This article appeared on BBC Sport website on 7th January 2020:
Victoria Evans had never rowed a single stroke before she decided to take on the Atlantic Ocean. This was someone who, until her mid-twenties, had avoided sport at all costs. Now 32, she is aiming to break the world record for the fastest female solo crossing while raising £50,000 for the Women In Sport charity.
Three thousand miles in an eight-by-two-metre boat. At times, the closest person to Evans will be in space, and in others, the perilous ocean will stretch more than five miles below her. The world record for the Trade Winds I route stands at 49 days, seven hours and 15 minutes - yet Evans would like to think she can do it in 45 days.
"Each time you take on a big challenge, it just expands that definition of who you are and what you are capable of," she tells BBC Sport. "Everyone is capable of more than they think they are. We set ourselves so many limitations which aren't accurate."
As a teenager and young adult, Evans battled an eating disorder and depression following a childhood she describes as a "touch turbulent". She struggled spending time in her own company but discovering sport as an adult has driven "incredible positive change" in her life. She ran her first half marathon at the age of 27, and in 2017 conquered Kilimanjaro, Gran Paradiso and Mont Blanc in the space of five weeks - going back to her job as a sports lawyer between climbs.
Fewer than 20 women have successfully rowed the Atlantic solo, so why is Evans putting herself through it? To raise that £50,000.
"I've seen first hand the reasons why we need to push for change in the sporting arena to make sure it's one that is accessible to women and girls," she says. "There are plenty of barriers that still exist, even with all the changes that have happened in women's sport over recent years. I wanted to contribute to that conversation, and for your message to be heard you need a platform."
"I've had some experience of adventure and endurance challenges and I wanted a challenge of sufficient magnitude that it would offer that platform. I think the fact that most people find it so difficult to comprehend what it will be like to row across an ocean on your own is what makes that particular challenge perfect. It is so unfathomable that it captures people's attention, and when you've got that attention you're able to discuss the issues and increase awareness."
Evans trains for 90 minutes a day, six days a week, predominantly doing strength-based exercises. She will depart from Gran Canaria in early 2021, her destination being Barbados some 1.5 million strokes later. She will row two hours on, two hours off with extended breaks every so often. She will have to immerse herself in dark, murky waters to clean the underside of her boat, must filter sea water for drinking and will celebrate her 34th birthday alone with just letters from home for company.
"There are all sorts of challenges that will present themselves during the time at sea," she says. "The preparation and the amount of work it takes to get to the start line is monumental, and then the environment at sea - there will be storms and 40-foot waves. There's the mental challenge of being on your own for that amount of time, the physical impact it has on your body after rowing for so long in wet conditions. I'm going to need 5,000-plus calories a day and I will still lose weight, so with exhaustion and all of those things, it's quite the challenge ahead."
When Evans turned up at a London-based rowing club in 2018, you would be forgiven for expecting her to be met by some bemused faces. How could someone with no experience of rowing tackle the Atlantic? But she admits they couldn't have been more supportive, and had even trained Atlantic rowers in the past. She currently trains six times a week with a personal trainer, himself having rowed across the pond.
Evans' custom-built boat - the most premium ocean rowing boat available, made of Nomex and carbon to make it as light as possible - is nearing its completion, after which she will take it to Spain to get used to "bigger conditions".
"I'm excited. I think when I first thought about doing the challenge, which is about a year and a half ago now, it seemed quite overwhelming, but the better prepared you are, the better you feel," Evans says. "I spent a lot of time learning about the challenge and developing new skills. I'll have to sit a whole set of exams in February in order to be able to start, and learning about the boat and how it reacts to the water and the wind. Knowledge is power, so I think the further I get into the process, the more excited and prepared I feel. I'm sure when it gets really close to the date, there will be nerves and apprehension, but that's normal."
A new decade has not long dawned and life is incomparable to 10 years ago for Evans. But could she have imagined life as it is now? "I'm definitely a different person to who I was," she says. "Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone to do things you don't think you're capable of, and backing yourself to get there, you ultimately prove you are capable."
This article appeared on BBC Sport website on 7th January 2020 and was written by Katie Falkingham.