Have you ever wondered how an Olympic athlete adjusts once the years of regimented schedules and the spotlight on the national stage end? The transition might be traumatic and depressing for some, and for others, they may simply move on to finding or creating their next life adventure. Janice Mason is a classic example of the latter. At 59, she just keeps asking herself, “what’s next?”
Janice is a Canadian Olympian and World Cup Champion in rowing. She is also a physician in Sport and Exercise Medicine. Janice competed in the 1984 Olympic Games and the ’82 and ’87 World Cup. Her transition from an elite athlete to routine life was gradual and fluid. She simply found other ways to challenge herself. Her competitive rowing career took a back seat to her other life choices, such as completing medical school and raising her daughter. As time allowed, Janice began to look for more daring physical challenges beyond rowing. She competed in the Yukon Quest with her nephew in 2010 and won the mixed doubles kayak category. It was the first of her many adventures on the water and she loved it. In 2012 she did it again in a single kayak. “It was one of the hardest things I had ever done up to that point,” she remembers. Two years later, at 54, she completed her first Ironman.
Team Sistership was looking for a fourth person to join their crew. Janice applied and was first turned down.
Janice had tried to put a rowing team together for the Race to Alaska (R2AK) in 2015, the first year of the race, but was unable to find anyone interested. Team Sistership was looking for a 4th person to join the all-female and all over 50 crew. Janice applied, but Michelle, the captain, turned her down. The team needed another experienced sailor, and although Janice had checked a lot of boxes on her impressive resume, sailing wasn’t one of them. Janice wasn’t accustomed to being turned down. This made her even more determined to get on a boat. “I went to U-Vic (University of Victoria) for some sailing lessons,” she explained. Janice also helped Sistership secure oars through donations from Victoria and met the team in Port Townsend to give her expert opinion on building rowing stations. While waiting for any invite, she decided to complete a 1/2 marathon, just to stay in shape. Her persistence and determination didn’t go unnoticed. In April, two months before the race, Sistership had a sudden change of crew. Janice, the logical next choice, was invited to join the team.
Rowing To Alaska
The 2016 experience ignited Janice’s addiction to the R2AK. “The experience was hard’ “she recalls. “The winds in late June were light, and we rowed this 3500-pound trimaran for nearly 65-70 hours,” she said. The lack of wind was particularly hard for an Olympic rower. She was accustomed to gliding along the water on a 30-pound scull. Janice knew then that if she were going to row to Alaska, she’d do it in a boat designed for rowing.
She knew that if she were going to row to Alaska, she’d do it in a boat designed for rowing.
In 2017, she formed Team Oaracle with Ian Graeme. Ian, a 4-time R2AK veteran and the only person to complete the race since it’s inception, met Janice the year before. The two hail from Canada. They selected a 22-foot Merry Sea II rowing scull to match their strengths. After 24 days of rowing with their backs facing north, they arrived in Ketchikan as the last boat of the fleet. However, they set a record as the first team to finish the race in a human-powered rowboat.
Kayak Versus Rowboat
In 2018, the group decided to do the race again, this time facing forward in a double kayak. Rowing backward to Alaska, the year before, proved to be more difficult than either Janice or Ian imagined. “I was surprised how sore my butt got,” she said. “We had to stop every 15-20 minutes to take the pressure off and get blood flow back to the muscles.” The rowboat, nicknamed “Barbara” was also hard to manage. By design, it was heavy and even more so with gear. They didn’t count on the energy expenditure of pulling the rowboat out of the water to take rest breaks. “One time,” she explains, “we had to put the rowboat on the logs at dark. In the morning because the tide was out, it was 1/4 mile to get the boat back into the water.” It took multiple trips and nearly 3 hours just to get going again.
“I was surprised how sore my butt got.”
Team Oaracle had a new game plan in 2018. Why not? Janice and Ian had both sailed and rowed the race, why not paddle this time? But before they did this, they thought they’d “warm-up” by doing the SEVENTY/48, a 70-mile boat race from Tacoma, WA to Port Townsend, WA. Participants must complete the race in 48 hours. Like the R2AK, there are no engines or support. Unlike the R2AK, it’s all about human-power, so using a sail or wind generator isn’t allowed. In retrospect, Janice wouldn’t recommend this strategy. Before the R2AK started, her hands were already covered with blisters.
With painful hands and fatigued legs, they head to Victoria the next day on their kayak. They had attached a small sail this time in hopes of getting a little reprieve from paddling, but the sail gave only about 1-knot of assistance when heading downwind. Yet without the open cockpit of the rowboat, the two were more comfortable and needed fewer rest breaks than the year before. The kayak was more secure, lighter, and much easier to manage rest breaks along their 19-day journey.
Plans for the Next Adventure?
Having mastered just about all aspects of the R2AK, Janice is looking for what’s next. “I’m going to be 60 this year. Obviously, my age isn’t impairing me, and my endurance seems to be better.” Her regular exercise routine includes strength training, which she feels is what most women fail to do as they age. “If you want to keep doing things as you get older, you need to maintain your muscle mass,” she explains. Janice’s participation in diverse and physically demanding activities is key to how she looks at her future. “I’ve been looking into those transatlantic rowing capsules,” she says, referring to the 3000-mile rowing challenge across the Atlantic. “I’m still trying to work out whether this is something I can or want to do,” she says.
“If you want to keep doing things as you get older, you need to maintain your muscle mass.”
How Will 2019 Look for Team Oaracle?
“We would like to do it in less than 19 days,” she responds. Their goal is to keep up a higher daily average. But as the most seasoned R2AK veterans know better, than anyone, goals are simply “wish lists” in a race with so many unknowns and so little control.
Words of Wisdom for Others Contemplating Adventure?
For anyone interested in taking on this or any other adventure, Janice offers a little advice. “Be willing to try,” she says. “Fear often keeps people from taking the first step…People can choose not to do something for fear that something terrible will happen. But you can easily get hurt if you don’t do anything. No guarantees. You might be surprised about all the good that could happen too. Be willing just to try something!”
Read more Sistership Stories about The Women of the R2AK.
Sistership uses a portion of our profits from our Sistership Store to support organizations that give women and girls opportunities that ignite their adventurous spirit and age boldly. Check out our new 2019 ENDURE women T-shirts, designed with for the women of the R2AK in mind. Purchase one and make an impact on the NWMC “Give Like A Girl” scholarship program.
Photos used with permission Team Oaracle R2AK Facebook.