Think you can’t dream big? What if you did…? 6 Lessons from a solo trip across the Atlantic

Mylène Paquette does not think she is special – yet she is the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic taking the North Route. It took her 129 days to cover the 5,000 km (or 2,700 nautical miles). The spark for her incredible journey was an 11-year old girl undergoing chemotherapy St. Justine hospital in Montreal who told her she didn’t have a clue what courage was… Mylène taught me 6 lessons on dreaming big.

Inspiration for this blog came from listening to the CBC's c'est la vie episode on Mylène and watching a documentary on Découverte (en francais).

1. A big dream – say it out loud…


I started rowing on the University of Montreal rowing team a few days after I turned 30, that night was a turning point in my life. A friend of mine asked me: “What do you want to do for your 30-year-old birthday”? I answered: “I think that I want to row across the Atlantic Ocean”. The rest is history…

2. Overcome your fears

Mylène’s biggest fears was being alone in the water. In the Découverte documentary you see Mylène screaming out of fear as she prepares to enter the water to scrape pesky moluscs off her boat – they are slowing her down. She worked with a psychologist for three months to overcome her fears.

Say your biggest fears out loud and change the mental picture the fears conjure up for you.

For Mylène this meant changing imagined shark attacks into oncoming bouquets of flowers. Her pride in accomplishing this task is tremendous.

3. Expect set backs

There were several. On her first day, Mylène is in her hut crying because she cannot row. She cannot row because she cannot eat. She cannot eat because she is sea sick. Yet she continued.

There were storms. Big storms. The capsized over 10 times during her trip. There were times she was afraid – very afraid. Attached in her cabin she screams out in fear. She has no choice – she continued.

One of her paddles breaks, the turbine engine breaks and she loses her phone. During the last 7 days she only has a satellite phone to guide her. She continued...

4. Be open and curious to different routes

Mylène thought she would take advantage of the gulf stream to accelerate her journey. She imagined smooth rowing across incredible scenery. They had it all planned.
In reality the gulf stream is made up of incredibly complex currents that kept steering Mylène off course and in circles. She had to steer North off the coast of Newfoundland and she wasn’t happy about it. Much to her surprise this is where she had dolphin and whale visits that raised her spirits. She helped birds that landed on her boat fly away (they couldn’t on their own). Her joy in experiencing this new route was exquisite.

5. Lean on a little help from your friends

Mylène is having a hard time not even half way through her trip. She is struggling. Her team knows this and is preparing a surprise for her. The Queen Mary II cruiseship makes a 300 km detour to rendez-vous with her. The ship cannot come close due their size difference, but all passengers are on deck waving and applauding her. She writes a message of thanks to the ship, its crew and passengers as tears stream down her face. Grateful for their kindness, wishes of support and human touch.

I was drawn in as I watched her open the package prepared by the Queen Mary II. It included a satellite phone, but it was a joy to watch her discover bananas, fresh pears, chocolate and a bottle wine (which she saves to mark the half way point of her trip). The surprise gave her the courage to continue.

Take a look at Mylènes support team. It includes a media, health, technical and administrative team. None of us can do it on our own...

6. It will change you - let it...

In her goodbye letter to the sea she poetically speaks of her respect for the ocean, of the life, surprises it brings, of her strength and power and a call for us to take care of the ocean and signed it “the woman with the oars.” The trip taught her about herself, about her limits and about taking care of the world we live in.

Visit Mylène’s web page for more information or to donate to her environmental causes.

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