I have just finished reading the most amazing book, “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown. It has been a long time since I was so enthralled by a true story of perseverance and courage.
My knowledge of crew racing, eight young men rowing as one, was minimal and I had had no idea that this sport dominated the sports pages of our papers in the 1920s and 30s. It would be the featured event of the 1936 Olympics that was to take place in Germany. Hitler was not, at first, enthusiastic about hosting the games. The very idea of athletes of all races and nations traipsing across his Germany was repellant. However, he decided it could be a prime opportunity to show the world what racial purity could achieve.
His goals were challenged by the American team from the University of Washington, farm boys, fishermen, loggers, who, against odds that were almost Dickensian, rowed their way to Germany and to fame.
The author has focused on one of these, young Joe Rantz, whose grit and work ethic is almost beyond belief. Abandoned by a father and stepmother who found him one mouth too many to feed, he was a loner who refused to be defeated by any of life’s knocks. He tried out for crew simply because a place in a boat would earn him a part time job at the University.
I cheered for him and I cheered for the other members of his team who built something priceless as they learned to become one mind and heart on the wind-whipped waters that were their challenge.
Do read this book and your perspective on life’s challenges will be altered. Friendship, faith in others and a refusal to admit defeat will all be renewed. Best of all – you will come away with a deeper understanding of a glorious page in American sports.
Contrasted with the overpaid, “me-first” athletes often featured today, Joe Rantz and his crew made headlines for the right reasons. But you have to judge for yourself.