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Durango residents are rowing from California to Hawaii to raise awareness for Parkinson’s

Brendan Cusick and Pat Morrissey are part of a four-man crew training to complete the World’s Toughest Row in June
Durango resident Brendan Cusick rows in the team’s boat American Spirit. Cusick is one of two Durango residents who will row 2,800 miles across the Pacific for the World’s Toughest Row. (Courtesy Brendan Cusick)

It all started with a podcast.

Durango resident Brendan Cusick, age 49, has been an endurance athlete for multiple decades which has taken him all over the world as an adult. He was an international high-altitude mountain guide in the Himalayas, Bolivia and Alaska. Cusick has also done trail running events, ski mountaineering and bike racing in recent years.

Cusick had been following ocean rowing and was listening to a podcast by Jason Caldwell, who owns the world record for rowing across the Atlantic and to Hawaii, in 2021 which piqued Cusick’s interest. He was able to get on a call with his friend Scott Foreman about a race across the Pacific which is now called the World’s Toughest Row.

The 53-year-old Foreman, a resident of Albuquerque, and Cusick have been friends for decades after guiding and climbing mountains in the 1990s and doing endurance races together in recent years.

The World’s Toughest Row starts in Monterey, California, and rowers row 2,800 miles across the mid-Pacific to the finish in Hanalei Kaua‘i, Hawaii.

After getting on a call about the event, in August 2022 they found out that Caldwell’s world-record setting boat, the American Spirit, was for sale and they jumped on the opportunity to buy it.

The team heads out of Ventura, California to train. The four-man team will have two rowers at all times rowing across the Pacific in two hour shifts. (Courtesy Brendan Cusick)

Foreman then asked his friend Peter Durso, age 49, to be a part of the team as well.

“Things just started falling into place,” Cusick said. “We were able to obtain a sponsor, an anonymous sponsor to fund our trip. They have a very close connection to Parkinson's disease. So they asked us to become involved with the Michael J. Fox Foundation.”

Cusick also had a connection with Parkinson’s disease. His friend, co-worker and fellow Durango resident Pat Morrissey, age 52, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2019. Cusick wanted Morrissey to be a part of the support network but Morrissey said he wanted more.

He wanted to row.

“Exercise has been an integral part of my life ever since that call,” Morrissey said about the call he received when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. “When this came about, that's one of the main reasons besides the challenge and also for the cause of finding, raising money and finding a cure to Parkinson's in my life. It's an opportunity to really get my body back into shape, and exercise at a very high level for a significant time frame. It's really been important and it's really worked.”

Morrissey was a Division I wrestler at Cal Poly and after that had done some mountain biking races. But one of the main symptoms of Parkinson’s is tremors. However, when Morrissey has been training for the World’s Toughest Row, his tremors have gone away and he feels a sense of calmness, almost a meditation on the water when rowing.

“It's really one of those things that we don't understand it,” Morrissey said about his tremors stopping on the water. “But maybe through this race and possible future studies, we can end up finding out what is happening with my training or dopamine. That is one of the things with Parkinson's: I’m not able to create dopamine. That's one of the things that maybe exercise brings out, meditation and just being calm.”

The four-man crew of Cusick, Morrissey, Foreman and Durso began training last March by getting out in the San Francisco Bay and rowing their boat. But Cusick said they ramped up their training in May and have been training on the boat every month since then.

The team moved their training down to Southern California for more open ocean and better conditions as the San Francisco Bay is tough to train in. The 28-foot-long American Spirit which all four of the team members will be in during the journey has taken some time for the team to adapt to.

All four team members pose for a photo. From left, Pete Durso, Brendan Cusick, Pat Morrissey and Scott Foreman. Morrissey was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2019. (Courtesy Brendan Cusick)

Two members of the team known as Team Human Powered Potential, will be rowing in two-hour shifts nonstop as the team’s goal is to get to Hawaii in 40 days. When the other two members aren’t rowing, they’ll try to get some sleep but they’ll also have to do some chores like checking navigation, recording their location and communicating with the race and family.

When it comes to food, the team will have 55 days worth of freeze-dried meals on the boat to eat. A portion of those meals are emergency meals which are wet meals that are already cooked in case of emergency. For the other portion, the team has lightweight boiling water stoves for the rest of the food.

“Eating is something that we're continuing to work on,” Morrissey said. “With the amount of exercise and calories we put out everyday rowing, it’s so important. But it is something that everybody is still working on, and probably will through the whole entire race.”

It is also tough to estimate each member’s consumption because the team’s training rows have been, on average, 20-36 hours. These training rows on the 1,300-pound American Spirit made of carbon fiber and fiberglass have helped the team get in a pattern of moving the boat and doing different drills associated with the event’s safety protocol, like if the boat were to lose its battery power or a man went overboard.

The team also has a desalinator on board that takes salt water and converts it to fresh water through reverse osmosis.

To achieve the team’s goal of reaching Hawaii in 40 days, Cusick said the goal is to row at 2.5 to 2.8 knots per day on average. He said the average day will vary with the different currents and winds through the different stages of the row. The California Current, which the team will hit during the beginning part of the race, could be one of the harder parts of the row.

“The biggest thing is just really knocking through that big current, as efficiently and as quickly as we can to get offshore,” Cusick said. “But that's right when the race starts and that's when we're going to have the hardest time. Seasickness and sleeplessness are all going to be the strongest.”

(Courtesy Brendan Cusick)

If the team is able to complete the row, Morrissey will be the first person with Parkinson’s to complete the World’s Toughest Row.

“I really believe it's more about the people with Parkinson's and the Parkinson's family, the guys I'm rolling with and my family and friends that support me for doing this,” Morrissey said. “It just means a lot more for them than for me to get to do that. I'm doing this for the challenge, but also really, to bring awareness to Parkinson's. That might be an avenue that will bring some additional awareness to Parkinson's and may raise a little bit of money for research. Mainly, my goal is to find a cure for Parkinson's in my lifetime and be a part of that discussion.”

Both Morrissey and Cusick think they’ll spend some extended time relaxing, recovering and celebrating their achievement with family and friends when they get to Hawaii.

Cusick knows this won’t be his last adventure of this nature. Morrissey isn’t sure he’ll do another row like this, but he hopes others will be inspired to adventures at this scale.

To learn more information about the team, here is their website:


Use this link to donate support for the team to the Michael J. Fox Foundation:



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