The Curious Case of Victor Mooney

Victor Mooney

Equatorial Guinea Ambassador, H.E. Anatolio Ndong and Victor Mooney (picture courtesy of

Being a nearly native New Yorker, stories about local folks working to make a difference always catch my eye. So when I saw an article in the Mill Basin Marine Park Courier about Victor Mooney, it piqued my interest. Entitled “Fourth Time’s the Charm?” the article by Colin Mixson told the story of Victor, a resident of Queens (one of the five boroughs in NY), who lost one of his brothers to AIDS and has another living with HIV (read the online version here). He decided to do something to raise AIDS and HIV awareness as well as encourage voluntary HIV testing and increase prevention (presumably through additional programs and/or funding).

When we consider this account, there are many things about which we can admire Victor Mooney. Certainly we commend him for his desire to raise awareness of AIDS and HIV testing. His devotion to his family (particularly his brothers) also deserves recognition. Yet what hit me was his tenacity, for as the Courier article states, he is making his fourth attempt to row from Africa to the United States.

This last effort brings personal challenges that go beyond the physical rigors of the crossing. His third attempt ended with him stranded at sea for 14 days, awaiting rescue. After returning home, he promised his family that attempt was his last. So what would prompt him to turn around and risk not only another unsuccessful attempt but also his life? What can we learn from his efforts?

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

As noted above, this upcoming effort isn’t Victor’s first attempt at rowing from Africa to the United States. He first tried to make the crossing back in 1986. It was a miserable failure. Caitlin Millat commented on perhaps the main reason that effort fell short. She described Victor’s boat (the John Paul the Great) as a “homemade, rickety rowboat,” one which started to take on water after only three hours at sea. It seems he had not done enough research into what his proposed voyage required for success. He could have given up, but instead he learned from his experience. If at first you don’t succeed…

…Make a Better Plan…

Victor went back to the drawing board. This time he enlisted expert help. Instead of trying to build the rowboat himself, he enlisted the aid of expert naval architects. His second vessel, dubbed the Spirit of Zayed, not only incorporated cutting edge design and materials, but also included a water desalination system to provide him with fresh drinking water. Unfortunately, time and unexpected events befall us all (Ecclesiastes 9:11). His desalination system failed, forcing him to abandon his second effort and be rescued. By this time, many started ridiculing his efforts. He even received the nickname “Looney Mooney.” Still undaunted, Victor once again planned and made a third attempt earlier this year (2013). He had problems even before the launch when his craft, the Never Give Up suffered damage in transit to the Cape Verde Islands, the starting point for his third attempt. Victor and his team made what they thought to be satisfactory repairs and he set off. Unfortunately, he had to abandon ship after his first day at sea as the craft took on water. He had only a few minutes to bail out into a life raft. Victor spent the next 14 days waiting for rescue, a harrowing ordeal Michael McLaughlin nicely describes in his Huffington Post online article. For most of us, that would be enough. However, in keeping with the spirit embodied in his third craft’s name, Victor decided to never give up. Despite announcing that the third attempt was his last, he decided to give it another shot. Indeed, if at first (or even second and third) you don’t succeed…

…then Try, Try Again

That’s the point Colin Mixson makes in his Courier article. Victor feels compelled to complete this journey, despite past failures and despite statements he made to the contrary. As Mooney states, “This battle is not mine. This battle is God’s.” The conviction that he must complete this journey in honor of his brothers compels him to move forward. He sums it up in this quote found in Mr. McLaughlin’s article:

“I have a chance to finish this. There’s nothing else to do but focus on this mission that I’ve dedicated over a decade of my time to.”

His tenacious attitude and personal experience teaches us much about what’s necessary to succeed.

Lessons Learned

Victor has a new ship (the Spirit of Malabo) and hopes to depart from Las Palmas, Canary Islands later this month (December 2013). We’ll keep tabs on his progress. Will he complete his trans-Atlantic crossing? I hope so. What seems more certain is this: Victor won’t stop until he does. What can we learn from his example?

  • Planning is important. Victor’s first attempt failed largely due to poor preparedness and planning. A trans-Atlantic crossing requires not only physical stamina but technical know-how in the boat design, a team who can help plan and monitor the route, and an exit strategy. Noting that he missed many of those factors in his initial attempt, Victor made sure to plan better in his subsequent efforts to increase his chances of success. We also need to effectively plan if we want success. Granted, things happen that we can’t predict, requiring we adapt to changing circumstances. Still, if you don’t plan effectively, you greatly increase your chance of failure. This leads us to the next point.
  • Learn from your mistakes. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Victor made sure that he did things differently after his failed attempts. I’m reminded of the “Plan, Do, Review” process that all successful people embrace. When striving for a goal, some of our efforts fall short. That’s okay…as long as we take time to learn from the attempt. Then that attempt isn’t truly a failure. Instead, it was an exercise that helped eliminate a wrong route to success.
  • Maintain your conviction. Above all else, Victor has faith he’ll achieve his goal. Likely that is due in part to his conviction in the merit of his efforts. Raising awareness of (and possibly funding for) AIDS and HIV along with programs promoting early detection and treatment is admirable. He determined what he could do, then set about doing it. The challenges he faced and continues to embrace in no way damper his spirit. That conviction, coupled with deliberate, well thought out action, leads to success. If we’re on a path that we’ve carefully considered and we’re convinced it has merit, we need similar conviction to achieve our goals. Sometimes we meet with immediate success, but more often we face challenges and setbacks. Are we convinced enough about the worthiness of our goals to see them through despite difficulties? If we are like Victor Mooney, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

No doubt many of you face challenges right now as you pursue your goals. You may have thoughts about giving up. You may even have told others, “I’m done!” Before finally throwing in the towel, ask yourself “Is my goal worthwhile? Will it others benefit if I succeed? Does this goal resonate deeply with who I am as a person? Do I feel this is something I’m called to do?” If you can answer “Yes” to those questions, then don’t give up too easily on your goals. Often, people fail right on the cusp of success. In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill tells the story of R.U. Darby who, along with an uncle of his, gave up on a gold mining operation. They sold it for a few hundred dollars that left them with debt they had to work off. However, the person to whom they sold their stake got expert help and discovered that Darby and his uncle stopped drilling just three feet from the mother-lode! That’s a powerful incentive to not give up on your dreams.

However, some have already given up on a goal, and now that particular opportunity has passed. What then? There’s still hope. Mr. Darby (mentioned above) went on to become one of the most successful insurance salesmen in the United States. Although he gave up on the gold mining operation, he learned lessons from his experience. Therefore, if you gave up on goals in the past, you can learn from those experiences and achieve success in future efforts (see the second bullet point above). Yes, you can still learn the lessons taught by the curious case of Victor Mooney.

Have you had to fight seemingly overwhelming obstacles to achieve a goal? Have you done so in the face of non-support or outright ridicule from others? What helped you to endure and succeed? If you’re facing those circumstances right now, how do you keep focused on your goals? Share your experiences and insights in the Comments below.


One thought on “The Curious Case of Victor Mooney

  1. Reblogged this on Picking Up the Pieces and commented:
    For those of us struggling to accomplishing something, a lesson in the importance of never giving up. Even when you tell yourself and everyone else that you will. Sometimes only through trial and error, reconsideration, re-application, and adaptation can we succeed. Don’t sell yourself (or that dream) short.

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