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Contributed Photo Ryan Worth, first on the left, rows at sea trials in November. Worth is training to row across the Atlantic Ocean with a 16-person team.

A year's delay hasn't stopped Ryan Worth's half-decade dream of rowing across the Atlantic Ocean.

The 23-year-old Chattanooga native from Notre Dame High School is part of a 16-person team hoping to set a trans-Atlantic record next month. The crew will be heading from Morocco in North Africa toward Barbados on the eastern edge of the Caribbean in a 38-foot catamaran built specifically for the 3,165-mile venture.

Worth, the only crew member from the Southeast besides a South Carolina woman, plans to fly out of the United States next Thursday and be in Morocco by New Year's morning. The tentative date for launching "Big Blue" toward the Americas is Jan. 12. The crew wants to get there in 30 days, helped by the trade winds; the record for that part of the Atlantic is 33, set in 2008.

One of the many Canadians in the group is an emergency room doctor in Quebec and has a shift scheduled for Feb. 19.

"We have to get him back by then. That's kind of our absolute deadline," Worth said recently from Knoxville, where he has lived while attending the University of Tennessee.

"This trip was actually planned for a year ago," the Chattanooga Junior Rowing alumnus explained. "We had 12 crew members selected in March of 2009, but we had logistical problems with the Canary Islands [the original starting site], and that pushed us back into a bad weather window for crossing."

Six of the 2009 selections remain on the ROC Expedition crew. The others had to be replaced because of work obligations or other conflicts, and four extras were taken on. There is a sizable financial investment for each.

"I've been individually responsible for raising $10,000 for construction and shipping of the boat," Worth said, "and I'm also responsible for my air fare and food. We're going to use dehydrated foods, because we'll have a way to heat and desalinize water on the trip.

"What I've gotten so far is just under $5,000, so I'm still about $7,000 short. My trip is paid for, but with loans."

The crew will stay at Agadir while the boat is being put together and then row it "a couple of hundred miles" south to the fishing village from where the Atlantic crossing will begin.

The Rowing Repair Center in Oak Ridge and some individuals through the Oak Ridge Rowing Association have provided much of Worth's support, and the Highland Sportsman's Club in Hixson also helped. Anyone wanting to donate can contact Worth through his website, gorow.webs.com.

After the stress of remaining in school and continuing his part-time work during the fall semester of 2009 - the homestretch of training for the trip's original schedule - Worth took off this fall from both his studies and a scheduled job.

"That was actually kind of bad, because I've been antsy. I guess I had too much time to think," he said. "But I've been doing a lot of driving and deliveries of rowing boats the last couple of months, and I've coached the rowing club at UT this semester."

During the last year and a half, he said, he's averaged almost 100,000 meters a week of rowing, either on an erg machine or in a boat. That includes his participation on a flatwater rowing team. Recently he's been putting in "close to 160 miles a week" on a rowing machine, in addition to lifting weights and "doing a lot of core exercises" four days a week.

Jack Fish, who heads Chattanooga Junior Rowing, recalled Worth "talking about something like this for years. He's an Eagle scout, so he wouldn't be daunted by it."

Worth did a 24-hour erg row two years ago - at the time a record distance at CJR's boathouse.

It was in the fall of 2005, Worth said, that he mentioned to Fish his desire to row across the Atlantic. In February of 2009 he saw on a rowing website a classified ad inviting applications for a trans-Atlantic crew. He was one of more than 50 to respond and one of 18 invited, based on backgrounds, for a weekend of tryouts the next month on Shelter Island at the eastern end of Long Island in New York. That's where Big Blue was built.

Worth was introduced to rowing six years ago, as part of his rehabilitation from a football knee injury. He was using machines then but soon wanted to get on the water.

"Just in that first season of rowing I lost 30 pounds," he said. "I felt a huge change in how I was able to live, which was one of my motivations for sticking with it. I dabbled in rugby for a little while, but it's been pretty much just rowing since."

According to Fish, Worth specialized in sculling and "made it to nationals a couple of times, once in a double and once in a quad."

He went on to row at Tennessee, where he is 12 credit hours from a major and one minor but plans to continue for another year and add a second minor. He also works in the outdoor program at UT and hopes to be a high school teacher who works summers leading backcountry excursions and other outdoors adventures.

"I hope this trip is just my first big adventure," he said.

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress or 423-757-6291.

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