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Peter Mallory's Blog


By pmallory - Posted on 22 June 2012

9 April 2011

[Sorry. This newsletter is appearing a bit out of chronological order.]

What does every rower want? Don’t believe them unless they tell you they want to go faster. Faster than they went yesterday. Faster than the boat beside them. The eternal question is how does one do that?

I began asking myself that more than half a century ago. Actually, that’s not quite right. I began asking other people, for it never occurred to me that the answer might lie within me.

I thought I was seriously looking for the answer when I was an athlete, but I had no idea. It was only when I became a coach that I became truly desperate. People were looking to me to guide them, and I just couldn’t let them down.

I looked for the answer in boats and oars. I looked for the answer in rigging. I looked for the answer in training. To be sure, all of those added pieces to the puzzle, but none of them held the secret I was searching for. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I really wanted to learn was how to move boats. Now I know it’s a special skill that can be taught. Back then it never occurred to me that it wasn’t just about pulling hard.

Patterns. A lot of things never occurred to me. As I look back on my life, I hear myself repeating over and over, “If only . . . ”

What do I regret? It’s true it would have been nice to have been born a better athlete, a little taller, a little thinner . . . or a lot taller and a lot thicker! But you know, you are what you are. No, I’m not particularly sorry I was only a pretty good athlete. It’s not the cards you are dealt. It’s how you play them.

What I regret is that I wasn’t more open-minded sooner. Like many rowers, I took what I was taught at face value and didn’t question it. When I fell short, I assumed it was because I wasn’t doing it well enough, so I simply redoubled my efforts.

And I assumed that the great rowers I saw around me did the same. I was wrong. Sure they had the same hopes and fears, but looking back, I never noticed that many of the greats in our sport were more curious than I was. So many of those who stand out in rowing history were not followers. They blazed their own paths. It took me half a lifetime to try to do that for myself.

In rowing you don’t have to be a leader, but you can’t be just a follower. You have to imagine a better way and imagine yourself doing it. I learned that through history, my history . . . and more importantly, through rowing history.

When you look at the full sweep of two hundred years of rowing history, suddenly you see patterns, patterns that are invisible when you look at just one country or just one decade or just one event. There exist patterns that transcend rowing versus sculling, East versus West, working class versus landed gentry, big boat versus small boat, lightweight versus heavyweight, women versus men, even yesterday versus today.

I know lots of you will pick up my book, start in the middle and read it in spurts, a triumph here, a tragedy there, but that way you’ll never get to see the patterns. You’ll read about a friend, or you’ll read about your country or you'll read about your coach . . . and then maybe you’ll pick it up again a month later and read about another friend or another country or another coach. Don’t get me wrong. You’ll have terrific fun. The stories are awesome.

But then years from now, who knows? Maybe you’ll return to all four volumes and finally see the patterns you missed the first time around, the patterns that would have provided you with all the answers we have all been looking for all our lives, namely the best way to move boats.

Maybe then you’ll have your own “if only” moment because it’s all there . . . in the book, in the patterns.