictability of the ocean and technology, they have many backup plans in place.

“We call them our Oh Shit plans,” Berger says laughing. “We have lots of those.”

She says they’re counting on their senses of humour, magnetic travel games such as Othello and music to maintain some sanity during the journey. So what is on the rowing soundtrack so far?

“Eye of the Tiger,” Zrum says laughing.

“It’ll be a good time to explore other genres,” she responds with a laugh. “But no gangster rap.”

“No gangster rap? Why not?” Zrum asks.

“I think it’ll make me angry out there,” Berger says.

The send-off party is at Jericho Sailing Club on April 13 and a fundraiser is at Icebreaker on West 4th on April 23. To make a donation online or to see updates on their adventure, go to RowThePacific.ca.

 

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