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Peter Mallory's Blog

By pmallory - Posted on 03 April 2013

26 March 2013

I’m not a big fan of losing, and I have worked very hard during my rowing and coaching careers to make sure I have not had to do much of it. But it does me good at this particular moment in my life to remind myself that losing is in my DNA. Losing is precisely how I began!

In the spring of 1961, I was the coxswain of the 1st Macedonian Eight at Kent School in Connecticut. Twice a week we would have a race against one of our intramural opponents, the Housatonics or the Algos, and we would lose every time. Every single time! That spring I was the smallest kid in the school for the third straight year, but I felt my smallness most acutely in that coxswain’s seat, wanting so much to contribute somehow, but not knowing what I could do.

I finally went to the coach and told him to please put somebody else in who might do a better job while I stepped aside and rowed the last race of the spring in the bow seat of the 4th Macedonian Eight, all 100 pounds of me. I lost that race as well, but I didn’t care a whit. I was just thrilled I hadn’t crabbed once from start to finish.

When I got to college, the University of Pennsylvania Crew was at a very low ebb. During my freshman and sophomore years, every Penn boat at every level lost every single race! Oh, my! There was only one exception in each year, and I was aboard each time, at Columbia on the Harlem in 1964 and at Rutgers on the Raritan in 1965. I remember each day like it was yesterday. They felt like miracles of springtime.

A quarter century later I had won six national championships as an athlete and fifty more as a coach. I don’t think I would have had the audacity or the imagination or the perseverance to do any of it had I experienced more success when I began. Absolutely nothing makes you move heaven and earth to win as much as the vivid, visceral memory of losing.

Only twice in my rowing and coaching life since those early years at Kent and at Penn have I experienced repeated losses. The first was in 1977. San Diego State University downgraded their rowing teams to club status, and all the coaches quit. I picked up the pieces in January, and in an act of extreme hubris, I assumed that all I had to do was teach them to row properly and they would immediately win as often as all my other teams had. I indeed taught them well . . . but the winning never came. They were so used to losing that I could not break the cycle. It was a humiliating lesson for me.

The second time is now. This past January I took over a Loyola Marymount University Men’s Crew that had lost all of last fall, lost program continuity and recruiting and coaching and training through a perfect storm of unforeseen circumstances, nobody's fault, but the inevitable result is now a spring full of opponents better prepared in every way: deeper, bigger, taller, stronger, fitter, more experienced, faster by any measure.

But LMU in 2013 is not SDSU in 1977. These kids have a remarkably determined winning attitude.

However, there is no substitute for time spent recruiting more athletes, time spent having them learn at a reasonable pace to love rowing and love doing it well, time spent building physical strength and flexibility, time spent building an aerobic base, time spent learning discipline, time spent developing commitment and confidence and courage, time spent becoming brothers and sisters to one another. It's always a matter of time . . .

Now it’s all beginning to come together for us after more than two months working with a common purpose. Every day we get faster, perhaps one or two seconds a week, and thank goodness the end of the season is still a month away. Nevertheless, we will be underdogs and we will deserve to be underdogs every time we take to the water this spring.

Today I so value and appreciate the gritty reality of losing. It validates what we do. There is no point to winning if there is not the real possibility, indeed the inevitability, of losing if you haven’t laid the proper groundwork to make winning a reality. There are other college teams in Southern California and across the country, plenty of them, who have been doing it right all along. Fail to match their efforts, and they will humble you, and I sincerely thank them for it.

I thank them for now, but mark my words. We’re not going to make a habit of losing for long here at LMU.