Written by Annabel Stewart
Have you heard of the sailor Clare Francis, who had such a tough time on her first Atlantic race that she
forgot to eat, and when she went on deck to greet the press boats as she approached New York, her pants fell down?
Being cool-headed, she just scooped them up and carried on sailing, one handed. Approaching a
major shipping lane, in front of the world’s press.
She was one of my heroes when I was growing up.
A ballet dancer and economist by training (what a combination), she sailed and raced across the
Atlantic several times, and was the first woman to skipper a boat in the Whitbread Round The World Race in the chauvinistic 70s.
I came across one of her books in my mum’s stash and was entranced by her tales of doing well in what was traditionally a male dominated area, where women are supposed to cook food and serve beer – whilst looking pretty and showing some leg – not navigate and strategize and generally kick ass.
I loved that. I loved the combination of doing something so amazingly physically and mentally challenging
and flouting convention at the same time.
I found more heroes as I grew up.
Tania Aebi, the American 18-year-old, whose dad bet her she couldn’t sail round the world alone. So, she did.
Kay Cottee, the first woman (and Australian!) to sail non-stop around the world in the 80s. Amelia Earhart,
the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic. Rosie Swale-Pope who ran, walked, and sailed around the world, wrote such entertaining books about her adventures and is still going strong in her 70s.
And Jessica Watson, the young Australian who I saw give a talk in the Whitsundays, and who made me cry with her humility, grace, and kindness.
You can kinda see a theme, right?
“Hero” and “Adventurer” were interchangeable for me for the longest time.
But when I started working with women who wanted to stop drinking, something seismic shifted for me.
I worked with Sarah, whose taught high-needs kids every day, then went home to an empty house because her husband worked away, plus they couldn’t have children.
That combination of super busy and super lonely made her cry inside. I worked with Anna, who didn’t start drinking until 9pm every night, and then would drink a whole bottle, every night.
The reason she didn’t start until 9pm was because that was when she’d fed everyone and tidied up, and got her severely disabled son into bed for the night and also spoken to her daughter, who was in hospital with her premature baby whose lungs weren’t working.
I worked with Jess, a highly successful lawyer in her 50s, who had grown up with driven parents who
taught her that love was conditional upon achievement and who didn’t know how to stop. Or to be kind to
herself. Or make the sadness go away.
I looked at my friends, who manage families, jobs, households, love, heartbreak, loss, grief, food shopping, failures, triumphs and quite often the school lunches too … every single day.
And sometimes they have support, and sometimes they do it all alone.
Then they go to bed and get up and do it all over again. Come hell or high water, they get on with it, every day, over and over.
We’re surrounded by them. We don’t see them, because we just see our mates and our colleagues. But
they’re hiding in plain sight. Surviving and even thriving in a world that is tough to many.
So, here’s to you; the doers and the survivors. The ones without capes.
As Robert Downey Junior, who’s now a poster boy for living a fantastic life without booze, said: “I think that we all do heroic things. But hero is not a noun, it’s a verb.”
I see you, doer of amazing things. You’re my hero.