Anne Miltenberger kept her eyes on the horizon while she rowed the boat, chewed raw coffee beans and fought to keep her heavy eyelids open. The inescapable sun, 100-degree heat and torn rib muscles exacerbated Miltenberger’s exhaustion. But if she dozed off while on row duty, she could fall off the boat—and die.
It was 2010 when Miltenberger, now operations manager for Kelty, sat beside five of her teammates on the Britannia III, a completely human-powered vessel, to speed row in the Woodvale Challenge, a 2,911-mile race across the Atlantic Ocean from La Gomera, Spain, to Barbados. The team’s audacious goal? To trim down the 95-day nautical trip by nearly two-thirds and set the world’s fastest rowing record while also being the first 12-person team to complete the race.
Every second of sleep was a luxury.
The 12 on board took turns paddling. Half would paddle while the other six prepared food, cleaned the solar panels, navigated, boiled water and hopefully squeezed in a 45-minute snooze before their next two-hour rowing shift. The paddlers each wore leashes around their ankles as a safety precaution, in case they fell asleep while rowing or were hit with an oar and knocked overboard. With no motor, there was no guarantee that the boat would be stoppable.
“I wondered if it would be possible to stop the boat or even get back on board, or would the leash just drag you under if you fell over?” said Miltenberger, who recalled an instance when she rowed in stern position and was smashed with an oar. “I was thrown back and the person behind me caught me as I was half overboard. I am thankful that did not happen when I was in the bow, because that’s when you’re facing backwards.” Nothing could have caught her fall.
Miltenberger and her team reached the finish line after 38 days, five days short of breaking the current speed record. She was the only American and one of three women aboard the vessel, and at 26 years old, Miltenberger became one of less than a dozen Americans to complete the race.
“Even after going through all of that, I know I would like to do something like [the row] again,” she said. “I learned that I can push myself further than I ever imagined I could.”
That nautical race across the Atlantic hasn’t been her only big adventure. Post ocean row, Miltenberger joined the 2011 Race Across America as a stand-in cyclist for an injured friend—a week before the 3,000-mile coast-to-coast bike race. In 2008—before the ocean row—she cycled across the U.S. with Adventure Cycling Association: an experience that segued into her realization that she wanted to work in the outdoor industry.
“I loved being outdoors and realized, after doing a few adventures, that what was important to me was to give other people an opportunity to do similar adventures outdoors. I decided to translate that into a career and knew that I would need to work for a company that made outdoor products,” she said. She started to pave that path with a retail position at the REI flagship store in Denver.
Following the ocean row, she returned to work at REI and then tracked down another position in the outdoor industry that would allow career growth and be closer to manufacturing. She found a dealer service representative position with American Recreation Products, then parent company of Kelty. In February, Miltenberger, now 33, was promoted to her current position and overlooks the logistics between the internal sales managers, field representatives, product managers and distribution facilities to ensure customer services are top-notch. As a part of the Kelty Built for Women initiative, she also lends a hand with product development and testing.
Kelty is still processing the spring 2015 merger with Exxel Outdoors, so the system is in overhaul mode and Miltenberger manages the logistics between all of the departments: she’s the glue. Those skills shined during preparation for the big ocean row, too. To kick off the row, Miltenberger managed the food supplies for the entire crew—a difficult task given that the team was aiming for a world record and each ounce was either a risk of malnutrition or slowing down the boat. But Miltenberger loves taking charge for the group.
“I thrive in those management situations, and I am happy to jump in: when no one is doing it, I’ll do it. I won’t turn down an opportunity to do something new, fill in or take charge,” she said. Such willingness and tenacity are ideal traits for a company owner or CEO, which is her dream down the line. For the time being, “I hope to continue to promote Kelty's women’s initiatives, and do my part in keeping the Kelty brand relevant and prosperous for years to come,” she said.
In the works: Miltenberger hopes to re-launch Athletic Dream Foundation—an organization that she coined in fall 2009, which is currently on hiatus—to provide adventure athletes with resources that will help them overcome logistical, financial and recruiting obstacles like finding teammates, or (for rowers) finding or building a boat.
“After everything I learned, I wanted to [help] give anyone who wants to aspire to do an adventure the tools and resources that they need,” she said.
That’s no surprise. Miltenberger, once again, hopes to paddle for the team.