Before Kevinia Francis crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a small rowboat, she couldn’t even swim.

“That, according to everybody, should have been a deterrent to taking on this challenge,” said Francis. “Don’t let your fears deter you from achieving your goal.

Francis is the just one of four women who faced down both fear and the odds to become a history-making rowing team.

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Along with Elvira Bell, Christal Clashing, Samara Emmanuel, all from the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda form the Team Antigua Island Girls, which in December became the first all-Black team, of any gender, to row across the Atlantic Ocean.

theGrio spoke with them on their home island during a special 2019 Women’s Empowerment Brunch event this spring, to understand the mental and physical health aspects of their journey.

“To be able to row the Atlantic which has such significance for our race, in that we’re going to be traveling across parts of the transatlantic slave trade was something that was incredible and that we really cherished,” says Clashing.

rowing, sports, Atlantic Ocean, women, Antigua, health
Team Antigua Island Girls made history by rowing the Atlantic Ocean. (L-R-Elvira Bell, Christal Clashing, Samara Emmanuel, Kevinia Francis (Photo: Ben Duffy)

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The team trained for about nine months to prepare for the sea — two hours and day and six days a week. The schedule was a tight timeline considering most teams train for two to four years, according to Emanuel.

“None of us have ever rowed an ocean before,” she said. “It took a lot of commitment dedication hard work, determination, discipline.”

Each woman had her own challenges to face individually at sea.  While one had to learn to swim altogether, another had to face her fear of the very boat she’d be traveling in.

“I was claustrophobic so I was afraid of being in small spaces but I didn’t let that hold me back,” said Bell.

“As we came across the sea. It was a trust system a very necessary system. And we got close so we knew everything about each other basically. We had disagreements from time to time, got over it quickly. It was like just like family.

Team Antigua Island Girls on the water.

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The team also worked to fundraise for a local shelter in Antigua called Cottage of Hope, which helps girls who face abuse and neglect to find transitional housing.

For women of any age watching their achievements, Team Antigua Island Girls wants them to know that it’s never too late — or impossible — to pursue their dreams.

“I come from a background of swimming,” says Clashing, who was the first female swimmer from Antigua to make the Olympics in 2004. “It’s a predominantly white-dominated, male-dominated sport.

I would say to a young Black girl don’t let the kind of perceptions or the demographics of a sport influence your dreams,” Clashing explains.

“If there’s something about that sport that just sparks something in you, just go for it. You can smash those barriers you really can and it’s amazing.”

Watch more above about the women’s incredible journey across the sea in our Grio Original Video: Team Antigua Island Girls.