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Women's History Month | Exploring the life of hometown adventurer Tori Murden McClure

In the late 1990s, McClure became an icon for rowing across the Atlantic. Today, she inspires Louisville students at Spalding University.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A quick Google search of "Tori Murden McClure" at first pops up the word "adventurer," but her life and legacy are much broader than that. 

In 1999, McClure became the first woman and the first American to solo row across the Atlantic Ocean. 

Shelby Durbin, with the Frazier History Museum, said McClure is best known for her voyage across the Atlantic. "She actually built the boat herself in order to go on this journey, it's called the 'American Pearl,'" Durbin said.

On her first attempt in 1998, McClure was caught in a hurricane and returned home to Louisville.

"She continued to return to Kentucky and I feel like Kentucky kind of gave Tori a place to land in between a lot of these adventures she was going on," Durbin said. 

Credit: AP
FILE - Rower Tori Murden, of Louisville, Ky., waves from her boat off North Carolina's Outer Banks, near Nags Head, N.C. , on June 14, 1998. A musical about Murden, who was the first American to row across the Atlantic Ocean solo in 1999, was supposed to make its stage debut at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts in the summer 2020. But due to the global pandemic, it is instead making its world premiere this month as a recording available on Audible. (AP Photo/Bob Jordan, File)

Back in the Commonwealth, she found the inspiration to venture on in a friend, and hometown icon, Muhammad Ali. 

"He would say to her, 'you don't want to be the woman who almost rode across the Atlantic, you want to be known as the woman who rode across an ocean,'" Durbin said. 

Durbin said Ali knew what it felt like to be "knocked down and to get up and try again."

On the second attempt to cross the Atlantic, McClure spent 81 days alone on the waves, rowing from the Canary Islands to Guadeloupe. 

"She actually did not pack a life raft while she was out there,she actually packed 20 pounds of books instead," Durbin said. "She does a lot of these feats in order to learn and to learn by challenging oneself and getting out of every day life." 

McClure was also the first woman and the first American to travel overland to the geographic South Pole. She's also completed mountain climbs on several continents. 

Credit: AP
FILE - Rower Tori Murden appears aboard her 23-foot, American Pearl, in Bas-du-Fort in Guadeloupe on Dec. 3, 1999. A musical about Murden, who was the first American to row across the Atlantic Ocean solo, was supposed to make its stage debut at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts in the summer 2020. But due to the global pandemic, it is instead making its world premiere this month as a recording available on Audible. (AP Photo/John Riley, File)

Today, she's an academic, degreed several times over, and has published a memoir about her adventures. 

"She actually serves as the president of Spalding University," Durbin said. "So right up the road just a few minutes away from here."

"Even if she's not necessarily seeking to be an inspiration to other women to get out there, she kind of just is by taking up the space," Durbin said. 

Every day, Durbin said, McClure leaves a legacy and lessons for her students, showing the greatest adventures always bring you back to solid ground. 

"Having that place to land is really just as important as having people out there doing these adventures with you," Durbin said. 

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