GMHS alum takes on the world’s most challenging row

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Tim Ryan

From December 2018 to February 2019, Tim Ryan, a Granby Memorial High School alumni from class of 1984, will be one of five rowers who will row 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua. The Row4ALS team will be the first team to compete in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge with an ALS-diagnosed rower. Between 20 and 40 teams will compete in this event.

The official race start is Dec. 12. Tim’s team will depart for La Gomera, Canary Islands on Nov. 26, and have two weeks to sort gear, meet other teams and do some additional ocean training. Row4ALS hopes to row into English Harbour in Antigua around the second week in February. In prior years the fastest team crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 29 days and the slowest team took around 110 days. Tim has set a goal number of 47 days in his head from the outset and he hopes to achieve that goal or better.

In 2017, Tim and his father, Bill Ryan, attended the Banff Mountain Film Festival. At that event, Tim saw a short film entitled Four Mums in a Boat, which chronicled the story of four English women who completed the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge in 2015. 

“I decided then and there that I was going to row the Atlantic and set about developing a team,” Tim said.

The Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge is an international rowing competition known as The World’s Toughest Row. Most race teams choose a charity they support financially in addition to racing. Tim reached out to his friend, Alan Alderman, who has been living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis for 17 years, and asked for his help to contact the ALS Association to help fund Tim’s charity. Alderman agreed, but on the condition that he could row on the team with Tim. Tim’s row has become all about ALS. The team has established a non-profit called the Row4ALS Foundation with the goal of raising a million dollars for ALS research, education and patient care.

Tim has participated in several endurance events, including the Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and Envis Race, and had childhood experiences sailing and rowing on the coast of Maine. Tim has had no experience to the magnitude of rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. 

Row4ALS is a life event. More people have been in space than have rowed across the Atlantic Ocean. Completion of the row will represent a monumental achievement and a tremendous physical and mental challenge. “I have hand-picked a team of extraordinary men with whom I will go through what will no doubt prove to be the best and worst of conditions, emotions and tests of our lives,” Tim said.

Training has been non-stop for Tim and his team, starting with the formation of the team in 2017. The team spends four to five days a week at the gym focusing on strength and conditioning. Tim has been a gym regular since 2012, so taking it to a new level wasn’t unfamiliar territory, but the focus was dialed up a lot. 

In addition, Tim spends about four hours a week on a rowing machine and has logged almost 700,000 meters since February. The team has completed required courses in navigation, wilderness first-aid, sea survival, radio communications, and ocean rowing. Tim is now a Federal Communications Commission licensed Marine Radio Operator.

Tim and the team have made several multi-day training rows including down the west coast of Florida, Puget Sound and Lake Washington in the Seattle area and Bear Lake on Utah-–Idaho border. They have an upcoming training trip on the Great Salt Lake, over the Labor Day weekend. The on-water training sessions are used to practice on board life, rowing, systems use and use of emergency equipment.

“This event is an extreme sport challenge that few will dare to attempt,” Tim said. “Life on board is very mentally and physically grueling.”

Contact with the outside world will be extremely limited—an occasional satellite phone call on, say, Christmas, or a check in from the Atlantic Campaigns tracking crew. The team will be facing severe storms, extreme heat, cold, rough seas, high winds, blisters, cuts, scrapes, sores and mental fatigue. “Getting through it all will be an epic adventure,” Tim said.

The boat is a 28-foot-long custom hand-built carbon fiber masterpiece. The technology includes a seven-panel solar system with battery storage, desalinization water maker, GPS navigation, full weather station, Automatic Identification System to keep the tiny boat from being run over by a huge tanker or passing cruise ship, three Satellite phones and a radio. The carbon fiber shell weighs only 450 pounds. 

Safety gear includes an auto-inflatable life raft, sea survival suits, an extensive medical kit, self-inflating life vests with personal locator beacons and an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. They have three rowing stations and eight handmade carbon fiber and ash oars. The only propulsion comes from rowing, with no motors or sails.

The team will row in three-hour shifts, meaning members will spend three hours rowing and three hours resting over the course of 24 hours. Off shift times are used for cleaning up, preparing and eating food and getting some much needed sleep two hours at a time. There are no beds per se, but cushions in the cabins similar to a camper. Only the team members’ cushions are made of the same material used to make prison bed cushions because of the material’s rot-resistance properties. Life on board is a lot of “row, rinse, repeat” for weeks on end. They do expect to see all manner of marine life including whales, sharks, dolphins and fish—they will be bringing a fishing pole.

Two small cabins are located at each end of the boat that are five-feet wide at the shoulder to about three-feet wide at the feet and seven-feet long. Under normal conditions, one or two people will be resting in a cabin at once. Under stormy conditions when rowers cannot be on deck, three people will be in the bow cabin and two in the aft cabin.

Submitted photos

The boat Ryan and his team will use for the race from Canary Islands to Antigua.


Since there is no indoor plumbing, a small space on deck six inches from other team mates but just big enough to accommodate a Home Depot bucket is the answer when nature calls. Needless to say, privacy, modesty and luxury quickly fade as people row away from shore.

All the rations will be brought with the team. Nearly 70 percent of their daily intake of five to seven thousand calories will be from freeze-dried meals. The rest will be from bars, dried fruits, nuts, candy and some treats. Each man must drink four liters of water daily, one of which will have an electrolyte additive.

“I’m very proud to be a part of this race. Proud of the team we have created, proud to be supporting ALS, proud to be helping my friend, Alan, achieve what no person living with ALS has ever done before and proud to be making an extraordinary accomplishment. Crossing 3,000 miles of ocean in a tiny rowboat is certainly a long way from the winding roads, forests and fields of my childhood in Granby,” Tim said. “But a lot of what growing up Granby gave to me as a kid instilled the work ethic, determination and drive to get me to the finish line.”

Any reader wishing to follow the race in real time can download the app “YB Races.” This will allow you to see their position, speed and race standing in real time once the race starts in December. They will be feeding live video content through our website and social media, also. The team, bio, story and donation information can be found at that provides a little bit of personal background for each teammate. Follow their progress on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @row4als.

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