These women are Team SCA, the all-woman crew competing in sailing's Mt. Everest, the Volvo Ocean Race. This race is the most punishing and grueling competition in sport, and this is not hyperbole. Consider these qualities:
The racecourse can kill. 5 highly experienced sailors have lost their lives in the race's 20 runnings, the last in 2006. The daily race report sometimes start with injury reports, and I mean broken bones and separated joints, not turf toe or thumb blisters.Team SCA member Sophie Ciszek suffered a back injury requiring surgery during leg 2; she was back on the boat for leg 5.
Nearly 40,000 miles, traversing the most difficult oceanic conditions on the planet. Obstacles include cyclones, uncharted reefs, ocean shipping traffic, Somali pirates (yes, a boat was captured and crew held for ransom), 50-100 foot waves and icebergs in the fierce Southern Ocean, and marine life. During the last race a boat suffered a large hole in the hull from striking a whale. Said whale was fine.
High-tech, purpose-built 65 foot racers with the amenities of a NASCAR racer. All race teams use identical boats and sails. Team SCA neither gets nor wants equipment to provide extra leverage or multiply their strength.
Beside high-level sailing skills, crews need skills in meteorology, geography, navigation, sail and wound stitching, gear repair, carbon fiber repair, nutrition, snorkeling (for underwater repairs and maintanence),. As a bonus, crew must be able to perform all these tasks with the boat at a 30 degree angle and going up and down 20 or more feet.
Conditions in the Southern Ocean require the will to push yourself to the absolute limit while in the Antarctic cold, while enduring the pounding of icy waves over your body every 15 seconds or so.Crew also need to have the strength and endurance to move thousands of pounds of sails and equipment every time the boat tacks or gybes, which can happen several times each hour for days on end. Reports of working on one hour of sleep a day are commonplace, while subsisting on freeze-dried food.
Dear readers, if any of you think you are tougher and squeezing more out of life than these women, please submit your qualifications in the comments. Team SCA have begun releasing a series of documentaries on their race experiences; I urge you to watch. Better yet, if you have children or grandchildren, watch with them. Boys and girls both need to learn that achievement, excellence, and working towards big dreams have no gender.