Team Inspiration from The Boys in The Boat
To see a winning crew (team) in action is to witness a perfect harmony in which everything is right…That is the formula for endurance and success; rowing with the heart and hand as well as physical strength.
The Boys in the Boat
Daniel James Brown
Recently, I was reminded of a dramatic, come-from-behind-story that is captivating and inspiring me all over again. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, combines a fascinating history lesson with the Depression-era saga of a scrappy, struggling young man, his teammates and their relentless efforts beating the odds on a legendary eight-man rowing crew at the University of Washington.
Perhaps because I’ve only recently come to appreciate the beauty that is the Pacific Northwest as my oldest son is now living in Seattle or because we watched in awe as multiple boats of rowers seemed to glide in unison down the Willamette-Columbia River in nearby Portland, was I reminded of this gripping story. Or maybe it was because I’m just fascinated by riveting stories of individuals realizing dreams only possible when they are as concerned about the success of their teammates as their own. Whatever the reason, I am mesmerized once again!
This incredible group of underdogs; sons of loggers, fisherman and farmers, stunned whole nations across the globe when they won the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics. The victory in those Games in Berlin was not about the individual challenges and ultimate success of the main character Joe Rantz or any of his working class teammates. It was about how, over time, these young men became intimately attuned to one another’s strokes, struggles, personal demons and goals. In fact, Joe was at one time the “weak link in the crew” who often “struggled to master the technical side of the sport.”
Eventually, they accomplished what many crews, even winning crews, never really find; “swing.” That is; all oarsmen “rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of sync with those of all the others.” As Brown suggests, “Sixteen arms must begin to pull, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must bend and straighten all at once…Only then will if feel as if the boat is a part of each of them… moving as if on its own.”
What has me cheering out loud again is the way Joe and his band of rowing brothers are “fiercely determined” to make sure none of them fails in their collective quest for triumph.
“And yet, at the same time—and this is key—no other sport demands and rewards the complete abandonment of the self the way that rowing does. Great crews may have men or women of exceptional talent or strength; they may have outstanding skills…but they have no stars. The team effort—the perfectly synchronized flow of muscle, oars, boat, and water… the single, whole, unified, and beautiful symphony that a crew in motion becomes—is all that matters. Not the individual, not the self.”
We learn pretty quickly to trust (or not) others. We’ve all been members of a team who have worked with others long enough to know that i