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Woman First To Row Across Atlantic

December 3, 1999

POINTE-A-PITRE, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Tori Murden, a Kentucky lawyer, became the first American _ and the first woman _ to row across the Atlantic alone, completing a 3,000-mile odyssey today to the cheers of family and friends.

Murden rowed up to a dock in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, grabbed an American flag and waved it high, celebrating a triumphant journey that began in the Canary Islands in September.

Murden landed at 8:46 a.m. EST. ``This land does wobble and my legs are tanned,″ she said as she set foot on land for the first time in nearly 12 weeks.

Her odyssey began favorably in mid-September when she left the Canary Islands off northwest Africa and made good time. She was going so fast that she thought she would smash the 1970 record _ 73 1/3 days, set by Briton Sidney Genders.

But then foul weather bedeviled her. Late-season Hurricane Lenny whipped up 20-foot waves and winds gusting to 20 knots as it dissipated, upending her 23-foot boat, American Pearl, and catapulting Murden into the ocean.

This was not a new experience for the rower, who had to be rescued last year when Hurricane Danielle capsized her 15 times. She had been at sea 85 days in an attempt to cross the North Atlantic.

This time Murden, 36, persevered despite days where, thanks to Hurricane Lenny, she actually went backward as much as 10 miles and was forced to drop anchors.

``I dare not describe my mood. I am well beyond screaming at the wind,″ she said in a message posted on the Internet during the storm. ``I do not think I will make any progress today. I’ll be content if I do not lose miles.″

Other messages, posted via a satellite phone that was her only connection to the world, described happier moments, including frolicking with a pair of dolphins that seem to have adopted her.

Murden is a member of the Sector No Limits Team of elite athletes dedicated to testing the outer limits of endurance. She was the first woman and first American to ski to the geographic South Pole.

``Regardless of whether she is the fastest, Murden’s accomplishments are truly remarkable, making her one of the most revered people in rowing history,″ said Kenneth Crutchlow of London’s Ocean Rowing Society.

Murden has made it a point to be exceptional in her career as well. She worked as a chaplain at a public hospital in Boston where most patients had no health insurance. She also opened a shelter for homeless women there.

Later, she moved to her hometown of Louisville, Ky., to care for a brother with special needs. She worked in Louisville government trying to develop the city’s poorest sections. While rowing, she is on leave from her work at a nonprofit motivational program for underprivileged youths.

She describes her ocean-rowing venture as a journey within herself.

``If you know what it means to be out in the middle of an ocean by yourself, in the dark, scared, then it gives you a feel for what every other human being is going through,″ she said in a telephone interview last month. ``I row an actual ocean. Other people have just as many obstacles to go through.″