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Peter Mallory's Blog

By pmallory - Posted on 14 September 2015

30 April 2015

I had a dream last night. A bad one. Woke me right up. It was 1989, and my San Diego Rowing Club teammates and I were training for the Masters’ National Championships in the Over-35 Coxed-Fours event.

All of us had already been rowing for decades by then, and we trained mostly in singles so it was easy for me to coach the others as they rowed beside me.

But nobody was coaching me!

This was way before smart phone cameras. Camcorders were expensive and cumbersome. Super-8 movie cameras required sending film to be developed and using screens and projectors. The last time I had seen a film of myself rowing was probably way back in college, for Heaven’s sake! Dark Ages compared to today. Oh my!

Nevertheless, months into our 1989 preparations somebody actually filmed us in our four. Glenn got the first look. He comes up to me and says awkwardly something like, ‘Here’s the film, Peter.” I watched. We looked pretty good. We were pretty good . . . but there I was, skying my blade, not too much, just a teeny bit, but plain as the nose on your face. Glenn made light of it. No big deal. But he was surprised . . . coming from me of all people.

And that’s what I dreamed last night, seeing that film for the first time. Woke me right up. Why? Because I was the expert! I was everybody’s coach. How could I be making such a fundamental mistake?

How could I face my boatmates? Unmasked! Human like the rest of them!

So what was I doing wrong? On the recovery as I approached full reach my blade would go up and in instead of down and in. Why? I was getting a little additional stretch with my outside shoulder right before entry. I was lunging. It’s a common error. You see it all the time. And it may sound like just a little mistake, a stylistic trifle at best, but optimal boatspeed will never be attained with even a hint of a lunge. It checks the boat. It’s a boat killer.

Simple . . . as . . . that . . .

But in all those years since I had actually seen myself rowing, I must have sunk into a number of idiosyncrasies, this one included . . . and with nobody to point them out, I carried on unawares.

But that’s not why I am sharing this memory with you today. What hits me now, all these years later, is how I felt when I saw that film. I was so embarrassed, nay mortified, that I, the role model for all, was failing my teammates so badly. I have always known the value of optimal technique, but not for my sake. It was so that I could deliver my very best to my teammates!

And I wasn't doing that.

So from the moment I saw that film and for every single stroke that I took for the rest of that summer before Nationals, I never stopped focusing on the height of my hands and my outside shoulder and on the sequence of my body mechanics on the recovery. It became my obsession on the water. No way was I going to let my teammates down. Sure, I kept up and even redoubled my efforts in steady state on the erg and in my single, my intervals in the four, my weights, hills, jumpies, my stretching, my self-massage. But what’s the point of all that if you are failing your team and your teammates by needlessly slowing the boat down with poor technique?

I fixed it. I stopped lunging that summer. It just took determination and commitment and tens of thousands of repetitions. We won the Nationals, overtaking the leading boat with perhaps five strokes to go. Would we have won anyway had I not fixed that flaw? We’ll never know, will we . . . but I sure as Hell was not going to take that chance.

By the way, I got up this morning and did my regular workout on the erg. Here it is 26 years later, and I am still working on my hand and shoulder height and my body mechanics on the recovery.