Testing the limits of endurance: BHS grad takes on Pacific Ocean challenge

A Brainerd High School graduate is rowing with a friend across the Pacific Ocean from California to Hawaii in an endurance test to raise money for several children's hospitals.

Brainerd High School graduate Ryan Foss and his friend and rowing partner Erin Hammer are competing in The Great Pacific Race rowing from California to Hawaii in an endurance test while raising money for children's hospitals. (Submitted photo)
Brainerd High School graduate Ryan Foss and his friend and rowing partner Erin Hammer are competing in The Great Pacific Race rowing from California to Hawaii in an endurance test while raising money for children's hospitals. (Submitted photo)

A Brainerd High School graduate is rowing with a friend across the Pacific Ocean from California to Hawaii in an endurance test to raise money for several children's hospitals.

Ryan Foss, who grew up in Brainerd, and his friend Erin Hammer embarked on the Great Pacific Race Saturday. The race will take them across 3,000 miles and take more than 40 days.

It's a daunting, physical challenge in a boat that may seem too small for such an adventure. National Public Radio reported more people have summited Mount Everest than rowed across the Pacific Ocean. This year, eight crews from 11 nations are challenging themselves and the world's largest ocean.

"I have always been looking for new ways to challenge myself physically. My rowing partner, Erin Hammer, and I competed in a seven-day jungle race in the Amazon in 2014 and met a bunch of really fun people," Foss stated in an email exchange the day the trip started. "We all decided this would be a fun challenge and entered two boats together."

This month, Foss and Hammer's Endurance Limits USA will compete against seven other teams in the 2016 Great Pacific Race, taking hardy souls from Monterey, Calif., to Waikiki, Hawaii.


"We have planned and planned for this thing for over a year," Foss said. "My biggest concern is that something happens that we haven't planned for. How will we react. Which will happen. My biggest hope is that we raise a lot of funding and awareness for children's hospitals and that my two boys get inspired to dream big."

Foss reported all donations to Endurance Limits USA will go directly to help urgent health care needs of children who otherwise couldn't afford treatment. Foss and Hammer are one of four American teams attempting the ocean crossing. Race officials reported conditions were ideal for the start, which gave crews a favorable 16-hour window to break out of Monterey Bay and into the Pacific Ocean.

The ocean row boats are 24-feet long and 6-feet wide and as the Great Pacific Race website notes, are 100 percent powered by muscle.

The boats are built from marine grade plywood, glass or carbon fiber or composite material.

"They are able to withstand the worst weather that the ocean can throw at them and keep the crew safe," the Great Pacific Race reports. "All boats in the Great Pacific Race are designed to self-right if they capsize and each boat has undergone a capsize test to ensure that this design feature is operational. Each boat has a water-tight cabin at each end with the rowing cockpit in the middle. Generally one cabin is used for storage and the other as the accommodation, where the crew can rest when they are not rowing."

As for the training and race preparation, Foss said, "besides the obvious physical training, we have had to get certified in navigation, sea survival, sea first aid, and VHF communications.

"Planning to be at sea self-supported for up to 80 days takes a lot of logistical planning as well. Making sure we have enough food on board. That we have contingencies and backups for all sorts of situations that might come up.

"It is quite the undertaking. But we are doing it for kids who need our support. So that makes it all worthwhile."


With all donations going to hospitals serving children, the three benefiting organizations are Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, Children's Hospital Colorado and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Along the more than month-long journey, Foss and Hammer plan to "share inspiring stories of children" being treated at the three medical organizations.

Foss reported he and Hammer became close friends of the Endurance Limits team as they competed with them in a 2014 jungle marathon. Darren Clawson founded Endurance Limits to raise funds for the Great Ormond Street Hospital, which cared for his son. His son Hadley began suffering from hundreds of seizures daily at age 2. Hadley's story is part of the Endurance Limits USA web page.

After months in the London hospital and "exhausting every possible treatment, Hadley's parents were informed that he had simply reached his 'endurance limits' and that they should prepare for his inevitable and imminent death. Hadley, on the other hand, had other ideas. He defied the odds to survive and lives a happy and fulfilling life at home with his family."

Inspired by Hadley's courage and by the athletes supporting the Endurance Limits Adventure Racing Team, Foss and Hammer reported they "decided to raise awareness and much-needed funding for several well-respected children's hospitals across the United States."






The hardest part

"Many have told us the hardest part about rowing an ocean is getting to the starting line," Foss stated. "And they weren't joking. But we've been blessed with some great partners-brightpeak financial, our lead sponsor-jumped on board right away and led the charge for other corporate sponsors to follow."

Foss and Hammer, noted they have participated in countless physically demanding journeys together, but stated "the Great Pacific Race will be the most challenging and trying experience to-date."

"The biggest difference with this challenge compared to others is that we are truly a team," Foss said. "When we did others like Mount Aconcagua, tallest mountain in the Americas, we did them together, but it is still more of an individual challenge. The team aspect makes this different."

Like Foss, Hammer is familiar with testing her physical limits and endurance. She also grew up in northern Minnesota, which she stated fueled her "thirst and desire for adventure." Hammer stated her adrenaline was already pumping thinking of that encounter with the first, huge ocean wave.

Foss sets his interest in the outdoors and physical challenges as beginning in 1997, the year he completed Grandma's Marathon. Since then, he tackled ultra trail runs, jungle adventures and mountain climbs. Asked what advice he'd like to go back and give to his 1997 self, Foss said, "It's all part of the journey. I don't think I'd tell myself anything."



The Great Pacific Race

This is the second year for the Great Pacific Race, although the tradition of crossing the oceans in a rowboat can trace its heritage back to 1896 when two men rowed across the Atlantic Ocean in an open 18-foot boat in search of a $10,000 prize offered by the editor of The National Police Gazette. They successfully made it from New York to the Scilly Isles in the United Kingdom in 55 days. The Great Pacific Race reports the first Pacific Ocean row took place in 1971 in a 35-foot boat on a path from San Francisco to Hayman Island, off the coast of Australia.

For this year's endurance test, The Great Pacific Race notes "teams will battle harsh wind patterns, unpredictable climates and erratic conditions, which can push them off their directed path."


Ways to follow their progress

Foss and Hammer's progress is represented by a green icon of a boat on The Great Pacific Race a race tracker allows people to follow their journey. There's a race leaderboard with distance sailed in nautical miles, speed and estimated finish times and dates along with much more information, even videos of Foss and Hammer training in the United Kingdom.

Foss encourages those interested to follow the adventure on social channels. For more information, go to for details on fundraising and for options to download the official race tracker app for iphone, iPad and Android.


Foss and Hammer are also providing updates on social media, via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Russell Herder, a local advertising and public relations firm, is donating social media and public relations for Foss and Hammer's endurance race. Russell Herder's CEO Carol Russell stated Foss worked in the firm's mailroom when he was in high school. His mom and step-dad-Tim and Ann Bergin-still make their home in Brainerd.


RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or . Follow on Twitter at .

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