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Honors lecture a success

Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 14, 2013 17:02

honors lecture

Takaka Okumura, Staff Photographer

Tori Murden McClure signs a copy of her book, “A Pearl in the Storm,“ for Emily Naylor, a junior math major of West Memphis.

The fifth annual Honors Lecture of the Year Tuesday evening hosted author, speaker and explorer Tori Murden McClure as she shared her story with students, faculty, and community members. In her presentation, McClure told of her journeys as the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and how through her challenges, she became the woman she is today.

In December of 1999, McClure docked her 23-foot long single-person rowboat on the shores of Guadeloupe after being at sea for 81 days. Yet McClure’s journey began long before her trans-Atlantic crossing, in childhood memories characterized by an overwhelming sense of helplessness.

“Rowing across the ocean was not so much about setting the record, but more of proving to myself that I was not helpless, but capable of doing something worthwhile and making a change in the world,” McClure said.

But after hurricanes forced the termination of McClure’s first crossing attempt in 1998, she nearly gave up on her goal. Picked up only 900 miles from her destination, the coast of Ireland, she was devastated at her failure.

It was not until her then employer Mohammad Ali encouraged her to make a second attempt that McClure once again considered the challenge. “He said to me, you don’t want to be the woman who almost rowed across the Atlantic,” McClure said. “And he was right.”

She embarked on her second journey in August of 1999, this time from the Canary Islands on the coast of Africa. With the Gulf Stream now working in her favor, McClure set out once again to tackle the Atlantic.

 “I thought rowing across the ocean would make me stronger, wiser, less susceptible to the vicissitudes of human existence.” McClure said. “What I didn’t realize was that rowing across the ocean would not make me any less human.”

For McClure, her journey was one of self-discovery, and self-acceptance. She admits that as an adolescent, she did not often desire or seek out love. During her long weeks devoid of human contact, she came to realize that she did need and want it.

After weathering the final hurricane of the second attempt, McClure telephoned her boyfriend Mac McClure with a marriage proposal. He accepted, and was waiting for her on the beach when she docked.

Today, McClure is the president of Spalding University in Louisville Ky., and is the chair of the National Outdoor Leadership School.  She still rows, but no longer solo marathons. Instead, she powers a quad skul with three other women, each of whom are at least 20 years her senior, McClure said.

“It’s a very good deal for me,” McClure said. “I teach them rowing, they teach me life.”

McClure also wrote a book on her experiences, a memoir entitled, “A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean.”

According to Rebecca Oliver, director of the honors college, students were encouraged to read the book in conjunction with attending the lecture, and a limited number of copies were provided to interested students free of charge. “A Pearl in the Storm” is also still available for purchase in the ASU bookstore, Oliver said.

Students in attendance to the lecture found Tori McClure’s story to be inspirational and motivating.

“She definitely inspired me,” Tyler Knapp, a sophomore biology major of Hot Springs, said. “She inspired me to do very big things. I don’t know what they are yet, but big things.”

Alex Dozier, a sophomore biology major of Paragould, agrees. “She’s an inspirational lady,” Dozier said. “She encourages you to make a point out of life, and most importantly give back to those around you.”

McClure’s story was also emotional for some attendees. “At one point she almost brought a tear to my eye,” Suhair Mrayan, a graduate student of Jordan, said. “It is nice for the university to bring in an accomplished person like this. I would have liked to hear more,” Mrayan said.

“This makes me feel that students and faculty at ASU are willing to go extra mile for diversity and research or publication.” Krishna Bista, a graduate student of Nepal, said. “Her lecture was not a meeting point for faculty and students but also a platform for sharing ideas-- ideas of our lives, stories of our generation, and interactions among people of our progress and civilization,” Bista said.

At the close of the lecture, McClure was presented with an honors college Medal of Honor, traditionally given to ASU students who graduate with distinction.

“We would like to present to you our top distinction, our gold medal, for being here and sharing your life story and your experiences.” Oliver said as she presented the award to McClure. “We are most grateful, and you have our gratitude.”

McClure ended her presentation with a challenge to her audience.

“I hope when you leave here, well-educated and ready to tackle the world, that you will go out and teach, heal, feed, and build; that you will inform, educate, and guide; you will criticize, organize, contribute, and in a thousand other ways, serve people who need it,” McClure said. “And if you do that, you will make ASU and me, myself, and I, very proud.”


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