Cole Brauer Ocean Racing Global Solo Challenge Coruna 2024/Photographed by James Tomlinson

Cole Brauer Ocean Racing Global Solo Challenge Coruna 2024/Photographed by James Tomlinson

On October 29, 2023, on a Class40 sailboat fondly known as First Light, Cole Brauer, a skipper from Long Island set sail in a race around the world. At just 29 years old, she was the youngest and only female competitor in the Global Solo Challenge (GSC). Four solitary months later, after what can only be described as a grueling and heroic adventure, Cole arrived in A Coruña, Spain, on March 7, 2024 – officially making history as the first American woman to single-handedly complete a nonstop circumnavigation of the globe. She claimed second place, and expanded the horizon for women in the world of sailing – and for girls and women everywhere, myself included.

I stumbled upon Cole’s Instagram feed in the new year, 2 months into her race. I was mindlessly scrolling, not at all connected to my purpose and most certainly looking for some sort of dopamine hit to soften the winter blues and snap me out of a low-motivation slump. I did a double-take of a video of Cole battling the Southern Ocean in waves that looked like they were about to swallow her up. My stomach and jaw hit the floor, but before I could swipe down and make it stop, her bright smile and can-do attitude hooked me. I became an instant follower and fan.

After that, I started and ended each day with Cole’s Instagram updates. She has an amazing support team back home who helped her with navigation, weather reports, media, and medical and technical issues – all so she could stay in one piece and document her experience as she made history. She had to brave unreal conditions 24 hours a day and marshal an impressive technical skill set to fix things on the go and work through the night in rough seas. I was not the only person blown away by the reality of what she was doing.

One of her greatest achievements, however, may have been completely unplanned. Unknowingly, she gave ordinary people like me a sense of hope and possibility, instead of the doom and gloom regularly delivered through our media feeds.

Cole and I share some common ground. Like her, I’m a nature lover, and I’ve always been in awe of the ocean. I took my first swimming lessons in the Atlantic, in my hometown of St. Andrews by the Sea in the Canadian Maritimes. Today I live on Vancouver Island, on the shores of the Pacific. I regularly get lost in the landscape of changing tides and an active bay that features kayaks, sailboats, ferries, float planes, birds and sea life of all kinds, including rare orca. I adore the ocean and bow down to nature.

But the thought of being alone, in the middle of a dark and unpredictable ocean, terrifies me right to my core. Watching Cole’s updates and resilience prompted me to recognize my fear of unpredictability. Cole helped shine a light on my life and showed me an opportunity for learning and growth. 

I found myself wondering about my daily fascination with Cole’s adventure. Was it merely an escape into a world so different from my own? After all, I’m a middle-aged woman raising teenage athletes: I am on a very different adventure that requires my own version of patience, perseverance and adaptability, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

What has drawn me to Cole Brauer’s story is her spirit of agency, and the way she lives in purpose and passion even – especially – when it gets challenging.

I can’t fathom the emotional toll it would take to brave horrendous and dangerous conditions, alone, for months on end. Cole is clearly an expert sailor with an incredible portfolio of experience – and she also has knowledge, gumption, drive, resilience, determination and a winner’s mindset.

She could have just shown that side, to prove in a male-dominated sport and industry that she has more than it takes to earn her place in history. But she gave us so much more than the highlight reels and glory of being a professional racer. She also shared her vulnerability and honesty. She showed us her humanity. In one video, she talks about the breathing exercises she uses to calm her nerves, and she revealed that she too gets serious anxiety in certain conditions. She can be seen wearing noise-cancelling earphones to help regulate her nervous system when battling upwind conditions that would be physically uncomfortable in a slamming boat. She seems to embody and express who she is – not just in triumph, but while being physically, mentally and emotionally tested. 

Cole’s passion, platform and journey also bring awareness to gender inequality in the sailing world. Her mission is to create a more positive and inclusive culture in the sport, which makes her an exceptional role model for girls and young women – and even people like me, who get a glimpse of what it looks like to never give up.  

I have been inspired by Cole’s strength of character and genuine spirit. Watching her shine has helped me through a long winter, when I’ve needed stories of hope and possibility. She’s also made me realize how important it is, when I’m in a slump, to look for positive examples of people doing great things in the world, rather than consuming media that adds to my worry. The parts of her journey she shared changed how I view my own self-imposed limits and fears. I find myself saying things like if Cole can round Cape Horn after enduring horrendous conditions at sea, I can get up earlier for my workout. Or I can go for a longer walk in nature. Or I can stop being so hard on myself and instead do something to change what isn’t working. Or I can make room for more fun and adventure.

Sometimes we merely need to lean in and loosen the grip on our metaphorical sail to enjoy where the winds are guiding us. Cole has helped me see that, like sailing, life is unpredictable, full of challenges that will undoubtedly test us. But it’s how we make the storms work in our favor that changes our course. By staying true to who we are and standing up for what we believe, we can create adventures of epic proportions.


  • Emily Madill is an author and certified professional coach, ACC with a BA in business and psychology. Emily is one of Thrive Global's Editors-at-large and a coach at BetterUp. She has published 11 titles in the area of self-development and empowerment, both for children and adults. You can find her writing in Chicken Soup for the Soul:Think Positive for Kids; Thrive Global; The Huffington Post; TUT. com; Best Self Magazine; MindBodyGreen; The Muse;; TinyBuddha; Aspire Magazine and others. Emily has a private coaching practice and an online program offering courses that support others to create lasting habits around self-love, well-being and all things related to time and weekly planning. She lives on Vancouver Island, Canada, with her husband, two sons and their sweet rescue dog Annie. Learn more at: