29 March 2021 | Cathal Austin | Irish Mirror (original link)

An Irish sailor, kayaker and climber is training to become the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic.

Dr Karen Weekes will face big seas, severe weather, potential capsize and marlin attacks to travel 3,000 miles from La Gomera in the Canaries to Antigua in the Caribbean.

Only 19 women have ever completed a solo ocean row and the Kilkenny woman’s bid to become the first female to solo row the Atlantic will require extreme endurance levels and huge mental strength.

Luckily Dr Weekes holds a PhD in sports psychology, and she told the Irish Mirror she is looking forward to the mental battle ahead.

She said: “I studied coping strategies for ultra endurance athletes.

“I went to Pakistan and interviewed K2 climbers at base camp over there, and I also interviewed world-class 100mile-plus Ultra runners.

Dr Weekes lives in Kinvara, Co Galway, lectures at Munster Technological University and has tested herself in a variety of climates and countries.

She has sailed the Atlantic twice, circumnavigated both Ireland and the Lofoten Islands off Norway in a kayak and has cycled solo and unsupported 4,000 miles across Canada, through Alaska and the Yukon. She has also solo cycled from Nordkapp in northern Norway to Helsinki in Finland.

Along with Orla Knight, who is a physical education teacher at Castletroy College in Co Limerick, Dr Weekes cycled across North America from San Francisco to Washington DC.

She has also trekked in Nepal and Pakistan and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya.

She said: “Heat exhaustion affected me in Canada, there’s absolutely no doubt about that

“I was totally drained and very exposed in Saskatchewan where there are huge open plains with no trees or anything for shelter.

“When you’re in your tent alone at night, and you know that the bears are very close by and you hear the coyotes howling outside your door, you’re forced to be very alert.”

Dr Weekes believes crossing the Atlantic will be her most dangerous challenge to date.

She said: “The things I’m conscious of are very big seas and big waves breaking at night, that’s something I’m working through using visualisations and imagery.

“I’m also conscious of ships passing too close which doesn’t happen that often. You could be chatting to them on the radio, but they’re asleep because they’re 1,500 miles out to sea.”

  • Dr Weekes is taking on the crossing as part of her #shecando2021 campaign, which aims to empower women and girls.