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The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Summary

The Boys in the Boat tells the story of an 8-man crew from the United States that rowed in college and culminated at the 1936 Olympics. These Olympics are of note due to the rise of Germany and the Nazi party. The book highlights portions of Nazi Germany and the impact on the Olympics. The history shows the importance of the games on a global scale. Far more importance was given to the rowing crew and to Joe Rantz in particular. The book highlights Joe’s life early on but he wanted to make sure the book was about everyone in the boat. Joe not only lived but found ways to thrive in the face of adversity after adversity. While a child, his mother died, he was shipped to the East Coast on a train. He had hay fever and nearly a year later came back to live with his older brother. Living arrangements changed again when he moved in with his father, who had married Joe’s sister in law. She was never fond of Joe and during the hardships of the depression things were very tight. While a teenager, Joe was left behind as his family moved away. He had to find a way to live. Finding some living quarters and working. He worked hard and didn’t complain about it. It was such work ethic that enabled him to thrive in crew. Not only did Joe participate in collegiate crew, a tremendously more popular sport at the time, he needed to work tough, dangerous jobs to afford to stay in school. Joe’s freshman year was successful in rowing. There was always a doubt he had if he was good enough, but the others had the same doubt about themselves. It didn’t matter though as through the years, the right team, coaching, racing shell, and trust in each other led to success. They were able to have such trust and determination, they would win each time, with gutsy and smart performances.
How it influenced me

A friend of mine recommended this as a good example of resilience. As I read it, I saw tragic event after tragic event occur and noticed how Joe would handle it. I saw his ability to adapt as needed in order to survive. Those skills at adapting, the desire to do better, the intense work ethic all played a part in his success rowing. A while back I came up with a theme. “Life has ups and downs, rather than feel bad during the down, look to work hard during that time in order to leverage a greater up.” Joe’s story seemed to follow along with that thinking. During the down times he would work hard and by doing so it led to a greater up. If we do this time and time again, our baseline, even after a down will still be higher than before. This can enable us to enjoy more out of life. It was encouraging to see this unanticipated and unofficial validation for what I had been thinking. Going forward I will keep it in mind, share with others and depending if the conversation or mental train of thought is needed, I have the example from Boys in the Boat to talk about.

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