74 and unstoppable: Rosie Swale-Pope

In five years, she ran around the world five times, entirely unsupported. She rode across Chile on horseback, sailed solo on a trans-Atlantic voyage, and ran 27 marathons in 27 days. Her name is Rosie Swale-Pope, a British author and adventurer who has become nothing short of a legend among runners and travelers across the globe.

Adventure and courage pulsate in her bloodstreams; they have been nurtured in her since she was a child. Rosie grew up in County Limerick, Ireland, with her grandmother who encouraged her to ride and spend her days exploring the countryside. As a young adult, she left her first job in Surrey to hitch-hike from Delhi to Nepal and Russia. She had gotten her first taste of worldwide adventure and was hooked. 

In 1971, she took her husband and daughter to sail over 30,000 miles around the world. Starting in Gibraltar, they sailed across the Atlantic and Pacific, making stops at places like Tahiti and Tonga before completing their trip in Australia two years later. Their achievement took the world by storm as they circumnavigated the globe using only a compass, sextant and nautical charts.

Rosie is no stranger to danger either. During the voyage, she fell overboard, required emergency medical treatment, and the family experienced arsenic poisoning. She nearly froze to death on another Alaskan trip, was once chased by wolves in Russia, met an axe-wielding man, and battled loneliness in many of her solo journeys.

A lot of her adventures are driven by a cause, including her epic five-year run around the world. When her second husband died from prostate cancer, 57-year-old Rosie decided to run along the northern hemisphere to raise funds for the Prostate Cancer Charity. In her Welsh hometown in 2003, she set off with a small cart containing what would be her provisions and shelter. She reached Moscow in seven months, and Magadan, Russia in another seventeen months. By October 2007, Rosie stepped foot on New York City.

With no support, Rosie made her way across the continents. Someone did organise for her to receive supplies and equipment, but that was the extent of the assistance she received. Along the way, she gave cultural talks, took a break to run the Chicago marathon, and joined a midnight hike in the Faroes. She broke her hip in Iceland, ran with Siberian wolves for a week, and came across a naked man with a gun. Finally, Rosie arrived in her hometown again on 25 August 2008, where a crowd of locals and visitors greeted her.

Having faced all of these challenges and travelled 32,000 kilometres on foot, anyone else would have had enough adventures to last them a lifetime. But Rosie was no ordinary person. She is currently 74 and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, she was in the middle of a 9000 km run from Brighton to Kathmandu when the pandemic hit. She was forced to stop on March 30 2020, spending months in a deserted hotel in Turkey before her visa expired in June and she had no choice but to fly back home.

Today, she is waiting out the pandemic so she can finally finish her odyssey to Kathmandu, but cannot stop herself from running. Rosie spent Christmas alone as she ran the length of Britain from Land’s End, Cornwall to John o’ Groats in northernmost Scotland.

On the bio of her Twitter account, Rosie writes, “After Lockdown, DETERMINED 2 finish run 2Nepal for Phase Worldwide.”

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Erica Thajeb

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December 2021
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