It’s nearly noon on a warm June day. I am on the small, tropical Indonesian island I call home. I have water bottles, knee braces, fruit, and a GoPro. In 5 minutes I will start walking. For 24 hours. Nonstop. I’m nervous. I’m excited. I can hear the waves pounding on the beach nearby. I’m not sure what the next day will bring, but there’s no turning back now. Only forward. Soon there is a countdown: 5…4…3….2….1. Then “The Walk” begins.
This whole crazy idea was born two months earlier. I am a professional dive instructor living for the past 7 years in Indonesia. When the pandemic began and borders were closed, I found myself with a lot of free time. I decided to dedicate myself to learning more about my passion: the ocean. In the first four months I attended over 100 ocean and diving related webinars. I enrolled in 4 online marine university courses. I read books, articles, and took diving courses.
Living my passion with the best job ever - sharing the underwater world with others!
As a kid, I remember the huge “Save the Whales” campaigns. Since then, I have learned all about shark finning, plastic pollution, and overfishing. But I really had no idea how many other issues there were. I came to realize that it’s no longer about saving one species, but about saving the entire marine ecosystem.As someone whose career is dedicated to the ocean, I was shocked and surprised by how many more threats to the ocean I had yet to discover and the magnitude of those threats. The more I learned, the more I realized that I couldn’t ignore the problems. I had to take action.
I did more detailed research and one thing kept coming up… the lack of awareness. In mangrove ecosystems, sand mining, noise pollution, ocean acidification, scientists and conservationists kept mentioning that solutions weren’t getting enough attention because people either weren’t aware at all or didn’t really understand the impact. This was making their job more difficult. Nothing will change until people realize the size of the problem. “Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.” This is what needed to be done.
I am not a marine biologist. I’m not a professional environmentalist. I don’t work in marine conservation. But I love the ocean and all who call it home. One thing I CAN do is raise awareness. And these days, that takes a big, bold gesture.
Life in the ocean never ceases to amaze me. It deserves our protection.
I couldn’t just sit on my island watching plastic wash up and reefs wash away. Since the island has a 5km beach path all the way around, why not do a walk? I decided to walk for 24 hours nonstop. This should be just crazy enough to get people’s attention. I came up with 24 topics that are threatening ocean health and decided to focus on one each hour.
Could I do this? I honestly wasn’t sure. I ran a marathon a decade ago. But that’s about the extent of me and endurance sports. But, I was committed to spreading the word, and I had to hope that commitment was enough. There was no time to question if this was realistic. So I spent two months preparing: walking, researching, creating a website, sharing on social media. It became all consuming – I spent all of my waking hours focused on The Ocean Walk.
It was the day before the walk - when I finally finished all of the research, website design and content, social media planning, and logistics – that I first really thought about what I had signed up to do. Walk for 24 hours straight - dealing with tropical heat and sleep deprivation.
I couldn’t let myself be overwhelmed by what I was going to do. People kept asking me if I had done anything like this before. What was I going to do about being tired? Or hungry? Or sore? I was continuously reminded that 24 hours was a long time. My friends were making contingency plans: doctors on call, evacuation plans, even practicing to carry me if it came to that. There were discussions about hallucinations during the final hours.
The small ocean paradise I call home - Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia.
Despite the worries and doubts of others, one thing I strongly believe based on all of the obstacles I have overcome in my life, is the power of a positive attitude. Like any seemingly insurmountable project we tackle, it is best to think about small steps rather than the big picture. I never let myself question IF I would finish. I also never let myself get overwhelmed by the 24 hours.As the walk progressed, I set my mind to doing 24 one-hour walks, not one twenty-four hour walk. Each hour completed seemed like a small victory and a big step toward success. I kept reminding myself: how often in life, am I really accomplishing something EVERY hour? I had to celebrate these small steps rather than face the huge one.
It helped to have a different ocean topic to discuss each hour and different walking companions. The first few hours were “acidification hour,” “aquaculture hour” or “cetacean hour,” not “hour 2 of 24.” It’s all about how you market it to yourself. Like anything in life, it is easier to focus on small sections rather than the huge whole. The power of determination and positive thinking cannot be underestimated. Most anything is possible if we continue to reassure ourselves and genuinely believe in it. I focused on enjoying the walk, the discussions, the company, and the views along the way. At no point did I allow myself to think of The Ocean Walk as something to endure, but instead as something to enjoy.
Just after The Walk...celebrating with the incredible community that gave me strength for 24 hours!
Staying positive was relatively easy for the first 10 hours or so. At this point, it was dark. I was tired. And there was still over half of the walk to go! That started to play with my mind. It was here that I realized that livestreaming a discussion every hour took much more energy than I realized. I had to shorten the discussions just to have a mental break.They say that the brain takes up just 2% of body weight, but uses 20% of our energy. Now I realized it was time to conserve energy. I was thankful whenever I had more than one walking companion so that they could chat and I could just listen. The company was essential. Otherwise, I would get too deep into my own head. But saving energy also started to be critical.
A local dive shop left this when they closed for the night...the cold water foot bath was incredible after 12 hours of walking barefoot!
I could not have made it through the twelve hours of walking in darkness without the amazing support system I had. There was nothing to look at and distract myself, no people along the way smiling and lending support. Each hour as new companions joined, they brought new energy which helped me to dig a bit deeper. We continued to discuss ocean issues like mangrove ecosystems and ocean dead zones and I continued to focus on maintaining a smile and not thinking about how my body felt. Determination, or maybe stubbornness, was the only way I continued forward.
Throughout the night and into the morning I repeatedly asked about the time. I purposely didn’t have a watch or a phone on me. It got to the point where I didn’t listen to the minutes at all – 4:15, 4:40, and 4:52 were all the same….still in the 4 o’clock hour. I mentally celebrated anytime that hour switched over and I was one hour closer to accomplishing my goal.
By morning I was wearing two knee braces and an ankle brace. I wore sandals from time to time as the bottoms of my feet were getting more torn up by the sand and broken coral. I was exhausted and in pain. But I still never considered quitting. It just wasn’t an option; not a thought I would allow myself to have. At no point from the inception of the walk to the finish line did it ever occur to me that I wouldn’t finish. This determination wavered but was always there. I remember thinking at 9am that there were JUST three hours to go. Such a small amount of time compared to the 24 at the start. But within 30 seconds, I was thinking there are STILL 3 hours to go. That sounded eternal. Then I realized that a positive attitude was the only way I would finish, and I kept putting one foot in front of the other. It was like I was in autopilot, no longer thinking about walking. My body just kept going out of habit.
22 hours in...wearing 3 braces, exhausted, dirty, hot...but I won't give up. Thankful for the support of my friends!
I was exhausted, mentally and physically. I was frustrated. My eyes welled up with tears and I was ready to let all that frustration out. I wanted to start bawling. But, somehow, I caught myself. I realized that a mental breakdown would be tough to come back from. I had to be strong and push through the pain. My friends told me that I should let it out – “it’s healthy.” And that may be so in more usual circumstances. But I wasn’t holding it in for them, or out of concern for how it looked. I had to keep it together for me.
Throughout the planning and during The Walk itself, people kept telling me that I should take breaks. Everyone said that I made the rules for this event so I could, and should, let my body rest or stop to stretch. And, physically, they were probably right. But I never entertained the idea of breaks. I knew that the strength I needed to finish came from my mind, not my body. I knew that my mind couldn’t come back from a break. I didn’t realize it until the walk was over, but I had planned from the beginning to take care of my mind and deal with my body after it was over.
Throughout the long hours of walking, I told myself that the last hour would be easy. It would be midday. There would be people all along the path as well as a number of friends joining for the final hour. With only one hour to go, success would finally feel real. I repeated this not to convince myself but because I was sure it was true. The beautiful thing is that we believe the stories we tell ourselves. We make our reality. When that final hour came, I truly experienced the power of my mind.
In the final hour, mental strength won over physical - I walked faster, I sang, I danced. The feeling of accomplishment was incredible!
I was beyond tired, shuffling along, grunting rather than wasting energy to chat. I had huge blisters, my knees, ankles, and hips were screaming. The bottoms of my feet were peeling. Even wet sarongs that had been in the freezer, couldn’t lower my body temperature in the mid-day tropical heat. I knew that I had made a commitment and I would honor it. For the ocean. And only this kept me going.
Then a friend showed me her phone: 11:01am. I had less than an hour to go! It was as if someone flipped a switch inside my body. I believed the story I had been telling myself, about the last hour being easy. My stride lengthened, a huge smile enveloped my face, and I started to sing. Literally. My pace tripled. I knew that I had done it and then the adrenaline kicked in. The high of accomplishing my goal was so extreme that I got to my finish line more than 30 minutes early and had to double back for the last part of the walk. The support from others was empowering; but the support from within myself was indescribable.
Thankfully I was being carried as I had nothing left to give. But the smile says it all -- I walked for 24 hours straight for the ocean!
When I had the idea of The Ocean Walk, I was only thinking about getting the attention of as many people as possible. About letting people know all of the ways humans are harming the ocean and the consequences of our choices. It wasn’t about raising any money because I didn’t want people to have an excuse to send money and feel they had done enough. My hope was to inspire people to consider their everyday actions and make changes.
What I hadn’t considered was the effect all of this would have on me. Physically, I walked for 24 hours covering over 105km. It’s a strange feeling to do all that walking, and end in the exact same spot that I began. With an already exhausted mind, it’s easy to wonder if there was a purpose to any of it, if I made a difference at all?I think this is something many of us face on a regular basis. We are living each day, doing different things, but coming home to the same place, with the same family. What path am I walking? Is it the right one? Am I making a difference? Does any of it matter?
After The Ocean Walk, I believe I have an answer. It isn’t about WHAT we are doing every day, but WHY we are doing it. Are we being true to ourselves? Do we face hardships out of habit or for a reason? For me, I could never have had the strength, mentally OR physically, to do what I did if I didn’t have passion for the cause. I learned that when we truly focus on what we believe, there are few limits to our strength. Physical strength, yes, but mental determination and the strength to inspire others is much more impressive. The power of the mind is stunning. The energy we have within us goes much deeper than most of us realize. We just need to have a reason and the determination to tap into it.
I learned that the power of others is incredible. I truly believe that we can share our inner energy with others. I was so lucky to have so many people giving their strength to me that day. I will never take for granted the effect I have as an individual on those around me. I experienced the effect they all had on me.
And the biggest lesson I learned? The power of hope. I have long considered myself a cynic. I really believed it to be true. But, looking back on the past few months, I realize that I am much more of a hopeful person than I ever allowed myself to admit. It was this hope that drove me to spend months researching and writing, creating a website and social media accounts, and trying to share a message and help people understand. It was this hope that woke me up at 5am day after day to walk around the island to prepare. Without this hope, I never would have been able to push myself through 24 hours of walking. It was hot, I was tired, and I was in pain. But I never lost hope.
I now realize that The Ocean Walk isn’t just about the ocean. It’s about me: my hope, and my capacity to inspire change. I hope my story inspires you to learn more and do more for our ocean. I hope it inspires you to act on YOUR passion.
Renee has been scuba diving since 1993 and working professionally in the industry for the past 8 years. She loves diving, the ocean, and all of the creatures she gets to spend her days with underwater. Most of all, she loves sharing these passions with others. This dedication to the ocean and desire to protect it led to the creation of The Ocean Walk. Learn more about the ocean and the 24 issues at theoceanwalk.com or follow @the.ocean.walk on Instagram.