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Only Solar for Company

Solar energy can take us places we’ve never imagined we’d go, even beyond the very limits of the human body. This challenge appealed to a USC Rowing Alumna Brooke Downes as she trained for a spot on the Olympic Women’s rowing team.

Brooke is a childhood friend of mine. We played on the same travel volleyball team before rowing became her only love and have been friends ever since. Ever since I’ve known her, she’s always looked for a challenge and exceeded all expectations.

It comes as no surprise that she and her three teammates will embark on a race against time, the tides, and their own minds as they row 2,700 nautical miles across the pacific ocean this summer.

In their 29-ft boat, American Spirit, the Lat35 Racing team will embark on this month-long journey with the sun and the currents as their only companions. The current women’s world record to get from San Francisco to Waikiki is 35 days, 14 hours, and 23 minutes, but this team hopes to break that.

Without solar energy, this row would not be possible; having solar panels powering the boat is a requirement to participate in the race.

All of their tech is powered by the solar panels that line the exterior of the boat: navigation, communications, and even charging ports for their handheld tech. The sun is their primary source of energy but also a source of hardship as they compete in this off-year run of the Great Pacific Race.

The boat is built for efficiency, so it offers little protection from the elements. Severe sunburn is one of many very real and dangerous possibilities that they will have to combat. In its absence, the athletes will often find themselves rowing in complete, freezing darkness.

Their team of four will row in 2-hour shifts for the entire month, only anchoring in the face of a life-threatening storm. This means that in addition to battling the elements, they will also be facing sleep deprivation.

These athletes train for hours a day for endurance and strength, but equally as important is their technical training: knowing how to tie life-saving knots, operating navigational equipment, knowing how to drop the para-anchor in case of a major storm, and being able to make repairs to any failing equipment.

This race will be powered purely by the sun and the human spirit. An adventure like this is yet another example of how with solar and some grit, humans can do anything.

Brooke and her teammates aim to hit the water between June 19th and June 23rd depending on the winds, tides, and moon. You can follow along for the most up-to-date information on this squad on Instagram @Lat35Racing.

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