Lizanne van Vuuren: life on board Doris with the Coxless Crew

HAVING interviewed Lizanne van Vuuren shortly before her leg on boat Doris with the Coxless Crew we caught up with her to find out more about her successful journey.

Coxless Crew

Lizanne van Vuuren is an osteopath from South Africa who  is a member of the rowing team the Coxless Crew.


THE COXLESS Crew are just weeks away from completing their unsupported three-stage row across the Pacific ocean so we were delighted to be be joined once again by Lizanne van Vuuren who talked to us about life on board the boat.


To follow the girls’ journey and to find out how you can donate to the worthy charities they are rowing for visit coxlesscrew.com.


First of all congratulations! How did it feel to reach Samoa and finally complete your part of the journey?


Thank you! To be honest there was a time on the boat when I thought we’d never actually get there! So needless to say it was magical when we finally arrived into Samoa! My family was there to greet us too which was a truly special moment.


Physically and mentally what were the biggest challenges during the row and how long has it taken for you to recover?


Physically we were very well looked after by Dr Spike and his team from Medical Support Offshore who supplied us with an extensive medical kit, and 24-hour telephonic access in case of emergencies. I battled with sea sickness for about six weeks on/off, and in the last few weeks we struggled with salt sores from constantly being splashed by waves.


Other challenges included dealing with intense heat, sleep deprivation (two hours row, two hours rest, 24 hours a day for 97 days) and painful hands when rowing hard against the wind and currents. Luckily we had a physio on board (Laura) and myself, an osteopath so any musculoskeletal pain we were able to help with.


Mentally, we have an amazing sports psychologist (Keith Goddard) who has been a huge support to us. He helped us to prepare for the row, to allow for successful team integrations and act as a neutral sounding board to all of us.


Personally, my toughest mental challenge involved missing a friend’s wedding due to our delay and dealing with a death in the family while I was on the boat. I was incredibly well supported by the other girls and friends/family sending loving emails.


We also had to deal with a lot of frustration as our progress was substantially hindered by the weather. A change in the weather patterns due to El Niño meant that we were travelling backwards at some point despite rowing so hard our hands ached.


There is no escaping on the boat; no break from the sea’s torment, no time out, no “I need to clear my head” walks on the mountain, so mentally we often had to dig deep.


I can honestly say though that the biggest strength on the boat was the strength of our team. We supported each other, cared for one another, listened when we needed to listen, advised where it was required, and most importantly made each other laugh. That made all the physical and mental challenges so much easier to deal with.


Coxless Crew

The row took its toll on all parts of Lizanne’s body, especially her hands.


How well did you get on with the other girls and how close had you become as a team?


I absolutely fell in love with each one of them. They are such incredible and strong women, and believe it or not there was only ONE disagreement during the entire three-month trip (see blog post about it here).


I realised that the strength of a team lies in working together to form an entity so much more powerful than that of its individual counterparts put together. We were a well-oiled, routine driven team who had a common goal of getting across the ocean safely… And managed to have a blast doing so!



The girls celebrate having arrived in Samoa.


You were worried about ‘the smells’ before you set off. Was that as tough to deal with as you thought and how hard was it sharing such a small area with three other women?


Haha! The smells were actually not an issue at all!… Actually apart from our hair and super absorbent towels, but it was easy to steer our noses clear of that. We kept really clean and rinsed our bodies numerous times a day to get the salt off. Sharing the space was not an issue for me at all; I don’t mind getting close and comfortable. In fact, I missed the company when the girls had gone!


The only thing that bothered me in the beginning was that no matter how many times you clean the cabin, with four people in a tiny space things always got messy. I got over that quite quickly though!


Despite a gruelling

Despite a gruelling schedule of two hours row, two hours rest for the duration of the journey, the closeness of the team meant there were plenty of laughs to be had too.


How does it feel that your efforts will have helped such worthy causes (Walking with the Wounded and Breast Cancer Care) and how important is it that people donate to these charities?


When you do a challenge of this scale, the difference in your ability to persevere comes from the true cause of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Personal goals aside, the main force behind the row was knowing that the row won’t only make a difference in our lives, but also to the lives of others. We are inspired by women in particular who have their own Pacific to cross, and in helping these women we are hopefully also affecting the lives of a loving husband, caring parents, concerned children and supportive friends.


Half of the money raised will go towards a fund specifically supporting younger women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. The other half of the funds raised will aid the reintegration of the brave women who have been wounded at war.


We still have a long way to go before we reach our £250 000 goal, so please help us reach our target and be part of changing lives.


Secondly, we aim inspire other women to know that you can overcome anything that is thrown your way no matter what the physical or psychological battle is, and that laughter really is the best medicine…


(To donate to the charities click here.)


What’s next now in terms of your own life and do you have any plans for future challenges or even future rows?


I am extremely grateful and glad that I did this row, but I am not planning on repeating it!


As for now, I am focusing on my business, building up my fitness again and actually having some more time to see friends and family! There will definitely be another challenge in the future… What… I’m not so sure yet, but I’ll keep you posted!

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