Utah rowing team tries to tackle another ocean to raise funds, awareness for ALS

Jun 29, 2023, 9:00 AM

people on a boat...

(World's Toughest Row)

(World's Toughest Row)

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah rowing team is trying to raise money and awareness by rowing across an ocean — again. 

KSL Outdoors Show first met this rowing team, known as the Row4ALS team, back in 2018-2019. The team of five set out to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge all to raise awareness and research funds for ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Row4ALS is a nonprofit, and all the funds it raises go to the University of Utah Clinical Neurosciences Center in Salt Lake City.

The five-man Utah rowing team included Tim Ryan, Dale Smith, Teddy Waldo and Brian Armstrong, along with their Chief Inspiration Officer Alan Alderman. Alderman earned his title after being diagnosed with ALS himself back in 2000. He then decided that, although ALS might eventually take his life, it would not destroy it.

Determined that Alderman would be a rower in this race, the team came up with a specially designed seat and gea. With his participation, they successfully reached the finish line in 51 days, 11 hours and 57 minutes.

That made them the first team to ever complete the Atlantic race with an ALS-diagnosed rower.

But the team wasn’t done yet.

Flash forward to June 2023 — right now — and the challenge of the World’s Toughest Row.

They’ve been sharing their experience via SkyCall Satellite phones each Saturday morning on KSL.


Utah’s rowing team and the World’s Toughest Row

With an initial investment of $250,000, it would be a shame to not get more use out of the boat the team called home crossing the Atlantic.

The allure of a race named the World’s Toughest Row proved to be too tempting for this fearless group. So on June 12, 2023, they launched again. This time from Monterey Harbor California en route to Hanalei Bay in Kauai.

(Photo courtesy of World’s Toughest Row)

Just 82 people in 33 boats have successfully rowed to one of the Hawaiian islands from the U.S. mainland. It’s a 2800-mile trek that, despite being 200 miles shorter than the Atlantic crossing, comes with an estimated 60-day crossing. That’s a full eight days longer than in 2018.

To make the challenge even tougher, the Row4ALS team would be attempting it with a crew of just three. Ryan and Smith would be joined by Ryan’s son, Abel.

Alderman had hoped to be a part of the Pacific challenge, but sadly the progression of ALS, now 23 years post-diagnosis made that impossible.

The Pacific Challenge

Rowing across the ocean is never easy, but the winds and waves of the Pacific are certainly the reasons this race was given the name.

A boat approximately 26 feet long and 6.5 feet wide gives little protection from 40-foot waves, tropical storms and sweltering heat. And a three-man rotation gives little downtime for relief from the constant rowing.

After taking a northern track from Monterey to find favorable winds for the push from the California coast, the Utah rowing team soon figured out that they may have bitten off more than they could chew.

It turns out the waves of the Pacific differed from what the team experienced in the Atlantic — they were less uniform and bigger.

Plus the winds, according to Abel, seemed to be blowing in a circular pattern causing even more of a challenge. To combat the conditions the three would be set on a two-hour rotation of Smith and Abel at the oars, leaving Ryan to row single for his two-hour assignment.

And even though the boat is made of carbon fiber, its weight was also becoming a factor.

So a tough decision was made. They ended their 2023 run. Instead, they chose to conserve enough energy to row back to shore instead of putting themselves in a position of being rescued. Because that would also mean leaving that expensive boat behind.

In all, the Row4ALS 2023 crew rowed a total of approximately 500 nautical miles.

They learned valuable lessons to make a future attempt at the World’s Toughest Row possibly as early as 2024 or 2025 — with Alderman always on their minds.

After all, his continued triumph over ALS — not letting it limit his his life dreams — makes theirs seem quite achievable.

Tim Hughes is the co-host of Utah’s Morning News and the host of KSL Outdoors.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

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Utah rowing team tries to tackle another ocean to raise funds, awareness for ALS