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3,000-mile rowing race almost over for US veterans who trained in Alabama

By LAWRENCE SPECKER | (Birmingham) Alabama Media Group | Published: January 26, 2020

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Tribune News Service) — A team of U.S. military veterans that trained in Alabama has almost completed a 3,000-mile rowboat race across the Atlantic.

On Sunday afternoon, the tracking map of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge showed that the four-man crew of Team Fight Oar Die was just 212 nautical miles from its destination, having covered 50 nautical miles in the past 24 hours and approximately 2700 nautical miles in the past 45 days.

At times, it has been tough: In a Jan. 17 update, the team compared its forward progress to a “snail’s pace” as it struggled against contrary weather. “We are so close to the finish and the ocean wants us for just a few more days,” said the update. “We are missing our friends and loved ones, the companionship other humans, and food, we want fresh good food. Our backs are sore and our butts are raw from being in the rowing seat, our hands naturally grip everything like we are holding the oars even when we’re not, everything is covered in salt and we push on.”

The leaderboard projects Team Fight Oar Die to finish Thursday after 49 days on the water. If projections hold, that’ll put the team 27th out of 35 boats. Based on last year’s finish, the team’s arrival in English Harbour, Antigua & Barbuda will be an occasion for fanfare.

Team Fight Oar Die entered the race for the first time in the edition that started in December 2018, and in February 2019 became the first team composed entirely of American veterans to finish. The group took on the challenge to increase awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder and other post-combat hardships that trouble military personnel after their service, and to raise funds for research and treatment programs.

Because one of its founding members, Bryant Knight, was from Mobile, the 2018 team used Mobile’s Buccaneer Yacht Club as home base for training runs in Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. That team went on to complete the voyage from the Canary Islands to Antigua & Barbuda in 54 days, a benchmark that this year’s team is poised to beat.

For the 2019 team, four new rowers took the oars of the spaceship-like vessel named the Woobie: Carl Christensen, Luke Holton, John Fannin and Evan Stratton. They once again found a warm welcome during several weeks of training in Mobile. As their departure loomed, Mayor Sandy Stimpson presented each of them with the key to the city attached to a large fishing bobber so it couldn’t be lost overboard.

Race tracking can be followed at www.taliskerwhiskyatlanticchallege.com. Team updates are regularly posted at www.facebook.com/fightoardie.

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