07 March 2021

BT Sport Action Women Awards: Sportsister meets Sarah Outen

December 1, 2015

This November, adventurer, Sarah Outen completed her epic expedition – London2London: Via the World. Her goal: to row, bike and kayak around the northern hemisphere, inspiring children and fundraising for charities. Tonight Sarah will be recognized at the BT Sport Action Woman Awards and Sportsister caught up with her ahead of the event.

Photo credit: James Seabright

On recognition:
It feels really exciting and special. To be alongside those women who are so fantastic and who I’ve watched in TV is lovely. It’s also great to be able to give some wider attention and profile to adventure sports.

Now that it’s finished:
It does feel really odd. It was such a long time in the planning and doing, and felt like it was going on forever. Each stage seemed out of my reach at times, but now I look at the world map and it feels really special, I remember all the amazing moments and also the highs and low’s. It’s an incredible feeling and quite surreal.

The lows:
The biggest low came after my Pacific rescue in 2012, I’d been in a compromised position for three days, being tossed around and out of control, not knowing if I was going to be OK, not knowing if the boat was going to be OK and then ultimately losing my boat. To come out of that and return to ‘normal life’ very quickly was psychologically debilitating and really frightening. It took several months and a lot of help to return to being me again. Ironically the toughest part of that whole situation proved not to be the event, but the recovery.

Photo credit: Sarahouten.com

Another moment was out on the Atlantic this year, the conditions were unrelenting, it was so tough to keep my morale up and to physically keep going. The sleep deprivation from having to wake up every half an hour at night to check for ships [after a part of my equipment broke] just really took it’s toll and made even the smallest things seems huge.

The highs:
For me it’s split between the wildlife and the people. Being out on the Atlantic this summer and having four sperm whales just hanging out by my boat for about an hour – that is a rare and precious moment.

Also people and the encounters with people on the way, a massive highlight was Gao in China, who on a complete whim decided to join me for five weeks as I crossed the Gobi desert. That was the coolest thing, he just decided he wanted to come after we met at a petrol station. He didn’t have any kit so he had to go and get a bike and buy everything and then join me two days later.

I also proposed to my fiancee Lucy from the middle of the ocean so that’s pretty special too – I called her up on the satellite phone because I was taking so long to get across the Pacific that I began to worry I would never get home. I had to ask her twice because she didn’t hear me the first time, but luckily she said yes – I drew a ring on my finger with a Sharpie pen!

Photo credit: Sarahouten.com

The benefits of modern communications:
Being able to communicate with people was hugely important, not just from a safety point of view but also as a way of sharing my journey. I spoke to lots of school children which was lovely and some I’ve been able to follow-up with by visiting their schools and meeting them face to face which is really special. In fact connecting with schools has been one of my favourite parts of the trip. We’ve reached thousands of kids through this and I hope inspired them in some way.

I’ve linked with the charity Inspire + and for a week next year I am going to visit 45 schools with all my kit – it’s my way of being a teacher without being in a classroom!

Photo credit: Sarahouten.com

Pressure and responsibility to finish:
My feeling of responsibility to all the people that helped make it possible or the schools that were following my journey, was more about doing my best and making the right decisions. So if for some reason I made the decision not to finish and I could explain why I had make that decision then that’s valuable in itself. To have a do or die attitude wouldn’t be a responsible thing, for me it was about the integrity of the trip.

I am currently writing my book, Dare To Do, which is going to be published in June. That means I have to write it in the next 8 weeks, so I am on house arrest at the moment! I am also planning lots of school visits and a film of the trip next spring as well as getting married next June.

After that I want to set up an adventure farm, my fiance Lucy is a farmer so we want to have kids come and not just learn about growing things but also living outside, paddling down a river, cooking tea on a campfire. I realise that lots of children don’t have these opportunities so I want to find a way to provide it.

Who would you nominate for the BT Sport Action Woman awards?
I would nominate my kayaking partner Justine Curgenven. The stuff that she has done in the sea kayaking world is phenomenal really and certainly I wouldn’t have been able to complete the sea kayaking parts of my trip without her mentorship. I’ve seen first hand her ability to not only ace it on the water but also to inspire and mentor which I think is equally as important.

Danielle Sellwood, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Clare Balding will present the BT Sport Action Woman of the Year Awards show tonight (Dec 1) live on BT Sport 1 from 7.30pm.

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