This week I was very sad to learn that Judith Lawson (pictured above, between Naomi James and Florence Arthaud) has died. Judith is the only other American woman to have ever entered the OSTAR, and her story has been a massive inspiration to me. In fact, I am certain I would not be doing the 2017 OSTAR were it not for her.
Judith features heavily in the brilliant documentary film American Challenge, which follows the fortunes and misfortunes of the American competitors in the 1980 OSTAR, making great use of ahead-of-its-time Big Brother diary style footage from the competitors. The race was won by the charismatic Bostonian Phil Weld, and as the victor he naturally emerges as the star of the film, but as I watched it I found myself drawn just as much to Judith who exhibits a fascinating mix of strength and vulnerability, even before we witness her hopes for an OSTAR success being dashed by her mast coming down mid-race.
I sought Judith out online just after I had bought Zest in January 2013 and embarked on an ambitious attempt to prepare for the OSTAR in just four months. At the time she was, in her own words, “shipwrecked in Santa Fe”, where she had gone to devote herself to environmental and clean water activism. I was really impressed with her character and admired her conviction and resilience. She was clearly someone who lived with courage, passion, generosity and humility.
With help from friends and other well-wishers, she eventually made her way back to Maine, where she was able to reconnect with old friends and the healing sea. Despite all the problems she was dealing with, which I’m sure took a huge amount of energy, she still took the time to encourage me in my pursuit of the dream which was once hers. I wanted to know more about her OSTAR and other solo racing experiences, and peppered her with questions via email. In return she suggested that we should chat about it via Skype. Regrettably, with the timezone difference and the frantic pace of the refit of Zest, I didn’t manage to take her up on this kind offer.
She suggested that after my race I should come meet her in Maine, and that she would even find a dock for Zest. This possibility thrilled me.
I had often wondered, when watching (and rewatching) American Challenge, how I would cope with the mast coming down mid-ocean. In October 2015 I got to find out, and this experience made me relate to Judith even more. Once again, she was extremely generous with her wise words on how to overcome this setback and keep on course for the 2017 race, and for this I am immensely grateful.
I am bitterly disappointed that I will not have the opportunity meet Judith in person,. I was looking forward to celebrating with her when I reached New England. Still, I feel privileged to have known her as an email pen-pal, and proud to be following in her footsteps. Successful or not, I will be racing with her in my heart and remembering her words to me:
Any fearful thoughts that come are nothing more or less than air guitar. Let ’em in, let ’em go.
You’re going to be fine and if you stay keenly focused – mind, body, spirit and soul, you will do splendidly.
I’m absolutely thrilled you’re doing it.
Thank you Judith, I will. Fair winds.
A beautiful tribute.