Published on 18th November 2019

Sixty one year-old Shirley Thompson is about to embark on a journey many people wouldn't dream of - rowing across the Atlantic ocean solo and unsupported. We spoke to her about the motivation behind her imminent adventure, fears, and more.

Shirley, tell us a little bit about you…

I am a sixty one year-old woman, from Belfast, who wants to prove that age is irrelevant, and that women can achieve anything we put our minds to. As I have got older, I have seen how society treats women of a certain age - whether it is in the work arena, media, etc. Once we reach menopause, we are considered invisible and somewhat useless. I want to prove that is NOT the case by embarking on a huge challenge. The journey is for me but also hopefully to inspire others to take that leap and reach for a dream.


You're planning on rowing across the Atlantic Ocean with no support! What's your motivation?

I am setting out to row solo and unsupported across the Atlantic Ocean. Many things have motivated me - an opportunity to discover myself and my capacity; a treat for reaching my 60s; a desire to prove that women of a certain age can do anything they put their minds to; a chance to be at one with nature and experience something few have ever done. We hear so much about single use plastics destroying our oceans, so as a bonus, I hope my crossing my help raise some awareness. I took up endurance running in my 40s and since then have been an avid runner, taking part in extreme races in a variety of environments - jungles, deserts, mountains, the Artic, Antarctic, and I wanted this new challenge to be something new. A different environment, one outside my comfort zone. So, as the ocean has always been an environment I feared, I decided to train for and work towards an ocean row.


What challenges have you overcome in your training?

I am a firm believer that the mental drives the physical in any sort of challenge, so I feel that, at sixty one, I am as capable as a younger woman, just probably not as fast. Though, of course, at my age, when you add issues like menopause with the accompanying hot flushes & night sweats, and a weak bladder to the mix, it gives a whole new set of things to deal with. I am SO delighted that I discovered Elvie Trainer and app. It has really given me extra confidence to know I now have stronger pelvic floor muscles and will be taking it with me on my row.


What are you most nervous about and how do you deal with this fear?

I think the thing I fear most is the boat capsizing, which is pretty likely to happen. As I am alone, it is entirely up to me to get myself back into the boat if she does capsize. I will be attached to the boat at all times, but it’s still not something I relish hugely.

And, on that note, nor does cleaning the hull of the boat. I will have to get into the ocean at least every couple of weeks to clean barnacles off the hull as. Knowing that the ocean can be up to 5km deep in places in a bit daunting.


This will be your second attempt. What made you want to try again?

I sadly boat ended up filling with water the first time. I lost all my electrics and had to be rescued.  I am not going to let anyone take away my dream, I want to start what I finished and enjoy this incredible experience. 


Is there any downtime on the boat? If so, what will you be doing?

I will be rowing 12-14 hours a day so will have time off the oars and this will give me the opportunity to prepare food, rest, clean the boat, clean the hull, wonder at my glorious surroundings, write a blog and take lots of pictures. And, of course, enjoy being a part of nature and surrounded by the mighty ocean. I want to enjoy every single millisecond of it.


What's been the response from your loved ones? Did their opinions affect you?

To be honest most people don’t get it! But they accept that I love to challenge myself, so appreciate why I am doing this. It doesn’t bother me, this is my journey!


What's the one piece of advice you'd give to your younger self?

Embrace life to the max, it’s not a dress rehearsal.

What other challenges do you wish to embark on after this one?

Goodness, there are many things still on my bucket list. Rowing other oceans - the Pacific and the Indian ocean both appeal (but maybe the Atlantic may cure that itch ;)). Climb some amazing mountains... the list is long!