Rowing for freedom – Julia Immonen - April 2012
CLAIRE MUSTERS reports on how one Christian woman’s inspired idea and passion to see an end to human trafficking launched a successful world record row across the Atlantic ...
As part of an all-female crew Julia Immonen spent 45 days at sea and, in February, came away with two world records – the first five-woman team to row any ocean and the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by an all-female team.
Rowing to raise awareness of the global problem of human trafficking, Julia is now planning a pre-Olympic campaign.
The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is known as the world’s toughest rowing race. Julia explains that taking part was: “an amazing journey, the best and worst thing I’ll ever do. It was incredible – being stripped of everything, you learn what you’re all about. It’s shown my faith at its rawest and, rather than going quiet, I found myself literally running to God and standing firmly on his promises.”
Julia founded Sport Against Trafficking as a positive way to raise awareness after she heard how rife human trafficking is across the world today. As a sports lover she felt she could combine her two passions and this also inspired the whole Row For Freedom team, who raised money for the A21 Campaign and ECPAT UK – both charities working with victims of trafficking.
Julia believes God called her to take up the rowing challenge. Her rowing partner on board, Kate Richardson, is a Christian too. They knew it was going to be tough, but didn’t figure in the amount of equipment malfunctions they would have to deal with. Julia believes that God allowed everything they relied on to be taken away so that they were relying only on him.
“Kate said, ‘it’s not going to get any worse is it, Julia?’ after the first thing broke – and then it got 10 times worse. Everything that could break broke – the automatic steering in the first couple of weeks, the water maker broke on day 15 … We had an iPod speaker to play music out loud and even that broke.”
The physical and mental challenges they faced were enormous too, as they endured sweltering heat, terrible sores and chafing, 40-foot waves, storms, sickness, sleep deprivation, hunger, boredom, loneliness and cramp.
For Julia the mental challenge was the hardest, coming to terms with how many endless hours they would be rowing (they rowed around the clock, two hours on, two hours off), but remembering the cause kept her strong:
“When it got tough I reminded myself that I have the option to get off this boat in Barbados and there are 27 million who don’t have that freedom. Kate and I prayed at night together when rowing and I said early on, let’s pray for the 27 million each night and we did – that kept it really real for me.”
Julia is now focusing on registering Sport Against Trafficking as a charity so that she can develop what she does with it further. She has “been amazed by the backing Row For Freedom had from the Prime Minister, celebrities and sporting figures – and I really believe that was supernatural favour.”
Her huge achievement has certainly opened up doors for Julia to talk about the row, but also make people more aware of the issue of trafficking. She was asked to tour with Matt and Beth Redman and LZ7 as they launched their anti-trafficking single 27 Million at the end of February. The whole Row for Freedom team and their boat The Guardian will be participating in the Queen’s Jubilee Flotilla in June. All these things raise Julia’s profile and give her a platform to challenge people.
Julia intends to round up the high-profile connections she has made for a pre-Olympic campaign to raise awareness about the increase in human trafficking that occurs before any big sporting event.
“Prostitution has already doubled in East London ahead of the Olympics because there are 10,000 men working on the construction site,” she says. “This just shows what a big problem it is and the average person in the UK just doesn’t know about it.”
• For more information see www.rowforfreedom.com and www.sportagainsttrafficking.com