Lewis Colam’s father thought he was nuts.
His son, a 24-year-old, had a great job as a management consultant in London’s upscale Covent Garden district at a time when young adults around the globe were struggling to get a job, any job.
But Colam had a dream and a desire to help. So he quit to pursue it.
After witnessing an ex-girlfriend’s grandmother endure Alzheimer’s disease, Colam wanted to help by rowing from Miami to New York in 90 days and raising $20,000 for the The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.
He found a sponsor to buy a $5,000, 15-foot open-deck boat, and set off from Miami’s Pelican Harbor on March 3.
With calloused hands and blistered feet, Colam took a rare break in Charleston this Easter weekend and recounted some of his adventures, so far, on his ambitious, unsupported trip.
Among them was being tipped over by five manatees when he accidentally rowed over top of them in shallow water in Mosquito Lagoon north of Titusville, Fla. He had just seen his first alligator and was terrified, at first, that he might have been knocked over by a gator.
Colam has been overwhelmed with the people who have gone out of their way to help him, by either hosting him or offering food. And some of that food included America’s tastiest.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the trip was happening upon one of America’s celebrity chefs, Paula Deen, near Savannah. Deen’s husband, Michael Groover, found out about Colam and invited him to stay at the Wilmington Island house. Deen cooked for him.
“I didn’t even know she was a celebrity. Her husband didn’t mention anything,” said Colam. “We were eating and watching QVC network, and she came on selling her cookbook, and I realized she was famous. … They thought it was funny.”
The trip, however, has been far from a joy ride. Rowing has to be timed with favorable tides, which are often in the middle of the night or in the blistering sun. Eating “on the row” usually means consuming raw oatmeal and water because he won’t risk cooking on the boat and he can’t keep fresh food. He has spent at least 25 nights sleeping in the open, anchored boat, often in remote swamps, exposed to mosquitoes and other pests. And his British skin is susceptible to burning.
Still, Colam said he hopes his trip will inspire others to do the same. He was not a rower and only trained 10 days before starting his journey.
“It’s too easy to say ‘If only I had an opportunity to help,’” said Colam. “This is all self-created and I think it’s a nice thing to do with your life.”
Colam hopes to end his journey at the aircraft carrier Intrepid, where the Fisher Center has offices, in mid-May. Track his trip, listen to audio diaries, and make donations at www.iamfinechallenge.org. Funds do not support his trip and go directly to the center.