Internal Communications Manager
In celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March, I’d like tell you about a woman who inspires me.
Imet Debra Searle at a work conference in Barcelona in 2008. She was our keynote speaker. Her story is one of bravery and resilience, which has stayed with me ever since. I recently re-read her book - The journey: how to achieve against the odds.
In 2001, Debra set out to row across the Atlantic with her former husband Andrew. They were the only married team in the Atlantic Rowing Race, and the only mixed team in the event. There were 34 men’s teams and only one female team.
Andrew was an experienced rower, but on day 14 he had to be rescued after he developed a crippling phobia of the open ocean. Three other men's crews in the boat race had similar problems. One rower was rescued while the other rower continued solo. None of them made it across the Atlantic alone, except for Debra.
The journey was 3,000 miles from Tenerife to Barbados. It should have taken six weeks but Debra ended up spending 3.5 months at sea, encountering 30 foot waves, gale force winds, super tankers and 6ft long sharks, against her tiny 24 foot plywood boat.
Debra said, “I quickly learnt that I couldn’t control whether headwinds blew me back 20 miles over night, or whether I got sunk by a shark or run over by a container ship, but I could always choose the attitude with which I approached each problem. ‘Choose Your Attitude’ became my mantra, helping me to become both physically and mentally stronger. I still use the mantra in my life today, whether I’m training for a cycle race or looking for a way to overcome a business challenge.”
I remember the joy she shared as she took in the nature around her, the beautiful sunrises, shooting stars, Albert the sea turtle and a pod of 30 dolphins. She told of hard days full of loneliness, as well as the physical and mental setbacks. Even at the finish line, attempting to walk again on dry land when her calf muscles had wasted away and balance had gone too.
That amazing journey was just the beginning. Debra is a successful adventurer, TV presenter and business woman. Her adventures continued with Debra sailing around Antarctica and becoming the first Briton to complete the Yukon River Quest - the world’s longest canoe race. She was also one of only a few women to successfully complete L'Etape du Tour - a cycle race replicating the Pyrenees mountain stage of the Tour de France (5 mountain peaks).
Debra explained, “An important part of my success was going to be connected to choosing a more positive attitude when faced with huge amounts of adversity.”
She advocates for diversity and inclusion, and gender balance in the workplace. In 2014, with her business partner Barnard, they opened MIX Diversity Developers Ltd, a consultancy firm specialising in diversity and inclusion, unconscious bias and cultural change. She was also a founding member of the Women’s Business Network Forum, where she recruited female leaders from major organisations to come together to share best practice on gender balance in the workplace. I don’t think I’ll get to meet her again but she has certainly left a lasting impression on me.
It was my one-year work anniversary on 2 March and I was reflecting on a year in my role and nearly a year working from home through lockdown. There were long days and sometimes lonely ones. Not being able to meet family and friends has been hard.
I choose to look for the positives and I am grateful for where I am at in this moment. One day at a time!