Oakland principal among rowers to complete voyage to Antarctica

Six athletes, one boat, and no turning back. 

A half dozen men, all in their 30s, attempted to row Drake's Passage, some of the world’s most treacherous waters off the coast of South America. 

It was a 600-mile, two-week journey across frigid waters to the edge of Antarctica dubbed the “Impossible Row.” 

 It was a feat that had never been accomplished, until recently. 

John Petersen, 35, of Oakland was one of those six men that lived to tell the tale. 

The former Yale crew captain left his job as principal at the Bridge School Elementary in West Oakland and joined what would become an epic voyage of endurance. 

Two teams made of three rowers worked in 90-minute shifts. Row, Sleep, and repeat. It was 300-plus continuous hours of work. 

The group only stopped two times to take 10 hours breaks due to foul weather. 

On their journey, they encountered 30-foot waves and saw some of the most incredible wildlife imaginable. 

Petersen described the row as the toughest thing he’s ever done. 

“Imagine sitting in a washing machine with a blindfold on while the freezing water at or below 32 degrees slammed your face. That’s the kind of feeling you get," he said. 

After more than 13 days of rowing, they hit Antarctica on Christmas morning of 2019, exhausted but totally satisfied. 

“I had this constant stress the entire trip. 'Oh my god! I’m not going to make it home to my daughter and wife,'" he recalled. "And to be able to step on land and know I’m going to make it home it felt like the stress just rolled off my body.” 

Petersen is using his Impossible Row mission as a teaching moment for students at his West Oakland school. 

"Challenges come your way and you rely on your team to get through them.