Rowing 101...


My sister recommended a book a couple of months ago that she thought I would like. Not knowing too much about it, I downloaded it on my Kindle and proceeded to read, finishing it in a couple days. I had a hard time putting it down. Right away, I loved many things about this book...the fact that it was a true story; that it occurred in the 1930's, just prior to WWII; and that the primary setting of the story took place right here in Seattle. Have you guessed which book I'm talking about yet?!!

As I read the story, I recognized several names that I had heard before...names like Royal Brougham and Al Ulbrickson.  I had heard their names, but had no idea of their significance until I read the book. The names of the crew members were new to me, including the name Joe Rantz, whose life story is told throughout the book. I loved that these "boys" were the underdogs, the sons of farmers, loggers, and shipyard workers, not the wealthy elite sons of doctors, lawyers, and bankers that made up the famed crew teams on the east coast. And as I read, the sport of rowing came alive for me.

The 1936 Olympic final via pinterest. 

The 1936 Olympic final via pinterest. 

Not long after finishing the book, a friend, Jill, sent out a text to some of her friends saying she had found a Learn To Row class with 8 sessions....right here on Lake Stevens! My interest was sparked, partly due to the book and partly due to watching the rowers go by many early weekend mornings. They always looked so graceful and at ease.  How hard could it be? I agreed to join my friend and we met for our first session a week 6:00 a.m.

From the start, when we had to carry the 4 man skull down to the dock from the upper parking lot and figure out how to lock in the oars and get into the boat without was quite a bit more challenging than I had anticipated. Let's just say that "ease" had nothing to do with it! Learning how to hold the oars and move them through the water without catching a "crab" (when you sink the oar too deep and the boat almost tips!) was a challenge in itself...even before we learned how to use our bodies and legs. By the end of the session, I had bloody knuckles, blisters, and bruises on the backs of my calves...not to mention very sore shoulders from carrying the boat back up the hill! I have done a lot of kayaking, but rowing was really nothing like it. 

Not willing to give up though, my friend and I pressed on...trying to learn all the nuances of rowing. It was great to have someone to commiserate with, as well as rejoice with, when something actually went right...very few things felt right, to be honest! By the third week, our instructor put me in a double skull with an experienced rower, which felt a little better. I still struggled to get it all the proper techniques and rhythm working together, but being out on the flat water so early was awesome. The final week, I went into a single skull and finally began to put it all together...still very much a beginner, but I was actually rowing through the water, feathering my stroke, and beginning to actually enjoy the experience. I still had a long way to go and I appreciated in a new way the hours of practice that it took those UW crew members to achieve perfection, where “All were merged into one smoothly working machine; they were, in fact, a poem of motion, a symphony of swinging blades.” 

Sadly, some chronic lower back pain issues had also begun to bother me again, and I did not feel like I could join the rowing club and continue rowing until my back was better. I'm glad I learned to row...even though I'm still a novice. I love the water and love to be out on it. And, I like trying new things, even at my age. This morning when I watched the rowers go by, I had a whole new appreciation for the art of rowing. I encourage you to read "The Boys in the Boat" and relive an incredible story, well told by Daniel Brown. In a conversation with my father-in-law, a UW graduate, it was fun to learn that he knew Al Ulbrickson, the UW coach, and Royal Brougham, the Seattle PI  journalist, personally.  There are some wonderful life lessons and words of wisdom in the book as well, like this quote by the boat builder,  “It is hard to make that boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of men and equipment, but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend. So is life: the very problems you must overcome also support you and make you stronger in overcoming them. —George Yeoman Pocock”. 

Well, that's my book review of one of my favorite summer reads. Would love to hear your comments if you have read the book as well! Happy Monday, friends! 

Post Script: Shortly after posting this, I received an email from the "experienced rower" I mentioned who rowed with in the double skull.  Her name is Jen and guess what? She is Joe Rantz's granddaughter! It was her mom that spent hours with the author of the book telling her dad's story. What a small world!