San Tan Valley-area resident Mary Rose practices rowing in San Diego‚??s Mission Bay in May. Rose is competing in the Great Pacific Race, in which she will row her boat solo from Monterey, Calif., to Honolulu. / Nick Perez II, KPNX-TV, Phoenix
PHOENIX -- Like many people, Mary Rose grew up with aspirations to leave her hometown. She was a little girl in a little city on a sparsely populated island off Australia.
Like many people, she found a career and a home. College degree, accounting, a transfer to Arizona. A white stucco house in the suburbs.
Like many people, she got some pets. A pet bird, then a few more.
Like many people, she's an environmentalist, though maybe an extreme one. Animal habitat is being threatened. Many bird species face extinction. She wanted to do something about it.
Like many people, Rose had never been particularly athletic. She didn't even have a gym membership.
None of that can entirely explain why Rose is about to do the thing she's about to do.
On Monday, she will step off a pier in Monterey, Calif., and settle into a seat on a boat that's not quite 20 feet long. She'll push away from the shore, grab the handles of two oars locked to the edge of the boat and point the bow west.
Totally alone and powered solely by her own strength, she will begin to row across the Pacific Ocean.
Shortly after crossing the starting line that day, as part of a small but extreme competition known as the Great Pacific Race, the boat will disappear over the horizon. Rose will be aboard a boat out of sight of land for the first time in her life.
If all goes as planned, she will stay that way for about three months, until she reaches Honolulu.
In this way, Rose is not like many people.
Should she win - should she even finish - she'll be like almost no one else.
An early drive
Like many people, Rose grew up in a family that didn't travel too far.
Her father was a truck driver, but they lived on an island, Tasmania. Her mother was a nurse. They didn't spend much time in boats.
Rose had wanderlust. She set off for a year in Seattle as an exchange student at 16.
By her early 20s, an accounting degree in hand, Rose jumped on a program to work six months in the United States. That landed her in Phoenix. For work, she did tax preparation. The rest of the time she wandered: the deserts, the forests. She went to Disneyland. She really liked Sedona.
Six months over, she went back to Australia, kept working as an accountant.
One day, she wandered through a Melbourne pet store. A cheeky Eclectus parrot stuck its head out of its cage and said, "Hello." Its ruby and blue feathers reminded her of Sedona. She named the bird Arizona.
Rose read up on how to care for her pet. With no bird clubs in Melbourne, she amassed a mini-library. Rainforest birds such as her parrot were losing their natural habitat.
Arizona would lie on the couch and watch TV with her and snuggle under a chair to sleep.
Rose spent her days handling the books for a Melbourne firm that sold swimming-pool equipment. The company expanded to the U.S. and opened a Tempe location.
"Please send me," Rose pleaded with her bosses. Soon, she was splitting her time between Melbourne and Tempe.
Eventually, she got a green card.
An avian-disease outbreak in California shut down imports and meant Arizona stayed behind with Rose's sister. "The hardest part of leaving Australia was leaving that bird," Rose says.
By then, in her 30s, she settled into the fringes of suburbia. She bought a house in the San Tan Valley area in 2007.
It has a two-car garage but no pool. The road leading up to it is still unpaved. Quail run across the front yard sometimes, and the summer wind kicks up dust off the desert. It is 350 miles from the ocean.
The 'bird thing'
Like many people, Rose intended to get just one more pet.
She was in Mesa, wandering in a pet store again. Dakota was a gentle, 3-month-old baby-blue-and-gold macaw. She bought him on the spot.
Then came Cricket, a macaw in need of a home. Similar situations brought another macaw, two cockatoos and a parrot.
Niko, a 2-foot-long macaw with a golden-yellow belly, uses his large black beak to toy with Rose's hair. She coos to him in the way a mother fusses over a baby. "Hohohohohohohoho, I'm a bird, I'm outside, I'm a good, good bird!"
Rose found avian clubs in the Valley. She attended conferences on avian conservation, met researchers. "Birds in the wild, they are an important part of the ecosystem. The thing that kills me there is that every extinction of a bird, it's all human-caused," she says.
Her concerns began creeping into her workday.
"There I am sitting in the cube, doing my international accounting, and my brain is off thinking about how I can raise money for some bird," Rose says.
In 2010, she pulled the plug on her six-figure salary.
"You know I've got the 'bird thing,'" she told her boss. "Unfortunately, it's stronger than my will to sit in a cube all day. I have to give in my notice."
That year, Rose created Chirping Central, a non-profit with a website for bird lovers to network. Accounting on a consulting basis paid the bills.
She would go to fundraisers with a bird perched on her arm. She'd talk to bird owners about adverse results of keeping birds confined in cages. She'd rattle off facts about habitat loss in Central and South American rain forests.
"The blue-plumaged Spix's macaw is extinct in the wild, and only 450 blue-throated macaws remain in the wild," she'd tell them.
The fundraisers would yield donations, but the funds were negligible.
"Twenty-two percent of the world's bird species are at risk of extinction," she says. "That's huge."
A few years into the bird thing, Rose was surrounded by bird people. Bird-lover friends. Bird-habitat events. She felt like she was trying to make the world a better place.
That's why she liked the National Geographic Live! series at the Mesa Arts Center. Speakers from all kinds of global pursuits would talk about their causes. They weren't bird people, but they were inspirational.
"They are people who make things happen, and that appeals to me," she says.
That's where she was on Feb. 6, 2012.
The speaker was Roz Savage of England.
Savage was the first woman to row solo across three oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian.
Savage is a consultant for the Great Pacific Race and, at the end of her presentation, she spoke about the amateur race in June 2014 and showed its website.
Rose bought a book and stood in line to get it autographed. When it was her turn, Rose asked Savage why she did it.
"She had multiple reasons," Rose says, "but part of it was to raise awareness about all the plastic trash piles floating around."
The answer, for Rose, was like slamming into a brick wall, that moment of knowing.
"Oh my God, why couldn't I do that for birds?" Rose thought.
She never got the book signed. She drove home in a daze.
"That was how I decided I was going to row an ocean," she says. "On February 6, 2012, at 9:30 p.m., I became a future ocean rower."
At home, she surfed the Internet, bought books and saw videos.
"Even though at the time I thought, 'Mary, you've totally lost it,'" she says, "I could see the whole plan for the next two years right in front of me, laid out. I could just see it."
The Great Pacific Race would happen in slightly less than two years, in June 2014. "The biggest, baddest human endurance challenge on the planet" is how the race is described on its website.
Rose contacted race organizer Chris Martin. He assured her that many novice rowers undertake the dangerous voyage after training.
Two weeks after that evening in Mesa, she signed up.
She would row solo to Hawaii.
'Against the ocean'
The distance from Monterey to Honolulu is about 2,400 miles. A boat trip, seldom accomplished in a straight line, is closer to 3,000 miles.
In a rowboat, even the specially outfitted, watertight oceangoing boats for this type of race, the trip takes weeks.
Organizers expect it to last 30 to 90 days, depending on the weather and the size of the crew (the race has three categories: solo, pair or team).
A cruising group will shadow the 13 race boats during the first 24 hours of the race. A few chase boats will cover the whole course. As a catch-net, the U.S. Coast Guard also is around.
But rowers will quickly spread out, faster ones ahead, slower ones behind. Competitors will soon be hundreds of miles apart. In an emergency, it could be days or even a week before a rescue boat could reach a participant, Martin says.
"We call it a race, but the real race is against the ocean," he says.
Rose knows the risks. "The bird-conservation part of it is really strong for me, and it's stronger than my fear for any dangers out there," she says.
It's her chance, like Savage, to reach a broader audience.
"People are interested purely for the fact that I'm going to get into a boat and I'm going to row," she says.
Rose has taken the first steps to what she hopes is a solution for some birds. She has requested proposals from wildlife biologists. She intends to raise enough money to provide grants to the proposed conservation plans.
She hopes the public will help her raise $1 million for the cause. So far, she has raised $11,700.
The to-do list
As with any big project, there's a checklist.
Get a boat. Rose found a boat in Cornville, a speck of a place in Yavapai County. In 2009, English adventurer Sara Outen rowed across the Indian Ocean from Australia to Mauritius in a boat named Dippers. The 19.5- by 5-foot vessel was on sale for $42,000, a bargain as boats go. A Cornville man had bought it from Outen intending to row solo from California to Hawaii, but had changed his mind. It's a good omen to find a boat in the middle of the desert, Rose says.
Solicit sponsors. Race organizers handed her an extensive list of mandatory items. She needed to raise $160,000 to be at the starting line on race day. She asked for discounts from merchants and spoke to potential sponsors. Some doors opened and others closed.
Perplexed businessmen raised their eyebrows and said, "You're going to die!"
"Nowadays, if they say I'm crazy, I take it as a compliment," Rose says. "It's not easy when you're an accountant who's never rowed a boat before. You're asking them to have some vision and faith, as well."
Inform family. She emailed them once her mind was made up. "You're insane," her brother Anthony shot back.
That was about the extent of the drama. "They just know there's no talking me out of it," she says.
Supplies. Salt Lake City-based eFoods Direct donated the food and shipped a pallet filled with freeze-dried pasta and soy versions of chicken casserole. It also included such items as corn, dried tropical-fruit granola bars and powdered drinks. There also are heaps of chocolate pudding - enough for four cups per day - and 200 Snickers bars to replenish the fat she burns while rowing.
Rowing. Rowing started at Tempe Town Lake, moved to Lake Pleasant and eventually to San Diego. That included 12 hours of rowing in darkness, part of mandatory training.
Endurance training. Rose routinely spent hours on a high-intensity rowing machine. The machine, she says, equates to the 16 hours of ocean rowing she expects to do each day. On most days, she spent three to five hours in it, sometimes under the watchful eye of her birds who were perched nearby.
Navigation and sea-survival classes. Seamanship classes are hard to come by in Arizona. Rose went to San Diego for navigation, Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, to learn survival and Newport Beach, Calif., for 13 weekly classes on boating skills.
Weekly sessions with a nutritionist, physical therapist, personal trainer and psychologist. Rose developed her self-control and mental alertness through neurofeedback training with Dr. Sanford Silverman, who operates the Center for Peak Performance in Scottsdale.
Seated in front of a computer screen, Rose stared at images of a placid lake with three boats. With a few keystrokes, the boats began to race.
As Rose raced boats mentally, sensors on her body recorded her stress levels.
The doctor has conditioned the brains of Olympic athletes and marksmen, but Rose is his first ocean rower.
"I don't know anyone in the world that would do something like this. I'm still trying to talk her out of it," he says, only half joking.
Rose stood on the lower deck of a pier in San Diego on a warm afternoon in May. A breeze tugged at her wispy hair, but her focus remained on her GoPro camera aimed at Dippers.
In seconds, the boat keeled over. And then, like a dog at play, righted itself.
"It's a piece of cake, Mary!" Jim Bauer shouted from above.
Bauer, another solo rower in the race, had done his capsize test minutes earlier.
Next, it was Rose's turn. The process had to work with her on the boat, as well.
The test is a requirement. The ocean-going boat is designed to right itself with help from 28 gallons of water ballast stored under the seat. The ballast is heavy, the rest of the boat is lighter, so when the bottom of the boat rolls up, gravity pulls it down again.
Rose threaded her way to Dippers. The aquamarine water was calm.
Two men held the stern and bow, steadying the vessel while she opened the hatch and climbed inside a 6-foot-long cabin that will be her living quarters. Rose disappeared inside, turned around and closed the hatch.
The men pushed the boat away and positioned two large orange buoys in the water alongside the pier. Another man worked a crane on the upper deck that sprang noisily to life and tilted the boat with a rope. A small push and the boat turned turtle once again.
This time, the boat didn't right itself as easily. The men nudged it gently with the buoys and one prodded with his shoe until it turned.
Moments later, Rose opened the hatch. She was soaked, indicating something had not sealed properly.
But she was thrilled. "I survived!"
Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com
Read the original story: Vanishing birds compel woman to row the Pacific