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Young Executive Event

"Reaching the Extreme" with Natalia Cohen

CEW Young Executive Event: ‘Reaching the Extreme’ with Natalia Cohen

On Tuesday 6th February CEW welcomed the inspirational Natalia Cohen to speak to an audience of Young Executive CEW members. During the course of the evening Natalia shared the incredible story of her journey rowing across the Pacific Ocean as part of the Coxless Crew from mainland America to Cairns in Australia.          

With a team of three other women, Natalia spent nine months rowing just under 9,000 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean in support of two charities; Breast Cancer Care and Walking With The Wounded. The team of women embarked on a journey that had never been done before and due to adverse weather conditions took far longer than they had ever anticipated. 

Looking back on her nine months at sea Natalia discussed how many of the mental difficulties and internal setbacks that she experienced throughout her journey were largely applicable to everyday situations. Natalia addressed the fact that every person in the room “has their own Pacific to cross”.

The team of women comprised of Natalia and two others who completed the entire journey, and three additional team members who completed one leg of the journey each. The six women had never met each other before and naturally had completely different and unique personality types.             

As part of their intense psychological training the women worked with a sports psychologist and would discuss topics such as their ability to be held accountable, how to handle healthy conflict, how to set goals and how to discuss their hopes and fears. All of these exercises served as part of an intense preparation process in the lead up to the start line.       

After only ten days at sea the team and their boat which they fondly named ‘Doris’ experienced a disastrous set-back and had to return to shore after losing the charge controllers that ran the batteries in a contained fire on the boat. This early complication was very de-moralising for the team but before long they were ready to embark on their journey for a second time and used the opportunity to regroup and reassess.         

They were able to fine-tune the boat, purchase stronger sickness medication and stock up on supplies. Natalia saw the experience as being hugely positive and encouraged the Young Executive audience to employ the same mind set when experiencing set-backs in everyday life; extracting the lessons from all challenges or perceived failures and using them to grow and develop.             

The audience were shocked by the extreme conditions in which the women spent their time on the boat. They had to adapt their bodies to work to a Polyphasic sleep pattern so that were able to sleep in pairs for two hours then row for two hours for twenty-four hours a day. The team could go days at a time without seeing the other pair on the boat and spent their rest periods sleeping in a cabin the size of a single bed where temperatures could reach 100 degrees. The women experienced exhaustion, sleep deprivation, sea sickness, pressure wounds, salt sores and hallucinations – yet despite all of this they embraced the challenge and loved the experience.   

Whilst on the boat Natalia found solace in the vast expanse of ocean that surrounded her. Looking back on her journey she felt as though the ocean mirrored the trials and tribulations that we experience as part of everyday life. We experience ups and downs, ebbs and flows, moments of anger and moments of calm just as the team did throughout the course of the 9 months at sea.  

Overall, Natalia provided an inspiring and motivating insight on how to tackle life’s everyday challenges. Natalia encouraged the CEW audience to visualise success, to always believe in themselves, to take all challenges stroke by stroke and to understand that “life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain”.