At the onset of tackling this non-fiction piece, the author, Daniel James Brown, met with Joe Rantz, and he insisted that this book had “to be about the boat.” And by that he meant not the physicality of the boat or the men, but the sanctity of the moment when they became one.
Welcome to the beginning of Bookers’ 12th year. I may visibly be flying solo at the helm of this ship, but rest assured Yeoman Stanky has not abandoned us, as she will always be the lighthouse guiding us in the right direction. Through the years, we’ve read a lot; we’ve discussed a lot; we’ve laughed and sometimes cried a lot. Bookers is a team bound by our passion for the written word, in essence, we are our own “boat.”
24 Bookers metaphorically sculled to the home of Joanna Linder for our discussion of this month’s selection. We had a few surprises under our University of Washington crew jerseys as MN and sister, Pam, skyped the interactive discussion of “Boys” from LA…lower Alabama. Many thanks to Joanna for getting into the spirit by decorating her home with Olympic rings, paddles, American flags, and posters, along with her technical savvy to connect us with one another.
These 'boys in the boat' were the sons of loggers, shipyard workers and farmers from the American West, They took on and defeated successive echelons of privilege and power. They conquered the sons of bankers and senators rowing for elite eastern universities. They defeated the sons of British aristocrats rowing for Oxford and Cambridge. And finally, in an extraordinary race in Berlin, they stunned the Aryan sons of the Nazi state as they rowed for gold in front of Adolf Hitler.
Against the grim backdrop of the Great Depression, they reaffirmed the American notion that merit outweighs birthright. They reminded the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together. And, they provided hope that in the huge struggle that lay ahead, the ruthless might of the NAZIS would not prevail over GOOD OLE’ AMERICAN GRIT, DETERMINATION, AND OPTIMISM.
And, as the book tells of the boy's collective achievement, it is also the heartwarming story of one young man in particular. Cast aside by his family at an early age, abandoned and left to fend for himself, Joe Rantz rows not just for the glory but to regain his shattered self-regard, to dare again to trust in others, and to find his way back to a place he can call home.
Our guest reviewer, MN's sister, Pam, detailed the journey of these extraordinary young men with insights into the merit of this book. Bookers has never been so quiet as we listened and participated as Pam led us through the highlights of this wonderful story of teamwork accomplished through individual grit, determination, trust, loyalty, strength of character, survival, and pride. She hit all the right notes and we are so appreciative of her foresight and attention to detail in bringing these “boys” to life for us. When the author interviewed Joe Rantz for this book, he cried for the lost moment when nine good-hearted young men pulled together as one, for the boys who gave everything they had for one another…but he cried more for the sheer beauty of that moment. When they retired each had rowed from Seattle to Japan, taken over a half million strokes, all in preparation for twenty-eight miles of actual collegiate racing.
“Rowing is a continuous and unbroken cycle of uncoiling and coiling the body, comparable to eight men standing on a floating log that threatened to roll over whenever they moved. These eight men had to hit eight golf balls at exactly the same moment, with exactly the same amount of force, directing the ball to exactly the same point on the green, and doing so over and over every two or three seconds. The discipline required in achieving the ultimate from the mind, heart, and body is not taught in the classroom, but in a racing shell.”
Consider a twenty-four inch shell carrying three-quarters of a ton of human flesh and bone rowing continuously toward a shared goal, both in the water and in life. What you put in determines what you achieve. These boys in a boat pooled their individual weaknesses into a bowl of strengths, achieving success by not worrying about who was ahead, behind, or beside them, but trusting who was ahead, behind, and beside them, lifting them a step further than they thought possible.
Joe’s story in particular says that within us all there is an extra gear. For some it’s faith, for others it might be as simple as someone believing in you, but for all of us when we shift into overdrive replacing selfishness with empathy, we become survivors. We have the heart of a champion because we understand that by walking in someone else’s shoes we are now part of a team bigger than we are. As individuals, we are a drop of water, together we are an ocean.
As Rio de Janeiro welcomes the world for the 2016 Summer Olympics next August, we might hear the distinct British upper-crust accent of the “high priest of rowing” inspiring our boys in the boats to embrace the redemptive power of trust and “swing” the shell across the finish line.
Bookers have always been about collective passion, but the most important thing about our group is we are a team. We trust, we support one another, and have true crew-like spirit. With Pam’s direction, we participated, we put our heart into rowing, we sang in the round, we pulled together and we proved to be worthy Olympians.
Well done, team Bookers! You deserve your gold medal today...and always!