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36-year-old rows alone from Hawaii to Australia

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(NEW YORK) — A Colorado man has completed a four-month rowing journey that saw him travel from Hawaii to Australia alone.

Tez Steinberg of Boulder arrived on the shores of Australia on Monday after taking off from Hawaii on Dec. 19, 2023.

Steinberg, 36, was greeted in Australia by a crowd of supporters, who handed him the first bottle of fresh, cold water he’d had since December.

Steinberg described the solo rowing journey as a “challenging expedition” in a statement to ABC News. He said he tried to beat the conditions and the solitude of the journey by focusing on his own reaction.

“I try to focus on what’s in my control,” he told ABC News. “I can’t change the wind and the waves. All I can change is how I react to it.”

Steinberg used his rowing challenge to raise awareness for ocean conservation.

His solo trip from Hawaii to Australia was the second leg of an adventure that began in 2020 when he rowed solo for 71 days from Monterey, California, to Oahu, Hawaii.

In an interview prior to his departure in December, Steinberg told ABC News his journey while at sea during the first expedition inspired him to “go back out again” for his second expedition.

“I was so surprised by the experience of being on the ocean, by how beautiful the ocean is, and also how much plastic I saw,” he said at the time.

Embracing endurance after mental health struggles

Steinberg told ABC News he began rowing as a way to help his battle with depression, which he said he began experiencing while in college.  At the time, he said, he found a solution by participating in endurance sports.

“And it helped me feel better, which isn’t a surprise,” he explained. “But as I went farther and farther, pushing myself through marathons and triathlons, I discovered this belief in myself that I’m so much stronger than I thought I was.”

However, in 2016, his life took a big turn after the sudden death of his father, who died by suicide. The tragedy prompted him to challenge himself even more by solo rowing across an ocean. After successfully completing the task without any prior professional experience, Steinberg said he realized he could use his story to “inspire other people to believe in themselves and their potential to change and grow.”

He subsequently created United World Challenge, a nonprofit organization with a mission to “accelerate solutions for the ocean plastic crisis and inspire a more courageous world,” according to its website. The nonprofit was also born out of Steinberg’s lifelong passion for the environment, having grown up surrounded by forests in upstate New York.

Embarking on the second expedition with a new goal

Inspired by his first expedition, Steinberg said his new mission was intended to focus on “ocean conservation, and specifically ocean plastic,” adding, “All the plastic I saw at sea was just heartbreaking.”

“And I couldn’t come back and ignore it, and [I] needed to find some way to make a difference,” he continued. “And so with [the] next expedition, [we] launched a crowdfund. And we’re raising funds to build river barriers in some of the most polluted rivers of the world, stopping plastic before it flows to sea.”

In the previous interview with ABC News, Steinberg said the voyage from Hawaii to Australia would also be part of an attempt to break a Guinness World Record in combination with his first trip from California to Hawaii. Nevertheless, he said, breaking records wasn’t his priority.

“If I complete this next leg [from Hawaii to Australia] in under 120 days, then I have a world record for solo rowing the entire Pacific Ocean, from east to west,” Steinberg said at the time. “Personally, although a world record is exciting, that’s not why I’m in it. World record is fun for media attention, but really the media attention is just so that we can get more donations and support and action for ocean plastics.”

Training and overcoming setbacks

As preparation for the journey, Steinberg said he ensured he was as equipped mentally as he was physically.

“Things as simple as meditation, gratitude, journaling, just developing more emotional awareness,” he said prior to the expedition. “Because while I’m at sea, eventually my muscles will get tired, but nobody quits an ocean row because their muscles get tired, they quit because it gets too hard … and so a lot of my training and preparation for this comes back to mindset.”

Despite having trained for his first expedition, Steinberg said he had to start from the beginning to prepare for his second expedition after experiencing a heart attack in July 2022, an event he said occurred “out of nowhere, out of the blue,” given his good health record at the time.

“And after that event, I had to completely rest, no exercise, no movement for three months. And I was already planning this expedition,” he said. “I was starting from zero … I could do, like, three curls, I could walk for one minute before I needed to rest. And then five months after my heart attack, my doctors had cleared me to resume training, green light across the board, they gave me their blessing for me to do the expedition.”

When discussing his feelings prior to his second expedition, he said “I’m scared again, for sure.”

“This is a very risky and challenging endeavor. And courage is not the absence of fear. It’s choosing to take that step even when you’re afraid,” he added at the time.

Using rowing as a metaphor in his message to the public, Steinberg noted, “We all have waves washing overboard. I like to say we all have an ocean to cross, something in our life that seems too daunting, too bold or impossible to even consider attempting. And I hope that this can be an example for people to find their ocean and the courage to cross it.”

In his continued efforts to create awareness about his environmental mission, Steinberg shared a reminder that “we all have a role to play in creating clean oceans and a prosperous future and we can take action,” even something as seemingly small as carrying a reusable water bottle or cutlery.

“And it’s really through that level of engagement from a little bit from everyone that we can make a huge difference,” he added.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, free, confidential help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call or text the national lifeline at 988. Even if you feel like it, you are not alone.

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