In July of 2012, I was producing a feature on former Michigan State Spartan Jenn Gibbons and her inspirational journey around the perimeter of Lake Michigan by rowboat, when half-way through, her trip caught the attention of the nation. On July 22, Jenn was sexually assaulted in her boat while she was docked overnight in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. News of the horrifying attack spread nationwide in a matter of hours.
I first met Jenn in April 2012 when I began producing a feature for the television series BTN LiveBIG. We were profiling Jenn and her organization, Recovery on Water (ROW) – Chicago’s leading support resource for breast cancer survivors who use exercise to combat cancer.
At the same time, we began following Jenn as she prepared for a solo row around Lake Michigan, raising money and awareness for ROW.
Jenn departed on June 15, 2012, well-prepared for horrific weather conditions and the daunting 10 -12 hours of rowing a day. After training for almost two years, she was finally off and rowing.
Back in Chicago, I spent a lot of time thinking about Jenn. I’d find myself wondering, “where she is now? How is everything going for her? How much money has she brought in?” I’d go over shot lists in my head while scheduling the remaining shoot days for the feature. I took a personal interest in her success out of sheer admiration. Little did I know that the story of Jenn Gibbons I had planned to produce would change dramatically on July 22, 2012.
Truth be told, after the assault, I didn’t think she was going to continue. How could anyone keep going after such a terrifying physical and emotional blow? So as a producer, I was thinking of plan “B.” Can I tell this story without her finishing her journey? I was confident that no matter what, we were going to produce an awesome feature about Jenn and her organization.
Shortly after the attack, Jenn let me know that not only was she continuing her journey, but that she still wanted me to tell her story: “My story must be told – and it started with you guys…” As I sat back at my desk reading her email, I was convinced this woman was a super-hero.
Over the next couple of weeks, national news media covered Jenn’s story, but focused primarily on the sexual assault. With every news report I saw, I was happy for Jenn that she could continue to promote her mission. At the same time I wanted to yell out to the country, “Her journey is so much bigger than this!”
This inspired me to make sure I was telling the entire story of Jenn. I wanted viewers to know about the amazing breast cancer survivors that she coaches. I wanted them to understand what Recovery on Water means to these women and I also wanted the audience to experience the amazing Jenn Gibbons that I was fortunate to meet back in April.
After 59 days and 1,200 miles, Jenn’s journey ended in Chicago on August 14. Now, it was my turn to share her story with the world! I worked on the script for 10 hours – straight through the night. I found that Jenn, her ability to be open, her commitment to her cause and her amazing determination made my job easier. I just couldn’t stop writing, I felt as though the script wrote itself.
In all my years of producing I’ve never been as professionally and personally inspired as I have through Jenn. I still find myself thinking about her on a daily basis. Every time I am faced with any challenge I look to Jenn Gibbons and tell myself, “look at what she went through and she couldn’t find an excuse not to continue, so I definitely don’t have any excuses.” I am forever grateful for everything Jenn has done for breast cancer survivors and the sport of rowing. But personally and professionally, I am thankful for the inspiration she has given me.
To view the full feature we produced on Jenn Gibbons click here.