Athlete Katie Spotz (photo by Jake Giessman)
Ohio Life

Katie Spotz on Pushing Human Limits

At age 22, she became the youngest person to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Now the native Ohioan is planning for her next challenge: running 140 miles to raise money for clean water.

Katie Spotz ran her first ultramarathon during Earth Day weekend while studying environmental science in Australia. The Mentor native competed in a 100-kilometer race for the global nonprofit Oxfam, which funds projects related to climate change.

That grueling race began an endurance odyssey for Spotz, who would go on to run across the Mohave Desert, swim the length of the Allegheny River, cycle across America and, at age 22, become the youngest person to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Her most challenging adventure may well be her next one: Spotz is planning a 140-mile nonstop run across Maine, where she is stationed with the Coast Guard. She’ll be teaming up with Lifewater International, a nonprofit water development organization working to end the global water shortage and sanitation crisis.

“The first time I ran a mile my legs were on fire and I thought, Why do people do this?” says Spotz. “As I did more and more of these endurance events, my parents thought I was going through a stage. At this point my family and friends would be surprised if I wasn’t doing these things.”

Raising funds for drinking water throughout the world has always been meaningful to Spotz because “everyone can relate to the need for clean water.” She talked with us about her upcoming run, rowing the Atlantic and her motivation. 

What are the biggest challenges you will face for a nonstop run?
I know this is possible, but I also know that any little mistake could be catastrophic. Dehydration will be a big thing. The second you’re thirsty is almost too late. I will be taking caffeine energy gels. My shoes will have to be a size larger because my feet will swell during the run. I’m excited, I’m nervous and I’m scared … and that’s why I want to do it.

Rowing across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to South America is an extraordinary accomplishment. What was that like?
There were 25-foot waves so there was a lot of sleep deprivation. As I was rowing, flying fish were hitting me in the face, and I didn’t know anything about the glowing plankton. I thought I was hallucinating. 

You are constantly challenging yourself. What motivates you?
For me, it’s curiosity. That’s a huge driver for me. Endurance sports is such a mental game. There are certain things I’ve learned to manage by focusing on breathing or listening to music. You have to focus on the moment. I really identify with something T.S. Eliot wrote, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

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