What is next for Kate Richardson?
At the launch of the 2014 Woman of the Year Awards last year’s winner of the title, Kate Richardson, tells our reporter how she struggled for months to find her dream job, until now
As she shopped for Christmas presents on her day off on Monday, Kate Richardson couldn't resist stopping every now and then to check her phone for news of how the crews in this year's Atlantic Challenge are getting on.
It's the first time the challenge has been held since Kate and a hardy team of four other girls took it on in 2011.
During 45 gruelling days at sea they battled 50ft waves while rowing 3,000 miles across the formidable Atlantic Ocean in a small boat to raise money and awareness of human trafficking.
Not only is Kate waking up in the middle of the night to check how the teams are doing, but having been through what is one of the world's most physically testing personal endurance challenges she also flew out to La Gomera in Tenerife on November 29 to lend her support to this year's teams.
She says: “It still feels a bit unreal that this time two years ago I was rowing the Atlantic. The challenge is held every two yearsand since it started earlier this month I have been glued to the app on my phone which lets me know how it is going.
“I flew out to Tenerife with one of my crew members to help the teams this year as they got ready to set off.
“It was just to give them advice and show them some support.
“I remember it was a really stressful time for us as we had problems with our boat and we had a team-mate who had to drop out and we weren't nearly ready as the start of the race approached.
“It was nice to be there and just enjoy the atmosphere knowing that you weren't doing it.
“At the same time it was strange being on the other side and having people ask you for advice. I remember being that person.
“I can't believe how much time has passed since I did it. When I think about it or I'm talking about it, it almost feelings like I am talking about someone else, it's like a different world and it still feels surreal.”
Kate (24), from Portadown, had never rowed before when she decided to take on the awe-inspiring challenge in 2012. She was driven to do it by her passion to help raise money and awareness of the international trade in human trafficking.
Not only did her five-girl crew raise an incredible £100,000 for the charity The A21 Campaign, but they also rowed into the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest unaided crossing of the Atlantic by an all-female crew.
The girls had to get used to 12 hours of rowing every day and never slept more than 90 minutes in one go.
The heavy oars left them with bruised wrists and sore elbows and as they battled a particularly strong current on their last stretch their boat capsized.
They also had to contend with lots of equipment breakdowns and a leaking boat.
It was a punishing 45 days at sea and an amazing achievement which also saw Kate become the youngest ever winner of the coveted Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year Award 2012.
A stunned and delighted Kate was also honoured as the joint winner of the Inspirational Woman of the Year title along with victims' campaigner Ann Travers.
The awards came as a complete surprise to the unassuming psychology graduate who devotes most of her spare time to working with children in her local church and to supporting the work of the human trafficking charity The A1 Campaign.
She says: "I remember going to the awards with my friend and thinking this is going to be a great night.
"We met all of these really amazing women and I was just so happy to be there that when they called out my name for Inspirational Woman of the Year I was totally shocked.
"I just didn't expect it at all and then to get the overall Woman of the Year award was just incredible.
"It was such an honour just to be there and I didn't for one minute think I would get an award. I certainly think these awards are great recognition for women and would encourage everyone to nominate someone they feel has made a great contribution to life here."
Kate will start 2014 on a high having finally secured a job doing what she wants.
She has been working as a personal trainer since graduating three years ago while applying for jobs in her chosen field of psychology.
She has just secured the post of Family Support Worker with LORAG (Lower Ormeau Residents' Group). She adds: "I've lost count of the number of jobs I have applied for and just trying to get a job in my chosen field has been a real challenge so I'm thrilled to have finally been offered a post.
"I'm also doing a part-time diploma in counselling and I would love to be able to specialise in that, maybe in couples therapy and children's therapy.
I also have a real passion about mental health and would love see it become something that isn't stigmatised. I start my new job on January 6 and I'm really looking forward to it.
"It has given me some free time over Christmas when I'm not worrying about anything and I can just enjoy being with my family."
Christmas will be spent at home with her mum and dad Mark and Marina, sister Kerry (23), who lives in Somerset and who will be arriving home on Christmas Eve, and their two foster brothers Robert (11) and William (18).
Life doesn't stand still for Kate who spends a considerable amount of her spare time doing voluntary work.She is the children's co-ordinator in her local church, Celebration, in Craigavon, where she is responsible for organising activities for children ranging in age from one to 10.
She says: "I basically am in charge of all the children's stuff, anything fun, and it's about making sure they get as much from the church as their parents.
"The idea is to try and make church as enjoyable an experience as possible for them and we have children who are dragging their parents to church because they are having so much fun and that is what it is about. It is also about making church relevant."
Kate devotes about 15 hours a week to working with the children in church.
She is also an active supporter of the human trafficking charity The A21 campaign.
She works alongside the charity's NI advocate Helen Cupples, travelling the length and breadth of Northern Ireland giving talks and presentations to schools.
The A21 Campaign aims to abolish the injustice of human trafficking and works across the world to protect victims and help bring violators to justice.
Kate says: "We have done a lot of presentations and motivational talks in dozens of schools all over Northern Ireland, just raising awareness and letting young people know how they can get involved. The A21 Campaign is passionate about making people aware of human trafficking and trying to prevent it in countries all over the world."
It was through the charity that Kate came to get involved in the Atlantic Challenge.
A call went out from supporter Julia Immonen, who lives in London and who set up Sport Against Trafficking. Julia wanted to put a team of women together to do the Row for Freedom.
Kate didn't hesitate even though she had never rowed before in her entire life. Julia and Kate are now firm friends and keep in regular contact and it was Julia who accompanied Kate on her trip to support this year's rowers as they set off on their Atlantic Challenge earlier this month.
Kate also reveals that Julia has written a book about their rowing adventure which is due to be published next summer.
Called Row for Freedom -- Crossing an Ocean in Search of Hope, Kate has been interviewed for the book which will tell the full story of the highs and lows of the team's tough 45 days at sea.
She says: "I spoke to a ghostwriter about my experience and how it felt for me. I'm reading the book at the moment and it's a great read in my opinion."
Reliving her experience for the book and travelling to Tenerife for the start of the 2013 challenge has given Kate a new hunger for adventure. "When I looked back at what we had done it definitely made me want to do it again," she says. "I was talking to a guy who is an ocean rower about it and he suggested getting a crew together to do the Indian Ocean.
"It's twice as big as the Atlantic and has the added risk of Somali pirates and would be much more dangerous but weirdly I found myself thinking I would like to do it even though part of me was also thinking 'oh no, this is a bad idea'. I would like to do something else and I'm not ruling it out. It is on the back-burner in my mind and if I could get a good group of people together who are willing to do it and we had a good plan then definitely I would think about it.
"I really don't know yet but I am open to the possibility. "What really excites me though is supporting local young people in doing something challenging. I have been asked for advice and support since completing the Atlantic Challenge and that's what I enjoy doing, being able to support other young people in what they want to do.
"I don't know what I will be doing in the future but if I can help anyone else then I will welcome them with open arms."
The limelight is not a place where Kate feels comfortable and she would hate to think that anyone would consider her as anything other than a normal young woman despite her outstanding achievements.
Kate adds: "I'm just normal and I still experience normal things. I struggle with things like everyone else. "I would hate to think that people thought my life was perfect, it's not. I don't want to lose my identity to 'the girl that rowed the Atlantic'.
"I have found it all very overwhelming and I'm so passionate about getting involved with other young girls and getting them to see me as just one of them."
A perfect fit for a partnership
The Belfast Telegraph is delighted to welcome The OUTLET, Banbridge on board the 2014 Woman of the Year Awards.
The largest shopping outlet in Ireland, it has long been a favourite of fashionistas and is a perfect fit for our annual awards ceremony.
Who doesn't like a bargain and with many leading brands such as Jeff Banks, Mamas & Papas, Villeroy and Boch, M&S, Gap, Next, Nike, LK Bennett and Jaeger -- all just 25 minutes south of Belfast and offering between 30% to 70% discount -- it's little wonder The OUTLET is a local shoppers' paradise. It also boasts the free children's play space W5 Lite, developed by W5 making it a real family day out.
Commenting on the decision to be part of the Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year Awards, Siobhan McKeown, marketing manager, said: "The awards honour ordinary women from Northern Ireland that have attained extraordinary achievements.
"The OUTLET, Banbridge is proud to be associated with such a prestigious event through our media partnership with the Belfast Telegraph.
"The individual stories behind each nominee highlight the strength, courage and determination of these amazing women. They are an inspiration."
Woman of the year 2014
How to nominate
For each category, the nominee should have been in her line of work for at least 12 months and have shown particular success, a demonstrable measure of achievement, how she inspired others around her, and how she has demonstrated passion, drive and energy in what she does
You may enter nominations in any or all of the nine categories.
The overall award for Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year, in association with The OUTLET, Banbridge, will be chosen by the judges from the winners of the nine categories
Each of the nominations must be supported by a citation which should not be more than 200 words
Citations should also include your name, address and daytime telephone number and should arrive not later than noon on Thursday, January 30, 2014.
Send them to: Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year, Belfast Telegraph, 124 Royal Avenue, Belfast, BT1 1EB or by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note that this year the Woman of the Year in Fashion category has been changed to Woman of the Year in Hair, Beauty and Fashion
Each category winner will be presented with a trophy at a gala dinner at the Ramada Plaza Hotel, Shaw's Bridge, Belfast, on Thursday, February 27, 2014.
The awards ceremony will be hosted by the BBC's Wendy Austin
1. Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in Education
2. Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in the Voluntary Sector
3. Belfast Telegraph Sportswoman of the Year, sponsored by RAF Reserve
4. Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in the Health Sector, sponsored by Linwoods
5. Belfast Telegraph Mum of the Year, sponsored by Irwins
6. Belfast Telegraph Inspirational Woman of the Year
7. Belfast Telegraph Businesswoman of the Year
8. Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in Hair, Beauty and Fashion
9. Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in the Arts
10. Overall Woman of the Year, sponsored by The OUTLET