Tori Murden McClure does everything backwards. As a rower, it just comes naturally. She went to divinity school and then to law school, while most people might presume you need divinity school AFTER law instead of before. At Kindred Healthcare's 2015 Clinical Impact Symposium, she began explaining her incredible life story by reading the last page of her book first.

Now the president of Spalding University, McClure has too many accolades to count. She holds a Master's in Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, a Juris Doctorate from the University Of Louisville - Brandeis School Of Law and a Master's of Fine Arts in writing from Spalding University. Previously, she has worked as a hospital chaplain, a mayoral policy assistant and a director of a shelter for homeless women.

None of these titles and accomplishments tell us who McClure is. Under the tutelage of former boxer and humanitarian, Muhammad Ali, McClure learned an important lesson.

"You don't want to go through life as the woman who almost rowed across the ocean," said Ali.

Ali was talking about McClure's unfinished journey across the Atlantic in 1998. In the summer of that year, McClure set across the sea on a solo adventure. Armed with her rowboat named the American Pearl, two buckets, three shirts, two pairs of shorts, just enough food, a bag full of books and the portraits of thirteen presidents, she set a course to France from Nags Head, North Carolina.   

But like every good story, and as is with all humans, there's always a conflict that drives us. McClure's conflict was and is internal. It's a feeling she has always felt, since her childhood days spent looking for people who needed her protection, like her brother Lamar. It's a feeling of helplessness.

Inherently self-aware, she describes herself as being an adventurous person, perhaps as a result of looking to fill that hole of helplessness. But she's experienced two vastly different types of adventure. There have been grand adventures, like rowing across the Atlantic and skiing the South Pole. And then there are smaller, and yet in many ways much bigger adventures, like working with the homeless in south Boston.

In these times, she often thought to herself, "If I could just ski across this continent, maybe I won't feel helpless anymore."

It was this conflict, this dragon, if you will, of helplessness that kept McClure rowing long after most would have given in. After more than two months of solo rowing and little-to-no communication with other humans, McClure found herself in the middle of the worst hurricane, in the worst hurricane season the Atlantic had seen at the time. Flipped and thrown and capsized too many times to count, her "psychological buoyancy" was gone, and the signal was finally sent. 

"My boat refused to move, my body refused to move," she said. "Thought lost its power to govern my brain and my body. My spirit shrank and the helplessness broke through."

It was during that time that the question arose, "What am I doing here?" A question, McClure says, anyone who leaves the comforts of civilization is asked. Looking back, she said she was looking for her heart, she just didn't realize it at the time.

At the beginning of her story, she admittedly hadn't really experienced true romance yet and was too young to have built a history. Her life then was filled with comedy, though, and still is. So her memoir about her journeys, "A Pearl in the Storm," is quite the evolution. In its earliest passages, there is a relatable mix of comedy, tragedy and history interjected with a whole lot of rowing.

She recalls what it felt like to be out in the middle of the ocean, in the middle of the night, completely alone. "The dark of mind is deadly, not the dark of night. Lucky me," she said, "Without darkness, one cannot see the stars."

She recalls running away from a dead squid on the deck of her boat and smelling something sour, thinking she needed a bath, only to discover that inches from her boat, a sperm whale had surfaced.

She recalls conversations with President Thomas Jefferson (in portrait form) about what she did that day. She tells Jefferson that she spent the afternoon throwing water at the ocean, to which he replied: "All of us do. Some of us make a really serious business out of it."

"I found calm in the stars," McClure said, "and comedy in the squid."

After she was picked up by the ironically named Independent Spirit, she felt ashamed and unworthy. Despite having suffered many injuries in the storm, she did not seek medical treatment. Several years later, after working with Muhammad Ali, she made the decision to finish what she had started.

"When he looks at you, it takes the oxygen out of the room," said McClure. "We couldn't be more different. He was all heart, and I was all brain. But he knew where I was lying, out there on the mat, and I needed to get back up."

For the second journey, aside from a handle here and some padding there, not many physical changes were made to McClure's boat, Pearl. The majority of major changes were strategic. For one, McClure learned to ask for help. She set a new course across the Atlantic, rowed for 81 days from the Canary Islands and landed in Guadeloupe.

Hers is a story of resiliency, and that bounce-back mentality is what she wanted the clinicians at the 2015 Clinical Impact Symposium take away with them. She spoke of a woman she knew by the name of Joan who after "laying down" her dirt bike had gone through with a simultaneous double knee replacement. Three months later, Joan was climbing again. Like Tigger, from Winnie-the-Pooh, she bounced right back.

"If we can teach our folks to bounce, how great would that be?" asked McClure.

McClure ended with a passage from her second row, in which she encountered Hurricane Lenny. "Here I am, in the middle of the ocean, yelling at a potato. I am a woman," she said, "I don't slay my dragons, I embrace them."

She challenged the audience of Kindred Healthcare Clinicians to embrace their dragons, to embrace that feeling of helplessness they may feel when doing the work they do daily.

"Removing yourself from the center of your world and placing someone else there is the key to compassion. I can't imagine the helplessness that you face every day," she said to the clinicians, "but keep battling with it."