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Peter Mallory's Blog

By pmallory - Posted on 08 January 2014

4 January 2014

This morning at 2AM I found myself thinking when I might have been sleeping. You see, yesterday I had gotten the following email from one of my guys: “I apologize for being subpar with my training this vacation. Talk is cheap, but I do plan on stepping up my workouts for the last week and a half of break. That said, I don't think I have been completely unproductive. I can tell that I am getting stronger through my effort with weights, and I've been consistently staying active with running.”

I appreciate and acknowledge any effort I can get, and we'll make the best of the situation and work with what we have . . . but I keep imagining this particular guy passing the 1,000 meter mark at the San Diego Crew Classic in just three months’ time and thinking to himself something like, “Wow, I really want to do well in this race. It’s a really big deal. I've never been in a position like this before. I had no idea!

“I want to do it for my school and for my girlfriend and for my teammates who I can feel straining all around me. And I want to do it for myself as well! I want to be respected and trusted. I want to be successful!

"That would make me truly happy!

"But I can tell those boats next to us are pretty determined. Right about now I wish I had just a little bit more strength and endurance to contribute . . . ”

Of course, by that time it will be too late. I wonder if he will be able to rationalize, “I could have been in way, way better shape by now, stronger, tougher, more confident, a better teammate, a better person, if I had just found the courage and the good sense to do the assigned workouts over the summer and winter breaks, but I have no regrets. I wasn’t completely unproductive.”

Another member of the team recently wrote to me: “I know I was struggling this last semester, and I missed all the steady state work. But during a single week of the intense workouts in early December I improved a lot! Now I am training again, but I am no longer improving, even with more work. I was curious. How it could be that I saw improvement so quickly before but not now?”

How many times have I explained it? . . . to my kids in their time . . . to this team in this time . . . and to every other team I have ever coached! How many? Aerobic training forms the basis of all that comes afterward. Failing to do your steady state work is like trying to build a house on sand. Read your Bible. Matthew 7:24-27.

Borrow a quarter, and buy a clue! It’s really quite simple. You want to be happy, don’t you? I do.

If you think that not making the effort to train today and doing something more “fun” instead today will make you happy, perhaps it will . . . for a little while, maybe an hour or two! But think about the future, for Heaven’s sake! You will have completely forgotten this day by springtime! What will truly make you happy for the rest of your life, what will give you stories to tell your grandchildren, will be to enter your spring races fully prepared and to achieve things in your life you never even dreamed of before you began rowing. Same goes for your studies, your lifestyle decisions, your investments, your relationships. Everything! Absolutely everything! No exceptions.

That's your clue.

This is a universal truth! Go for what makes you happy in the long run, not the short run.

I feel like Sisyphus, the guy condemned by Zeus to roll a rock up a hill over and over for all eternity . . . only to see it roll right back down.

I explain this basic principle of life - be thoughtful and wise! Think of what will benefit you far into the future - and then watch my message clang off people’s thick noggins, and so I repeat, repeat, repeat to those for whom I am responsible.

Right about this moment my son might remind me that today’s generation may never have heard of Sisyphus. How about Sesame Street teaching near and far? Is that better, Philip?

Grover as Sisyphus . . .

Many years ago when my children were still small I remember getting withering criticism from a person I had once trusted with my life. It went something like this: “You are a truly terrible father, Peter, filling your children’s heads with all this nonsense that someday they can achieve greatness of some sort of their own choosing. Look at them! They’re just normal kids! They’ll never amount to anything special! Encouraging them to imagine they can is just setting them up to fail and forever be unhappy.”

To some, I suppose that life is that pointless. There is no nobility in trying, in fighting the good fight? Just get along. After all, someday I and my children and you and your children will all be forgotten by history.

Which reminds me of a story . . .

It’s right after a lecture about the future of the cosmos at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. A nice old lady walks up to the speaker, a prominent astronomer, and asks, “Did you say that our sun will burn out in a billion years, extinguishing all life on Earth?”

The astronomer responds, “Yes, about a billion years.”

She says, “Oh, I’m so relieved! I thought you said a million years.”

An Existentialist would remind us that yes, indeed, sooner or later, the entire human species will be extinct. All memory of us, indeed all trace of our existence and our accomplishments, our successes and failures, will have turned to dust. So why bother? Why not end it all right now?

Such an Existentialist would not make a particularly inspiring rowing coach, or so it seems to me. But rowing is indeed pretty absurd, Sisyphian even, all that endless repetition, and never more absurd than during the winter on an ergometer, all that activity and going nowhere.

But look at this rendering of Sisyphus by Titian [sadly missing from this archive].

The man is ripped! All that pushing the rock up the hill has given him godlike strength! I wonder what kind of split times he could hold for 6k?

The famous 20th Century French Existentialist Albert Camus wrote an essay about Sisyphus, Le Mythe de Sisyphe. Camus considered him the ultimate Existential Hero. He imagined Sisyphus embracing his fate, and that very act gave meaning, even nobility, to his existence. Camus ended his short book with lines which have now become famous.

"La lutte elle-même vers les sommets suffit à remplir un coeur d'homme. Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux."
“The struggle itself to the summit is sufficient to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

I have a number of Existential Heroes on my LMU Team. At the 1,000 meter mark in San Diego they can think to themselves, “I have accepted the challenge! I have embraced the absurdity of working hard during vacation, my precious vacation, for Heaven’s sake, working hard all by myself with nobody watching, all alone in this world, because the effort ennobles me. I am a stronger rower and a better person for it. It gives me an inner glow that doesn’t fade. I may gather inspiration from my coach or from my teammates or from my own ambition or whatever, but I know that I have done my very best to prepare myself for this particular moment in my life. I am proud to be here in a boat as a full contributor to a true team effort. Go Lions!”

I got a text yesterday from another member of my team. It read: “I’m trying my best! It’s not every day that an opportunity like this is presented, so I’m not going to let it go to waste.”

Il faut imaginer Pierre heureux.