My name is Jenn Gibbons, and in January of 2012 I am going to row across the Atlantic Ocean.

I’m not a super athlete, and I don’t hold any world records. I played sports as a kid, but I was far from being the biggest, the fastest, or the strongest. I fell in love with the sport of rowing as a freshman at Michigan State University. Rowing forced me to discover who I was, fight with who I wasn’t, and figure out who I wanted to be. I learned that good was the enemy of great and that success was not luck or how the cards fell—but a decision I could make every day when I woke up.

When I moved to Chicago four years ago, I volunteered to show up two days a week to coach the freshman boys at Ignatius Chicago Crew. I knew nothing about coaching and absolutely nothing about teenage boys— what’s the worst that could happen? I found myself there every day and at every race for the next four years. While coaching at 5 a.m. and working full time, I realized that as an adult, if you don’t make exercise important—no one else is going to make it important for you. I started training for marathons because running was convenient, and I could do it anywhere. I don’t like running, I don’t consider myself a “runner”, and marathons are not “fun” for me. But over the years, marathon running has given me goals to reach for, and an appreciation for what exercise can bring to you as an adult: stress relief, a healthy mind and body, disease prevention, confidence, endorphins, and looking great in a cocktail dress.

In the fall of 2008, I read about research that linked exercise and breast cancer survival rates. The study explained that a few hours of exercise each week could help breast cancer survivors live longer. I looked further and found that regular exercise reduces cancer recurrence in breast cancer survivors by 50%. So if a woman goes through cancer treatment and is told she has a 40% chance of cancer returning—regular exercise knocks that risk down to 20%. Exercise to combat breast cancer? Brilliant. I could do that. I decided that I was going to get Chicago’s cancer survivors rowing.

What started as a dream is now Recovery on Water (ROW), a rowing team that gives survivors of breast cancer the unique opportunity to interact, become active in their recovery, and gain support from fellow survivors. Our team has grown from 4 to over 50 members, serving women from 29 to 64 years old. As a 501c-3 organization, membership is 100% free, we practice three days a week, compete throughout the year, and fight cancer–one rower at a time. They strive to see each other succeed– in life, in their bodies, and in what they all have in common- their battle over cancer recurrence. When someone new joins our team, they welcome that person with open arms. They support and find strength as a team with a common goal –to take their health and their recovery into their own hands.

As their proud coach, I have been blessed to have them as part of my every day life. Every week I ask them to value what they can bring to the team—and they encourage each other to bring it all. They set goals and go after them, together. As their leader—I have given myself a goal and, well, quite a challenge. I am rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean from Senegal, West Africa to Guyana, South America. I will make this trip alone, without any safety boats following me or nearby. The challenge is especially heightened for solo rowers because of the psychological demand solitary confinement brings. I have never rowed an ocean—but I am more than ready. I’ve seen breast cancer take my teammates lives. I’ve seen women come to practice after chemo and radiation and fearlessly hop in a boat or on a rowing machine. I’ve seen them fight for their families, for their children, and for their ability to gain back control of their bodies. I hate breast cancer’s guts. I have everything and every kind of ammo I need to cross an ocean, but I’m going to need your help.

As part of my challenge, I am raising funds and awareness for Recovery on Water so that more survivors can get fit and fight back. Approximately 3 million women in the United States are living with or have fought breast cancer. Every year 150,000 American women are diagnosed and 45,000 women die of this disease. Please join me in kicking cancer’s butt– from one continent to the next.

Thank you for your support, and GO ROW!