David Alviar and the Journey of a Lifetime

Our Featured Athlete, David Alviar, is about to embark upon a Nautical Journey of a Lifetime. David and his two fellow rowers, Mike Matson & Brian Krauskopf make up a three-man team they’ve named American Oarsmen. They have been preparing these past two years for the ‘Everest of Rowing’: The Talisker Whisky Challenge. This 45 to 60-day row from La Gomera, off of West Africa, will take them across the Atlantic, ending up in Antigua (Caribbean). If you didn’t quite catch that, they will be crossing the Atlantic in a rowboat. No engine, just pure human power moving oars and a rudder.

The first question that comes to mind is ‘Why?’, and you would think that an extreme answer would be the reply. David’s answer is surprising and at the same time drives at the essence of who he really is – “When else will I ever find that sort of isolation, opportunity to self-reflect, and oneness with nature?” Though these words give great insight into David the person, they also beg of self-reflection in each of us. David is taking a great amount of time away from the world and really getting to know himself. For this alone, I give him a great amount of respect, as this is not an answer you would hear from many people. David enjoys the types of fitness that allow for self-reflection. He has biked hundreds of miles, taken part in multi-day hikes and has completed six rowing marathons. Clearly, distance in the open, and thought provoking scenery are what move him.

David’s parents engaged him in track and soccer throughout the early school years. It was not until College that fitness took hold, as he was introduced to collegiate rowing. He came to understand the value of hard work and dedication, and what they can result in, even when you have a disadvantage. I was surprised to find out that, at 6 feet tall, David was the shortest of his rowing team. What he lacked in stature, however, he made up for in speed and strength. He quickly became the lead rower of his varsity team. In College “Rowing literally became my life”. A spark ignited and he was hooked! Along the way, his love for teaching others grew into coaching High School and then Collegiate rowers. Locally, he trained rowers at Rice University and is currently an instructor at ROW Studios in West U.

ROW Studios is the first indoor rowing gym in Houston. The workout is a low-impact, high intensity, interval type. ROW utilizes the Concept 2 rowing machines. The machines track live effort on a display, making the challenge easy to see, allowing the rower to push harder and track progress with each exercise. These rowers are the same ones used in CrossFit, which also happens to be a hobby of David’s. In fact, the CrossFit workouts are what David has been using to train his core, joints and overall durability for the long row ahead. The row across the Atlantic is not what you see in the Olympics. These guys will be tossed around, in up to 30ft. seas! Therefore, they need to be as tough as possible. If you’ve seen CrossFit workouts, then you know that this is probably the quickest way to increase resilience in the body.

David and his crew have what looks to be a recipe for success. They will be attempting to break an American record, and make the journey in under 45 days. On top of the intense weight training, they have been bulking hard for the past few months. Despite a 5,000 calorie a day intake during the voyage, they will be losing weight at a rapid pace due to the high level of exertion. Over two years ago, David started at 175 pounds. At the time of our interview he was 205 and aiming for 215 for the day of departure on December 2. In order to get there, he says he has finally “surrendered to gaining fat”. Currently his diet consists of an insane amount of chicken breast, pints of ice cream and weight gain shakes. To keep weight down and preserve space, the guys will be eating MREs, bars and shakes. They’ve even packed a drum of olive oil to keep the calories up. During the trip I am certain that he will be dreaming of those ice cream pints and chicken breasts! David says “the challenge is in forcing yourself to eat in the face of seasickness and exhaustion.” This part definitely does not sound fun to me!

One of the many things that I wonder about is the mental aspect vs. the physical. I have been at sea personally for over 6 weeks at a time and it can be maddening. David will by stuffed in a bobbing, 20’ boat for 45 days, with two other people, eating MREs and charging his phone with solar panels. The idea to bring a third rower into the mix actually came about partly because of the mental aspect of the trip. With two people, you spend almost all of the time alone: one man rowing and one man resting. With three, there is always a companion. Despite having someone with you however, the preparations have been heavy. David has stocked up on memories dear to his heart by way of video clips, pictures and songs. He and the crew will also have some internet connectivity to keep in touch with the world. They will have an active blog during the trip which can be found at racetheatlantic.com and a twitter feed that can be followed @americanoarsmen. The site also features a map to track the guys’ progress. David has also been practicing meditation, which will be put to the test soon enough.

David and his American Oarsmen are heavily involved in charities and give back in great ways. Each crewmember has a charity that they support through the organization and they match each individual’s passions. David’s charity is Teach for American Houston, Brian’s is the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund and Mike’s is the Anne McCormick Sullivan Foundation. The latter foundation is also where their boat gets its name, ‘The Anne’. Anne was a close friend and colleague of Mike. “She gave her life in the line of duty as a fire fighter and stands as a symbol of fighting for what you love. Anne is the kind of hero everyone should have in their life and we are blessed to carry her name forward to honor her with this once-in-a-lifetime event.” Words like this and such a giving-back attitude are what I really love about this group. This journey and the greater good that it will do are testaments to who these guys are.

Though I gave a rough outline of the voyage, I’ll let David explain the route a bit further. I feel that his words here cannot be replaced with mine…

“Our journey is very similar to Columbus’ second voyage to the new world. From La Gomera in the Canary Islands, we’ll head south to the Verde Islands until the “butter melts,” an old mariner expression that signaled when you found the current to push you across the Atlantic (the butter would melt from the temperature spike associated with finding the current and its southern location). From there we set 500 mile waypoints and row our way to Antigua in the outermost Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean. This path adds a few hundred miles to our race, but we feel it can be significantly faster. Unfortunately, since so few people have done this row, there’s not a TON of data to make an optimal route determination. That’s why some people just plot a course “straight across” from the start.”

As you can imagine, a crossing such as this could be dangerous. David has assured me however that they will be very safe in ‘The Anne’. The boat is designed to roll and self-right and the guys will be harnessed in if need be. Storms can be fearsome, but no hurricanes are expected for this time of year. Sharks have also tragically been overfished and killed by humans, making them very rare to see. This particular race has a great track record of safety. David says that ‘the most dangerous thing about the whole trip is actually driving the car to the airport to get there’, although somehow I don’t believe him.

As previously mentioned, the guys depart on December 2. I wish them the very best and hope that if you have read this article, you will look them up on twitter or their site and send them a message of encouragement. It has been a pleasure learning about David, his crew, and their journey, and I am looking forward to the stories when they all return safely.