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USF’s Salty Science claims first place among women in the ‘World’s Toughest Row’ across the Atlantic

Four women stand together in front of an ocean. They wear shirts that say "Salty Science." One woman holds an oar that says "World's Toughest Row."
World's Toughest Row
Salty Science Facebook Page
USF professor Chantale Bégin and marine biologists Lauren Shea, Isabelle Côté, and Noelle Helder stand together before they embark on their journey across the Atlantic.

USF's Salty Science rowing team raised awareness for marine conservation and empowered women with their record-breaking win in a race across the Atlantic Ocean.

The University of South Florida rowing team, Salty Science, etched their names in history by finishing first among women in the “World’s Toughest Row.”

Winning wasn’t on their minds when they took home the title, but rather raising awareness for marine conservation and breaking stereotypes for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

The Salty Science team was put together by USF professor Chantale Bégin, who was joined by marine biologists Lauren Shea, Isabelle Côté, and Noelle Helder. The team pushed off near the coast of Spain in mid-December to begin their journey.

After 38 days, 18 hours, and 56 minutes and more than 3,000 miles, they completed the race across the Atlantic Ocean, finishing first among women and seventh overall out of 38 teams.

“We ended up being the fastest women by nearly a day,” Bégin said. “To be the first North American (team) to take that title and take the trophy was really exciting.”

Bégin said she and her teammates had no prior rowing experience and took over two years to train and develop strategies, preparing for any possible setbacks they might face.

During the actual race, they encountered many challenges, like a lack of sleep and rough weather.

“Our boat was amazing. But some of these conditions were just too much. And so we broke a lot of things in the first 10 days,” Bégin said. “A big wave came from the side in a very violent way. That wave pinned our two starboard oars under the boat completely.”

Four women sit on a row boat in the water. People above are gathered to watch. A sign that says "3,000 miles to go" is on a banner above the rowers.
World's Toughest Row
Salty Science Facebook Page
Salty Science takes their position at the starting line, gearing up to travel the endurance heavy 3,000 miles journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

And once the team was in the middle of the Atlantic, they had to come to terms with the fact that there was no one near to rescue them if conditions got worse.

Bégin said that despite the danger they faced, they couldn’t give up.

“It is not an option to just decide a few hundred miles out that you've had enough and you just want to quit,” Bégin said. “All you can do is push through and make it to the other side in the best way possible.”

While winning is an accomplishment, Bégin said their real goal was to break down barriers and stereotypes by empowering women.

“While we were offshore, a woman said that her six-year-old daughter was obsessed with us. And she thanked us for being such great role models for her daughter in terms of taking on this endurance challenge,” Bégin said. “And, you know, being women in science, that was really touching.”

Those efforts go hand-in-hand with their marine conservation goals.

“If we can inspire one or many people to follow their dream of studying science and becoming a marine biologist and making a difference in that field, that's wonderful,” Bégin said.

Salty Science used their platform to set up donations for organizations likeGreenWave andShellback Expeditions. Their goal is $500,000; as of now, they have raised upwards of $250,000.

“There are solutions; there are a lot of great success stories and conservation. And so to ask the question, ‘how can we do better?’ is the right question to ask. And I think there's a lot of really great organizations that are doing exactly that,” Bégin said.

Four women stand together cheering. They wear shirts that say "Salty Science" and hold up a trophy.
World's Toughest Row
Salty Science Facebook Page
The four marine biologists cheer as they hold up their trophy for their win on behalf of women, and their seventh overall placement out of almost 40 teams.

She added that the Salty Science team have no future plans to embark on another journey across the ocean, but instead will focus their time on resting and inspiring change.

“Perseverance is important. When you face a massive challenge, it can be really paralyzing,” Bégin said. “If you just dive into it and start tackling some parts of it, eventually those can add up and really amount to that huge project.”

Four women are in a row boat on the water. One woman stands and the other three are seated. They are leaning forward to row.
World's Toughest Row
Salty Science Facebook Page
The team shows their expertise on the water, rowing and racing against time.

Kayla Kissel is a WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for spring of 2024.