Posted by Tom Talbott
Our guest speaker, Katie Spotz, is a true tour de force, who has turned physical endurance training into a quest to bring fresh water to the world. Originally from Cleveland, and a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar through the Chagrin Valley Rotary, Katie was an average, maybe less than average HS athlete, a perennial benchwarmer on her sports teams. Her senior year, she signed up for a Run/Walk class, with a lofty goal of making it 1 mile.

Painful as it was, 1 mile turned to 2, to 3, 4, and 5, each one producing a “Rocky (Balboa) Moment.” As the miles grew, so did the ambition. At age 18, she decided to go for her first marathon. She was discovering that it was more than muscles, it was the mind. Determination. Reaching this goal was an incredible moment, but it was just the beginning of much bigger things to come. After some research, Katie took up with 39 other cyclists for an American Lung Association bike ride, Seattle to Washington DC, that raised $250k for the cause. The challenges kept ramping up, including swimming the Alleghany River – 10 to 15 miles a day for a month.
While on a bus, talking with a stranger, the topic of endurance challenges came up. The fellow mentioned how he had read about a person rowing across the Atlantic. Hungry to learn more, Katie began her research and training. Preparation took several years, including – learning how to row! Sponsors, equipment, details, details. Everyone was nervous for her, and as she put it, it came down to a simple decision. Do I do this, or do I wonder the rest of my life why I didn’t? The route was established, starting in Senegal, West Africa. Storms delayed the start of the trip, and Katie found herself stranded for 3 weeks. Seeing first hand the lack of clean water, it would prove to be a turning point in her life.

Setting off in a 19’ rowboat, with no chaperone - no helicopters, no support boat – the journey began. Using the trade winds and currents, escorted by dolphins, and steering clear of huge freighters, the days ticked by. Halfway, she felt completely overwhelmed. Resetting herself, she vowed to row 1 mile. 3000 times. That is how she got through this experience, and applies the same theory to all of her ambitions.

With 100 miles remaining, fortunes shifted. Nearing the Continental Shelf with shallower waters, waves began to reach heights of 25’. Winds and currents were now working against her. She had not come this far to be towed in, so with her weatherman on radio, they plotted a new course 400 miles west. The rowing was easier, but it would add 8 days to the trip. She would reach shore on Day 70.
When she had left Senegal, she was solo. Now, she said, she was with millions. Thrust from obscurity into an international limelight, Katie was appearing on TV network news, being interviewed by countless media outlets, and meeting the 'who’s who' of celebrities and stars. The question that was most often asked – “Why?”

Now the answer was clear. It’s all about the water. Clean, safe drinkable water, that one billion people do not have. 4500 children die each day in this world due to contaminated water. There are areas in this world where over half the time each day is spent getting water, which isn’t that clean to begin with. It's truly an international crisis. 

Katie’s joy is participating in endurance events, but her passion is in helping people around the world. Within in one year after the row, Katie would participate in the “Race Across America” non-stop bike race. The plan was that she and her teammate would ride in 200-mile shifts until completed. What she had not counted on was falling and breaking her pelvis just a month before the event. What to do? Go upper body using a special handicapped bike with a hand crank shaft. Never give up! 
Katie spoke of the upcoming "Run4Water" event this September, in her home state of Ohio, that will raise money for clean water and sanitation in Uganda. 1 step at a time, 420,000 steps to go. A $30 donation will provide 1 person clean drinking water for life. 

Questions from the audience – how do you deal with the toll on your body of these events? Katie noted it was a matter of pacing, good form, and recovery time. She does not “over train,” something that many athletes do and end up injured before the event. Fueling on the go – a mix of freeze dried meals that she could boil up on a small jet stove, energy bars and gels, trail mix, and chocolate bars.  She was asked if being all alone for so long, did she have a “Wilson” friend, aka Tom Hanks in the movie “Cast Away?”  Turns out the Chagrin Valley Rotary Club in Cleveland gave her a Wilson Tennis Ball......same principal! 

FMI on Katie’s adventures and upcoming events, as well as how to donate, please visit her website at
(Photo L-R: PP Roxane Cole, Katie Spotz and President Amy Chipman.)