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The alum who rowed across the Pacific for UWC scholarships

29 January 2021

On 3 July 2020, Tez (UWC Adriatic, 2004-2006) set out on his United World Challenge, a self-supported 2,700 mile rowing expedition across the Pacific that would take 71 days. Tez was only the 8th person ever to complete this journey. He carried all of his equipment and food with him to survive up to 90 days alone - and didn’t see another person for the duration of the row. The end goal of the trip was to inspire others to take on similar perspective-altering challenges and to raise money for UWC scholarships - so that more people from all backgrounds can access a UWC experience, just like Tez did when he left the USA for the first time back in 2004 to travel to Duino, Italy on a full scholarship. The UWCx status that the United World Challenge received earlier this year will make it easier for others to take on similarly oriented challenges. 

Tez completed the challenge on 11 September 2020 and has so far raised USD 76,000 in scholarship funds. 

What made you decide to row miles across the Pacific Ocean for UWC? 

I’ve wanted to repay my experience at UWC Adriatic ever since graduating in 2006. When I discovered ocean rowing ten years later, it seemed like the perfect way to do it. They’re quite similar, after all: being alone in the great big ocean and attending UWC both show how small the world really is, and what we can achieve with the right attitude and preparation. That’s why I founded the United World Challenge, to use this journey to raise funds for UWC and inspire others to believe in themselves.  

What were the main challenges you encountered on the row? And what kept you going?

Where do I even begin? Solo rowing to Hawaii has a success rate of under 50%, and I was only the 8th person ever to succeed. The experience is full of challenges, and the fact that I only got 3 days of training in my boat before leaving made them even greater. 

A few of the biggest challenges included rowing across a counter-current that took me all of week two to cross and pushed me back east when I rested. Then there was my very improvised attempt to fix my broken rowing seat in week three with scrap wood and homemade bearings, and worrying the seat might not last the rest of the way, as I made more repairs week after week. Developing tendonitis in my hands and arms is also up there, alongside rowing in temperatures over 49 degrees C, and of course, the isolation of not seeing another person for over two months. 

How’d I keep going? Gratitude and presence. When things were tough, I looked for beauty. And I reminded myself why I was doing this: to inspire others and to raise money for more scholarships. I just took things one day at a time, and told myself that I could choose to quit, but not today.  

What drives you to take on these challenges?

My main motivation is curiosity. I want to know - and actively explore -  the difference between my perceived and real limits. Endurance racing helps me surface my own assumptions about what I can do by developing a more honest understanding of my limits, or perceived limits. What this means practically is that I pick races and challenges that seem nearly impossible. And I try to surprise myself by doing them anyway. So far, it's worked. I hope by sharing stories from these experiences, I can inspire others to question their own limits too, and then try something new.

There are many important causes to fundraise for, why UWC?

The world needs UWC more than ever before - not just the alumni change-makers, but the schools themselves as examples to show that peace is possible. That's why I'm dedicating the row to raising scholarships for new UWC students. I hope to raise at least one full scholarship to the United World College, UWC Adriatic, where I was inspired as a student.

Where do you hope the United World Challenge will go next? 

My greatest hope for the United World Challenge is to encourage other UWC alumni to give back. In fact, that’s why I founded the Challenge brand and received UWCx status, to build a structure and vehicle that others could use after me. To any alum reading this, if you want to do the next United World Challenge, get in touch: the world - and UWC - needs you.