BY JOE MARVILLI
A Flushing man has overcome several hardships and obstacles to row across the Atlantic Ocean, in order to spread awareness and education about HIV and AIDS.
Last year, Victor Mooney made his trek from the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa to the Caribbean, getting further than his previous three attempts. While he was robbed by pirates off the coast of Haiti, Mooney is not slowing down. He plans to complete the remaining 1,500-mile trek to New York City, starting in February.
Mooney’s decision to row across the Atlantic came as a means to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS, which took the life of his brother in 1983. Another brother currently lives with the disease.
“This disease is far from over,” he said. “I believe a cure is on the horizon, but for right now, education and prevention are the best methods to stabilize this disease and to reach an AIDS-free generation.”
In an effort to inspire others, Mooney said that he believes if someone saw him rowing in a boat across the ocean by himself, they would not be as afraid to get tested for HIV. Given the challenges he overcame, Mooney is leading by example. It took him 130 days to row across the ocean, during which he lost 80 pounds and survived a shark attack that damaged his boat, The Spirit of Malabo. Despite these hardships, he made it to St. Martin, an island in the Caribbean, finishing a major portion of his trip.
“Arriving in St. Martin was a cheerful occasion. Just knowing that my brother is looking down at me, saying ‘you did it, thank you.’ To my brother that’s living, he’s proud that I’m raising this issue,” Mooney said. “It’s affecting families across the Borough, across the nation and across the world.”
The roughest part of his journey though came afterwards, with an attack from pirates off the coast of Haiti, who robbed him of everything he had on the boat. While he called the incident “horrific” and was saddened by how it hampered his efforts, Mooney did not blame those who stole from him.
“When the shark put a hole in my boat, I wasn’t upset with the shark, because the shark was hungry,” he said. “The people in Haiti, what they did was wrong, but the people of Haiti are also hungry.”
Although the attack stymied his journey, delaying the final stretch to this year, it did allow Mooney to make it back in time to spend the holidays with his family.
“For me, I was away from home for 11 months and I was prepared to continue all the way to New York. But when I came home, it was beautiful,” he said. “My family was so happy to see me, I was happy to see them.”
Mooney also received the “incredible honor” of visiting the White House for its commemoration of World AIDS Day, adding that he appreciated Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech on the ongoing battle against the disease.
The Spirit of Malabo is currently in Miami, undergoing repairs courtesy of Spencer Boat Company. Mooney will start the final leg of his trip during the Miami International Boat Show, which runs from Feb. 12 to Feb. 16.
Ultimately, Mooney wants those following his journey to take with them a vital message: never give up.
“The take-away from Haiti, and I think this is universal, is to never give up,” he said. “I think this row has continued to inspire people to never give up. Yes, you can fall down but you can get back up.”
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Joe Marvilli.