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By Graham

As one of the West’s ultimate adventure hubs, Durango cultivates an underlying sense of exploration that pushes residents to embark upon bold outdoor pursuits. The achievements of so-called “amateurs” in the local ranks often rival and sometimes surpass the objectives accomplished by professional athletes who call La Plata County home.

This June, Durango residents Brendan Cusick and Patrick Morrissey will embark on a long-range adventure that few have ever dared to attempt. The pair from Durango will be part of a four-person team participating in a race called “The World’s Toughest Row,” which departs from Monterrey, California, and crosses the Pacific Ocean to the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. The 2,800-mile crossing will be totally human-powered.

Over 6,000 people have climbed Mount Everest. In contrast, only 82 people occupying 33 boats have completed a row from the mainland United States to one of the Hawaiian Islands. While the two Durango residents have a chance to become part of history, they are driven by much more than a chance to put their names in the record books.

Cusick is an accomplished climber who worked as a mountain guide for decades. He has summited multiple 8,000-meter peaks and racked up an impressive list of first ascents. The sport of ocean rowing grabbed his attention a few years ago, and he began to think seriously about an ocean crossing of his own after seeing a four-man team set the world record on a crossing from San Francisco to Oahu in 2021.

“On a personal level, I find a lot of intrinsic motivation in difficult challenges,” Cusick said. “I spent a lot of time on big climbs and other endurance feats. I think I recognized this as a challenge that checked many boxes important to me selfishly in terms of what I find to be interesting in my own personal physical challenges.”

Cusick knew he had found a great adventure, but to make it happen, he needed sponsors to help cover the costs of the journey. One of the sponsors who agreed to back the pursuit asked Cusick to focus his efforts on raising money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

The cause of curing Parkinson’s was always one near and dear to Cusick’s heart. His godmother has it, and two of his childhood friends lost their fathers to the disease. Cusick’s neighbor and co-worker, Patrick Morrissey, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s a couple of years earlier. Cusick asked Morrissey if he would get involved with the row. At first, Morrissey agreed to come on board as a spokesperson—until Morrisey heard Cusick was looking for a fourth rower to fill out the team.

Morrissey called Cusick and told him he’d be interested in joining the row if his body could hold up.

“Exercise is the only thing that may slow the progression [of Parkinson’s], and it’s become a real obsession of mine,” Morrissey said.

After a couple of training rows, it was clear that Morrissey could keep up with the physical requirements. By participating in the race, he is not only helping raise money for research that could one day lead to a cure for his disease; Morrissey is also actively fighting Parkinson’s from taking over his body.

In preparation for the crossing, the team has been on a strict daily regimen that requires them to exercise eight to ten hours a week for more than a year. Cusick and Morrissey had already completed over 150 hours when they spoke with Durango Magazine this spring. The crew believes they have a strong chance of becoming the fastest American team ever to make the crossing. The average crossing time for past finishers of the row has been 62 days; their goal is to finish in 40 days.

Cusick and Morrissey’s friendship may be more important to their success than physical fitness. The friendship they’ve nurtured as neighbors in Durango could be the ingredient that separates them from other teams trying to cross the Pacific Ocean this summer.

“We’ve heard stories of teams that finish rowing, and the tension noticed by others around them is palpable,” Cusick said. “Like, they can’t even look at each other anymore. The social aspect of this is as challenging or more challenging than the physical side of it. We’ve got a good team of great guys and surrounding friends, family, and community. We’ve become brothers.”


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