Three Oceans, Two Obituaries, One Woman Making History

By Leia Ostermann

Leia Ostermann
Leia Ostermann

Writing for the Sacramento State newspaper five years ago, I was assigned to interview a woman about her obituary.

At 33-years-old, Roz Savage quit her job, gave up her mansion and set out to row across the world. When I talked with Roz in 2010, she had just finished rowing across the Pacific, all by herself.

I immediately found myself respecting this woman who had achieved such a physical and mental feat. But I felt confused about one thing: why did she want to talk to me about her obituary?

A decade ago, Roz sat down and wrote two obituaries, the one she wanted to have and the one she would have if she kept living her life the same way.

“I was trying to figure out what was wrong with my life. Why I wasn’t happy chasing the money and the stuff,” Roz said.

The two obituaries couldn’t be more different.

“I wanted an obituary that was sensuous and exploratory. I wanted to leave the world a slightly better place. The life I was living wasn’t taking me in the direction I wanted to go. The office wasn’t going to leave me a legacy that I was going to be proud of,” said Roz 

Her words impacted me in a huge way, from choosing my career – from choosing my priorities to remembering where to place my values as a 21-year-old college student.Today, the 47-year-old London resident holds four world records for ocean rowing, including the first woman to solo row three oceans — the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian  — and was named the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2010 and Yale World Fellow in 2012.

Today, the 47-year-old London resident holds four world records for ocean rowing, including the first woman to solo row three oceans — the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian  — and was named the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2010 and Yale World Fellow in 2012.

Roz remembered our great conversation five years ago (which was pretty flattering) and agreed to sit down for a Q&A for Women’s History Month.

Leia: Today you are a motivational speaker, environmental campaigner, and a world record holder. You’ve achieved a lot in the last several years!

Roz: I’m 47 now. I was 33 when I quit my job, and 37 when I set out to row my first ocean. Quite late to become an adventurer, but there are amazing women out there still adventuring into their sixties and even seventies!

Leia: How did you get to where you are today?

Roz: A lot of hard work and a dollop of dumb luck.

After I quit my job I spent a while trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I dabbled in various things – photography, organic baking, an expedition to Peru, writing a book (unpublished, but great practice for my later books) – and took away from each of them a bit more self-knowledge and awareness.

It was the ingredients that I picked up during that experimental period that finally came together and inspired my decision to row across the world’s oceans to raise environmental awareness.

Leia: How has your image of yourself changed in the last five years?

Roz: The ocean rowing really showed me that sheer tenacity can get you a very long way. Just hanging on in there and sticking your oars in the water – literally or metaphorically – is the key to getting stuff done. Most of our limits are imaginary rather than real. Sometimes you have to get obsessive if you want to make stuff happen.

Leia: Looking back on your incredible journey, what would you tell your 25-year-old self?   

Roz: Money doesn’t buy happiness, so stop doing that job you don’t like to buy stuff you don’t need.

Leia: What about your 30-year-old self?

Roz: Why the big self-esteem problem? Get out of this crappy job and do something you love, and you’ll find that your self-esteem is just fine.

Leia: What’s your favorite memory from one of your iconic trips?  

Roz: A beautiful moment of serenity, around midnight in the middle of the Pacific. Looking up at the millions of stars and feeling so tiny and insignificant, and yet at the same time so connected and powerful.

Leia: What is your goal for the next 5 years?

Roz: Still trying to save the world! I want to, on the one hand, rally the troops to let our policy-makers know what kind of future we want – in fact, that we want to have a future as a species. On the other hand, I want to work with those policy-makers to support them in doing the right thing.

Leia: Do you think we have made progress addressing our environmental crisis?

Roz: I believe that we are making progress in terms of individual awareness, but unfortunately there’s a time lag in having that awareness filter up to the way we do business and run countries. At the top levels there is still a frustrating lack of urgency and commitment to making the changes we need to ensure the long term survival of humanity. Meanwhile, population and consumption, carbon emissions and plastic pollution continue to rise year on year. For a supposedly intelligent species we could definitely be doing better. It’s going to come down to people power – we need to stand up for what we believe in, and put pressure on policy-makers to find the courage to take action.

Leia: Who is an inspirational woman in your life?

Roz: My mother. She’s from that generation that simply gets on with life without all the angst, introspection, and complaining. She’s very, very sensible, and helps keep me grounded when I get over-idealistic.

Leia: What is your favorite memory about your trip to Sacramento?

Roz: It was a bit of a whirlwind as I had just finished an ocean voyage and was whizzing around the country on a volunteer-organized book tour. My friend Jay Gosuico had done a fantastic job of publicizing the event in Sacramento and we actually ran out of books to sell! I remember seeing the boat shed at the Sac State Aquatic Centre, and after the evening event we went to the Sub Shack to unwind. Happy memories!



Roz Savage in big seas


For more information about Roz, please visit or follow her on Twitter.


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