They say good things come to those who wait.
For Damian Browne, the hero’s welcome he received upon his return to Galway’s shores only scratched the surface of demonstrating the sheer scale of the feat he had accomplished as the first man to row from New York City to Galway.
The former Galwegians lock, who was born and raised In Galway, made his much-anticipated arrival home at approximately 1 am on October 4th, when his boat, Cushlamachree, crashed into rocks off the coast of Na Forbacha, approximately 13km away from his intended arrival destination of Galway Harbour.
However, those few kilometres pale into insignificance when you consider what exactly Browne, achieved with his quest, titled ‘Project Empower’.
In total, Browne completed 112 gruelling days at sea, over 3,000 nautical miles rowed, and raised €75,000 for four charities: National Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation, Ability West, Madra, and The Galway Simon Community.
After spending a well-earned night with his family, Browne took to the seas once again. This time, to make an emotional entrance to his intended docking site, where a crowd of well over 1,000 people were crowded to greet him.
As the rain dribbled out of the sky, the bustling crowd, including schools, local sports clubs, charities, and a host of local and national media outlets, all raced towards the boat as it pulled into the marina.
After a lengthy spell of interviews with national media in the teeming rain on the seafront, Browne trudged from the marina onto the surface level and made an emotional address to the crowd.
As well as detailing his rigorous daily routine, consisting of countless hours of rowing, consuming 10,000 calories, and hanging off the edge of the boat to upload video files to the cloud, Damian provided insight into the mental challenges he faced during the challenge.
One of the hardest elements of the project was the isolation Browne faced. The Galway man was on his own at sea for 99 of the 112 days, after his intended rowing partner Fergus Farrell had to be airlifted due to injury.
Despite this, he felt his career as a rugby player allowed him to overcome the difficult mental hurdles he faced: “My background in sport stood to me, it’s the foundation of everything I do. I was so lucky to be a professional rugby player,” he said.
“It gives you so many tools to take on whatever comes at you in life, and I think by going into extreme adventure I’ve just broadened that toolbox.
“So, when I found myself in those moments of darkness, facing headwinds for three days in a row and going backwards, I had a deep foundational belief that I would get through it. That stems from rugby and everything that beautiful game gave me.”
In a follow-up interview with Galway Bay FM, it was put to Browne how he managed to stay motivated on such a gruelling journey, with so few outside resources to sustain him.
His answer, while relatively straightforward, tells you everything you need to know about his mindset: “I’m not motivated at all, I’m driven,” he emphasised.
“Motivation is fleeting, it comes and goes, whereas drive is always there and that’s the thing that pops you out of bed at 5 am to go and train.”
Despite stating that he has no intention of a similarly intense project in the future, it’s hard to envision Browne staying still for too long.
With a mentality like his, don’t be surprised if you see another story about an outstanding feat of his in the national media, sooner rather than later.