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By pmallory - Posted on 01 February 2011

24 January 2011

Writing this book has been a journey of discovery. A surprise around every bend in the river. Patterns where I least expected them.

One pattern that has struck me is that people’s initial willingness to talk to me seems to follow a bell curve.

I’ve talked to a number of guys who did their rowing in the 1940s and ‘50s. They were thrilled to talk to me, tickled pink that anybody remembered them. They were at a stage in their lives when they were looking back, taking stock. They were ready to see their rowing exploits as a part of the past, and they were comfortable with considering themselves in an historical perspective.

I’ve talked to a number of athletes who were currently competing on their National Team. For the most part they, too, were happy to talk, full of vinegar and self-confidence. Rowing was their present life, and they were happy to share it with a fellow enthusiast, proud to be noticed.

These two groups form the two extremes of my bell curve. The people in the middle, those who rowed perhaps in the late 1960s or the ‘70s or ‘80s or ‘90s, they were in the midst of their careers, their families, their lives. For many of them, rowing was something they did in their youth, but now they were doing other things. They had not yet taken the time to reflect on their rowing careers as history. It was uncomfortable for them to imagine themselves in a book! They had not yet entirely come to grips with the face they saw in the mirror each morning being different from the face they saw when they closed their eyes and remembered their rowing days.

Some would ask me, “Why do you care? That was in the past!” and so it might take months or even years to win their trust, that I had no ulterior motives, that i respected them, that what they did was indeed of great interest to the rowers of today.

Interestingly, for those whose rowing careers end with a defeat instead of a victory, the disappointment never seems to go away. Athletes who failed to win at the 1952 Olympics seem to still experience the pain as acutely as those who failed to win in 2008. A few years ago, Rod Johnson, member of the 1948 University of Washington Varsity that lost the 1948 Olympic Trials by two feet, told me, “A day does not go by, Peter, when I don’t wake up and say to myself, ‘I could have been an Olympian!’” He took that sadness to his grave a few months ago.