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Cole Brauer becomes first American woman to race sailboat alone and nonstop around world

A CORUNA, Spain (AP) — Alone, Cole Brauer braved three oceans and the elements as she navigated her sailboat for months.

When she and her 40-foot (12.2-meter) sailboat arrived Thursday in A Coruna, Spain, the 29-year-old became the first American woman to race nonstop around the world by herself, traveling across about 30,000 miles (48,280 kilometers).

Brauer, all 5-foot-2 (1.6-meter) and 100 pounds (45.4 kilograms) of her, is one of more than a dozen sailors competing in the Global Solo Challenge. Brauer was the youngest and only woman in the group that set sail in October from A Coruna.

The starts were staggered. Brauer took off Oct. 29. As of Thursday, some in the field had dropped out of the race.

The race took Brauer south along the west coast of Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope and then eastward toward Australia. From there, she continued east where Brauer faced the unpredictable, treacherous and deadly Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America before continuing northeast across the Atlantic Ocean toward Spain.

The race took her 130 days to complete.

“This is really cool and so overwhelming in every sense of the word,” NBC News reported Brauer saying before drinking Champagne from her trophy Thursday while being celebrated by family and fans.

While Brauer is the first American woman to race around the globe alone by sea, she is not first woman to do so. Polish sailor Krystina Chojnowska-Liskiewicz finished her 401-day voyage around the globe on April 21, 1978, according to online sailing sites.

Kay Cottee of Australia was the first woman to achieve the feat nonstop, sailing off from Sydney Harbor in Australia in November 1987 and returning 189 days later.

The global voyage is not an easy one, even on a vessel with a full crew.

“Solo sailors, you have to be able to do everything," Brauer told the NBC “Today” show Thursday. "You need to be able to take care of yourself. You need to be able to get up, even when you’re so exhausted. And you have to be able to fix everything on the boat.”

Satellite communications allowed Brauer to stay in touch with her racing team and connect with fans on social media, where she posted videos from the race and her boat, “First Light.”

Along the way she encountered 30-foot (9.1-meter) waves that tossed her about the boat, according to NBC News.

She injured a rib and even gave herself an IV to fend off dehydration.

Sailing solo means not just being a skipper but a project manager, said Marco Nannini, the race's organizer. That means steering the vessel, making repairs, knowing the weather and keeping yourself healthy, he said.

“The biggest asset is your mental strength, not the physical one,” Nannini said. “Cole is showing everyone that.”

One of Brauer's social media posts from Dec. 8 showed her frustration.

“I haven’t really had the bandwidth to get into everything that’s been going on the past 48 hours, but the short version is the autopilot has been acting up again and I needed to replace some parts and do a rudder recalibration,” she wrote. “For once the light air is actually helping, but it’s been exhausting, and I’m sore and tired.”

“It’s all part of the journey, and I’m sure I’ll be feeling better once the work is done and I’ve gotten some sleep,” Brauer added. “But right now things are tough.”

But she's handled the tough, even though some in the sport believed it wouldn't be possible due to her gender and small frame.

“I push so much harder when someone’s like, ‘no, you can’t do that,’ or ‘you’re too small,’” Brauer said.

“It would be amazing if there was just one other girl that saw me and said ‘Oh, I can do that, too,'” she added.

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This story has been updated to remove an erroneous reference to Brauer being the first American woman to circumnavigate the globe alone in a sailboat.