By Nicole Hennessy
Behind Beth O’Kain, a perfectly blue strip of Lake Erie mocks everyone who’s ever called it dirty or gross.
Sitting at the Edgewater Yacht Club, she says she’s trying to stay motivated, but ever since she agreed to row 20 hours to Canada for a nonprofit called “Drink Local. Drink Tap.,” the launch has been canceled twice.
“The goal of DLDT is to creatively reconnect people to our local water,” the website says, referring to Northeast Ohio.
“Removing the manufactured demand of plastic bottled water, reconnecting people to Lake Erie in water-safe ways through eco-friendly lakefront activities and helping advocate for partnerships that protect our shared water resources provide a comprehensive and focused path to reaching the group’s goals and objectives. DLDT uses film, photography, and art to educate and engage youth, communities, and people of all socio-economic backgrounds about caring for the water we put into our bodies and the water that surrounds us.”
When O’Kain met Erin Huber, the nonprofit’s executive director, and learned about her efforts to bring safe drinking water to 700 students at the St. Bonaventure school and orphanage in the village of Mulajje in the Luwero District of central Uganda, she thought, “I should row across Lake Erie.”
Now she knows; but back then, she wondered why no one rows the route she chose – the widest part of the lake. She soon learned it’s because the water is extremely temperamental and unpredictable.
Due to this, she’ll be the first solo rower to make her way across, ending up at Rondeau Bay in Ontario, Canada.
Originally scheduled for July 14, 5- to 7-foot waves and 25-knot winds have contributed to the delays.
However, “the first time I had to cancel was not due to the weather,” she says, citing personal reasons. Her tanned skin glistens and subtle shades of red linger on her forehead and cheeks – the result of so much training.
Despite the uncooperative conditions, almost $2,500 has been raised and is funding the Uganda project.
O’Kain began her rowing career after joining a summer league with the Western Reserve Rowing Association. Then, four years ago, she began distance rowing and entered a marathon in Louisiana on a “men’s four,” in which she was the only woman.
Most recently, she rowed the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands to Barbados (2,600 miles in 43 days), making her the 33rd American ever to do so.
Ready to head out for some training, she describes the conditions, which look to the untrained eye like a few ripples rocking the docked sailboats.
“I think it’s a slight northeast becoming south (wind) with waves 1 to 3 feet,” she says. Ideal conditions would be wind going the same direction as she is with minimal waves.
Being delayed has been hard psychologically, she says. “You’re ready to go, and then you have a feeling of letdown and frustration.” For this reason, it is hard to stay focused, motivated and excited.
When it comes down to it, though, her fail-proof motivater is integrity and doing what she set out to do, along with her friends, whom she cherishes.
The measured distance of the row is 55 miles, but it’s really hard to keep a straight line, so she’ll probably end up doing about 60 miles. She’ll take breaks, and she’ll be followed by a safety boat in case she needs to get out quickly.
“I’ve put a lot of things off, so I’m anxious to get the row done,” she said. This fall there’s a new job waiting for her at Cleveland State University, where she’ll teach business.
Going to uncover her boat and drag it to the water, she says she’s pretty positive the row will take place the first Saturday of August. At least – weather permitting – she hopes so.
SIDE BAR: To donate to Drink Local. Drink Tap of behalf of Beth O’Kain, visit http://www.greatlakesrow.com/