FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — Right now a group on the First Coast is preparing for a journey that is hundreds of miles long and that will lead them through the open ocean. The mission behind this journey could impact lives across the country.
This is more than just a boat. For the 4 rowers who will occupy the boat named "Courageous" it will be their home for a week.
"I'm always up for a challenge, so this is a challenge to me," said Michele Holbrook, who is part of the 4-person crew that will row from south Florida to Fernandina in the Fall of 2023. That's 360 miles of non-stop open ocean rowing.
The crew set out for one of their first practices in late November. Paul Lore is also part of the crew and has experience with open ocean rowing when he participated in "Foar from Home" and rowed from the Canary Islands to Antigua in 2021.
"We have a really great all inclusive package for Michele," said Lore, "it includes sea sickness, sleep deprivation, she'll look forward to sunburns, powdered food."
The crew of the Courageous will row 2 hours on and hours off non-stop throughout their weeklong journey; and that's easy compared to what Holbrook has already dealt with in life.
"I probably have over 100 tumors in my body," said Holbrook, "I've had radiation on my brain stem, on my T12, I've had 10 surgeries and 13 tumors removed over the past 15 years."
This test of physical and mental strength is more than just a challenge for Holbrook; it's her mission.
Earlier this year she was named the 2023 Ambassador for the Children's Tumor Foundation. As an Ambassador she wants to raise awareness as well as money for a cure for Neurofibromatosis, which is a genetic disorder that she has, which causes tumors to form on nerve tissue.
"I look at the children who have neurofibromatosis and the young individuals who have neurofibromatosis and it's heart wrenching," said Holbrook, "I have a dear friend of mine who lives here in Fernandina and her grandson went through 4 brain surgeries and is totally deaf. I have another girl who is the NF ambassador and has gone through 3 brain surgeries and is completely deaf. I have a little girl who lives in Fernandina, her name is Ally Kate and she has NF2 and is 5 years old. I look at those kids and I want them to see that you can overcome any adversity as long as you put your heart and soul into it and just keep fighting."
"Personalities like Michele, people who want a challenge, to find something that's not there, to find the impossible and to make it possible, everything is possible," said Lore, "it's just a matter of how hard you want to work and how long you want to work at it."
And for every stroke she takes on the water, she's working towards her goal of finding a cure.
"The Children's Tumor Foundation has a shirt for us that says 'born a fighter'," said Holbrook, "and I will tell you that every single one of us that has NF are fighters."