For most people there are some of those bucket list adventures, the once in a lifetimes, and the quite often ‘never going to happen’ challenges that we all aspire to. For SmartPA’s Shirley Thompson, it is simply “what’s next?”

Her series of unbelievable physical feats started aged 42 when she discovered running. Within six months, Shirley had smashed the legendary Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert. The sky really was the limit and Thompson began targeting the most difficult terrains: deserts, mountains, and Antarctica.  This culminated in the creation of one of the world’s toughest races, the Jungle Marathon, a 254km race through the Amazon jungle in Brazil.

For her 60th birthday, Shirley wanted to do something huge to celebrate but what do you do when you have well and truly conquered the toughest challenges on-foot?

You take to the water. But no ordinary stretch of water.  Shirley picked the Atlantic.  A 3000km transatlantic solo row – no less!

I had often thought of climbing Everest, but I decided rowing an ocean is much “greener”. And then I learnt that only 16 women have ever rowed an ocean solo, so it appealed even more.”

“I am used to endurance challenges but only on land, so this will be my first time taking on a challenge in the water. It has been a huge learning curve (including learning to swim!) and getting over my fear of the water. It is also likely to be the longest.”

In doing so, Thompson will be breaking two world records; the oldest woman to row any ocean solo and the first Irish women to do so. This amazing feat will take three months, and see her meeting high seas, extreme weather, sharks and whales.

“There are many elements that will make it tough and many I cannot control. The weather will determine so much. It will be tough keeping the boat going in the right direction if the wind is against me. Sleep deprivation will be hard. Capsizing, huge waves, avoiding other vessels on the ocean, abject terror in a storm, sharks, the list is endless. But the good and the less good bits are all part of the journey.”

“I have focused on increasing my upper body strength and have been rowing on the sea as much as possible to build my confidence on the boat. Part of the preparation has also been preparing myself for a broken sleep pattern as I will never have more than 2-3 hours sleep. I have been studying for my Yachtmasters, so I know about weather, navigation etc. I have my VHF radio licence, a sea survival training course and keep mentally focusing on potential problems and how I will cope with them. It has become all-encompassing”

The question on everyone’s mind is really, why?

“A huge part of my decision to do this was to prove to myself and others that women of any age can do anything they focus on. I feel that women are often considered as past their ‘sell by date’ by society once they reach 50, and we start to feel invisible. I hope this inspires other women that age is just a number and that women of all ages can do anything they set their minds to. I also hope it will demonstrate to other women that someone ordinary can do something extraordinary. It’s now #OneForTheGirls!”

Truly inspirational, Thompson is constantly pushing the boundaries of expectations and empowerment.

Even in the most practical sense, what Thompson is doing may seem alien to many and none more so than a busy business owner. But, as a SmartPA Partner, Shirley has the flexibility to take on these amazing challenges, safe in the knowledge that her business can be kept running with our global community of support.

“I already have a company that organises an endurance race in the jungle and wanted something I could get my teeth into when I wasn’t involved in my jungle project.

Smart PA is an ideal “fit”. I am my own boss, I can do the work myself, or only handle the account management side of the business and insource the work to other trained partners. There is such flexibility. Even doing a challenge like I am doing, I can go away knowing that head office will handle communications in my absence and so there is no impact on my clients. Partners are all trained to the same high standards and so a hand over is seamless. I will be raring to launch my business on my return.”

“I think if you have a dream to do any challenge, or tackle anything outside your comfort zone, then go for it. Visualise it, focus on it, break it down into bite-size prices and make it happen. We are capable of anything that we put our minds to.”

Shirley, you inspire us, you embody the empowerment and self-realisation that our business opportunity is based upon.  Go girl!  We look forward to sharing your journey with others, to supporting you as you face each challenge at sea and to welcoming you onto dry land safely.  We will use the hashtag #OneForTheGirls – please share and comment on Shirley’s adventure as it unfolds.  We’ll be with you every row of the ocean.