How five women fought slavery by rowing an ocean

Posted by Sam Hailes  ·  Be the first to comment

She may have had zero experience rowing but that wasn’t going to stop Sky Sports producer Julia Immonen from attempting the massive challenge of rowing the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite the fact that more people have gone into space than rowed the vast sea, Julia drew together a team of five and dedicated 18 months of her life to seeing the challenge through.

When the team crossed the finish line in Barbados in February, they’d not only smashed two world records, but raised money for a very worthy cause.

Prodigal comes home

Describing herself as “a bit of a prodigal daughter”, Julia went away from her Christian faith at an early age. After a long-term relationship failed, Julia attended the Alpha Course at Holy Trinity Brompton.

“That changed my faith and my walk with God because everything I knew of God to be true when I was young dropped from my head to my heart. I encountered the Holy Spirit and that was the start of my walk with God again properly.”

Everything I knew of God to be true when I was young dropped from my head to my heart

It was during the Hillsong women’s conference Colour that Julia heard the founder of the anti human traffiking charity A21 Campaign talk about human trafficking.

There are more people trapped in slavery today than at any other point in history. But at the time, Julia assumed slavery had ended during the days of Wilberforce.

Shocked by what she was hearing, Julia was motivated to make a difference and the Row for Freedom challenge began.

“I decided to put together an international crew so we could raise awareness all over the world,” Julia explains.

Endless challenges

The crew

from left to right: Katie Patterson-Hart, Helen Leigh, Julia Immonen, Kate Richardson, Debbie Beadle

With a team that didn’t know each other and only two people having previous rowing experience, the challenge was massive. When the experienced skipper pulled out just two days before the challenge, things weren’t looking great. But thanks to prophetic words and a strong sense that God was on her side, Julia never gave up hope.

“The challenges were endless but when you know God has called you to do something and what your facing is nothing compared to what these women men and children are facing [in slavery] it just pales into insignificance.”

The all girl crew used an unconventional tactic to survive the long journey.

Speaking to CNN, Debbie Beadle said: "We spent a lot of time rowing naked because when the sea water gets inside your clothes it increases friction against your skin which can cause sores.”

The team’s nakedness helped beat the previous world record by four days! While there were highs of seeing dolphins and amazing sunsets, Julia is clear on just how tough the challenge was.

“The first couple of weeks were hellish. We were in 50ft waves, 30 knots of wind, throwing up with sea sickness for weeks on end. Going to the toilet on a bucket in 50ft waves was something else. I know what a spirit of fear feels like. These waves were humongous and I felt like they were going to eat us up.”

Faith on board

But despite the surroundings, Julia said her faith “soared”.

“It was a 24/7 conversation with God and I’ve never felt more close to God in all my life. When I got off the boat I really missed it because we have noisy busy lives and on the ocean there’s nothing else to do than row, eat, be with friends and have time with God. It was an incredible journey with God.”

When I got off the boat I really missed it because we have noisy busy lives and on the ocean there’s nothing else to do than row, eat, be with friends and have time with God.

“It was just passion that drove me all the way through. Everyone says how do you do it and it’s truly just the passion for the cause. You don’t have to row the Atlantic but use what’s in your hand to make a difference.”

While some of the crew were concerned with the world records, Julia’s focus was always on the charity aspect.

“For a couple of the girls the world record meant a lot, for me it was very much the cause. We were united for both of them but to get the world record was incredible to use that platform to keep talking about the cause. It was the icing on the cake.”

7th September

September 7th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes

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