First lieutenant Lasse Wulff Hansen knows the physical pain of rowing 4,800 kilometres. Last year he spent 49 days at sea in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge, crossing the Atlantic Ocean from the Spanish island La Gomera to Antigua in the Caribbean.
“It is far more challenging than anything most people ever try,” he says.
This December he takes up the challenge once more together with three Danish crewmembers, all with one joint mission: to row for veterans.
Recent studies show that up to 22 percent of Danish soldiers have symptoms of PTSD. Symptoms such as being on guard all the time, jumpy, emotionally reactive and disconnected. With two of the team members having PTSD symptoms, the crew knows first-hand what they and their families are going through.
Each team will on average row 1.5 million oar strokes during a race. Rowers will constantly row for two hours and sleep for two hours, 24 hours a day. At its deepest, the Atlantic Ocean is 8.5 km deep. The waves the rowers will experience can measure up to six meters high. There are two safety yachts supporting the teams as they cross the ocean, and they are also supported by two land-based duty officers. Each rower needs to aim to consume 10 litres of water per day.
“The classic story is that people have a hard time after their military career and become the type who lives alone out in the woods because they cannot cope with life anymore. However, PTSD does not necessarily lead to suicidal thoughts or a lack of ability to live a normal life. Very few people end up like that,” Lasse Wullf Hansen says.
“I have experienced challenges from PTSD myself…. but I also believe there are many positive aspects of being a veteran, even if you are diagnosed with PTSD. I have become a stronger person and strengthened my view on what is important in life and what I believe in.”
World’s toughest endurance race
The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is a rowing race with approximately 35 boats participating in 2019, ranging from one-man boats to crews of up to five people. Dubbed ‘the World’s toughest row’ it more than lives up to its name. The four Danes have embarked on a journey that is expected to last 30 to 40 days, with way too little sleep and way too much physical work – much harder than what the body is used to. Adding to this, it is almost impossible to predict what happens on the ocean.
“In a few days, when we are 300 kilometres out of the coastline, we will be out of helicopter reach. If anything happens, help is not just around the corner,” Lasse Wulff Hansen says.
“In theory, there are two boats that follow us, but in reality, they will not be able to do anything if an accident happens. We are on our own. The things we do and the decisions we make have serious consequences – and that is what makes this race so special.”
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Veterans and a CEO – all in the same boat
The idea for this year’s trip was born at the finishing line of last year’s race, where Lasse Wulff Hansen met Michael Lyng, an experienced executive leader from the Danish corporate world.
“The thought of doing it together and to row for veterans came to us over a glass of wine – as with all great ideas in life,” Lasse Wulff Hansen explains.
Michael Lyng adds:
“For me it is the perfect challenge at a perfect time in life. I am in between jobs and have both the time and the desire to do it,” he says.
“Of course, every participant has his or her own reason for doing it. For many, I think it is a wish for adventure. Some already climbed mountains or performed an Ironman, and now they are determined to cross the Atlantic – which is even more extreme.”
No doubt it is a huge physical challenge to cross the Atlantic, but Michael Lyng expects it to be an even bigger mental challenge. In that sense, it is much like leading a large corporation, which he has done for many years.
“Running a business is also a protracted process mentally. I will try to remember that when I am out there on the sea.”
Lasse Wulff Hansen knows that the race makes a difference. He gained lots of confidence from last year’s race. It gave him a belief that he can do things that may be out of the ordinary. He also found out that many of the skills he acquired in the military during the last 10-15 years can be used in other contexts.
“Out on the sea, for instance, it is all about making an effort and being in control of every detail while also being able to handle an extreme mental and physical pressure.”
Deloitte Denmark sponsors the race that began on December 12, 2019, and to CEO Anders Dons the purpose of this race makes so much sense:
“Our veterans have made an enormous sacrifice to their country, and the least we can do is give them the support they need and the respect they fully deserve. By sponsoring the Danish boat I hope we can help raise awareness of their achievements as well as the mental consequences that follow from deployments.”
To the Danish crew, the sponsorships are what makes this journey a reality.
“It is a relatively expensive project, and we would not be able to participate in this race without sponsors. The biggest support though, lies in the social commitment that companies such as Deloitte show with this initiative,” says Michael Lyng.
“It is an extremely strong commitment from Deloitte to participate in creating more awareness around some of the challenges that our veterans experience. A great thank you to Deloitte and Anders Dons for supporting us,” he adds.