Winning on the water-a book review of Boys in the Boat

The 2020 Olympics are postponed. But the 1936 games in Berlin Germany are historic for a different reason. And it involves the often ignored sport of rowing.

Why do we like books and movies about sports? Have you noticed how many sports stories there are? (This post offers multiple affiliate links to sites that offer a commission to this blog for purchases made there.)

Some sport stories are about fictional characters and situations-

  • Rocky
  • Field of Dreams
  • Bleachers
  • Friday Night Lights
  • Million Dollar Baby

But the ones that most catch our attention and our hearts are those about real people.

  • Seabiscuit
  • Chariots of Fire
  • A League of Their Own
  • The Blind Side

Rowing- athletes in a boat

Most of us know something about the big sports, like football, basketball, and baseball. We probably know less about horse racing, boxing, track, and ice skating. But rowing , rarely if ever on the sports pages or television broadcasts, isn’t one most of us know at all.


The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.

In Boys in the Boat the United States Olympic Rowing team of 1936 beat incredible odds to win the gold medal. But the meat of the book reviews in detail how each man came to be in that boat, especially Joe Rantz. Based on interviews of him by the author, we learn Joe’s painful early family life, struggle to pay for college, and the grueling physical challenges of preparing for competitive rowing.

At that time the sport of rowing was dominated by the sons of wealthy families and the Ivy League colleges they attended. By contrast, the University of Washington athletes who made up the 1936 Olympic rowing team came from working class families and had to work their way through college. That they did so in the midst of a depression makes their achievement even more remarkable.

You may be surprised to learn how much the sport of rowing physically and mentally challenges the human body. To be competitive, the crew’s eight rowers must work synchronously as the leader, known as the coxswain, calls out commands to set a pace that is fast enough to win but sustainable for the length of the race.

Nazi Germany’s Olympic games

Interspersed in the boys’ stories, Daniel Brown outlines the events unfolding in Germany, as Hitler and the Nazi party rose to power. As part of their plan to dominate Europe and eventually the world, they plan to make the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin a showcase of German wealth, knowledge, power, and athletic ability. Specifically, Hitler hoped the German rowing team would beat England and Italy, the teams historically likely to win. The story of his reaction to an American team that not only challenged but upset the status quo completes a book worth reading.

My reaction to Boys in the Boat

From reading this book, I gained an appreciation for this sport that I previously knew nothing about. My husband and I listened to the audio book while on a 12 hour car trip and it kept us interested and entertained. We were inspired by a story where perseverance, courage, loyalty, and commitment were celebrated and rewarded.


This story proves history lessons aren’t dull, boring, or outdated, but can offer us information and inspiration to help us explore the HEART of health

the BOYS OF ’36 documentary

A PBS video documentary The BOYS OF ’36 is available on Amazon Video, free with Prime or available to rent.

Your comments welcome

If you read the book or watch the video, please contact me with your thoughts. I might use your comments in an update.

Thanks for visiting Watercress Words; I’d love for you to follow-use this form to get email alerts when I post something new. about the HEART of health.

                              Dr. Aletha 

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Called on account of COVID-19-the sports we won’t be watching this year

“Olympic competition has been canceled only three times in the 124-year history of the modern Games, and all three instances were because of global conflict (1916, World War I; 1940 and 1944, World War II)

Were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic, we would soon be watching the 2020 Summer Olympic games on television or, for some of you, in person.

Dr. Aletha took the photos in this post at the United States Olympic Training Center at Colorado Springs, Colorado in 2015.

By now you know that the the International Olympic Committee and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe jointly announced the postponement of the 2020 Olympics . Now the games are scheduled to take place from July 23 to August 8, 2021. The Paralympic Games will occur from August 24 to September 5 ,2021.

“Olympic competition has been canceled only three times in the 124-year history of the modern Games, and all three instances were because of global conflict (1916, World War I; 1940 and 1944, World War II). But never before has a Games been pushed back a year, an enormous undertaking for a global event with more than 11,000 athletes from around the globe. “

espn.com

And in other sports..

Major league baseball started its shortened season late. Basketball players are practicing in a “bubble” at Walt Disney Resort (where despite quarantine several players have tested positive for COVID-19). The NFL introduced a “mouth shield” for possible use to protect players from infection. Pro soccer teams are playing to empty stadiums where the referees can hear every critical word the players and coaches mutter. No fans are following pro golfers around the greens.

I follow my local pro and amateur sports teams, although there will likely be fewer of those to watch this year also. I admire athletes’ dedication to their sports, and especially those who achieve special recognition by overcoming great odds to get there. 

Water wait 

Reading a recent issue of Sports Illustrated (a rare occurrence) I discovered open-water swimming which I didn’t know was a sport, much less in the Olympics. Ashley Twichell could swim before she could walk.

For thirteen years she has worked to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic swim team and at 31 years old, she would have been the team’s oldest rookie Olympic swimmer  since 1908 , if this summer’s games had not been cancelled.  And next year, at 32, she will be the second oldest woman to ever swim on the U.S. Olympic team.

“I’ve always taken it year by year. And now I get even one more year than I was planning on.”

Ashley Twichell, swimmer

Standard of caring

Hayley Wickenheiser, retired ice hockey player, earned seven world championship golds.   She played for Canada in five Olympics. She won four Gold medals and one Silver medal. She was admitted to the Hockey Hall of Fame. She even played on a Finnish men’s hockey team. She deserves the unofficial title of history’s greatest female hockey player.

Haley sees the coronavirus pandemic from a different perspective; she will soon be Dr. Wickenheiser upon finishing her final year of medical school. She plans to practice emergency medicine.

Hayley serves on the IOC (International Olympic Committee) Athletes’ Commission, a peer-elected board that advises the Olympics’ governing body. In March 2020, she became increasingly concerned about the fate of this year’s Olympic games  as the world became engulfed in the COVID-19 nightmare.

So she took to Twitter demanding the IOC make a definitive plan to give direction to the thousands of athletes in limbo about the games. Her tweets prompted other organizations to make similar demands and by late March the games had been officially cancelled. 

Her concern came not just as an athlete. She said, 

“I couldn’t sit silently anymore, given  what I was seeing in the emergency rooms and hearing from my friends in hospitals across the country.” 

As a student she is not expected or allowed to provide direct care to coronavirus patients. But she stays busy studying, working out, giving hockey tips through Instagram, and using Twitter to encourage social distancing. 

“The calmer we stay, the more we isolate from each other…if we do our part at home and on the front lines, we have a chance to combat this as a mass group of humanity.” 

With Dr. Hayley and her generation of future physicians, I think the world’s health is in good hands.

TOKYO 2020

Fifty-seven years* after having organised the Olympic Games, the Japanese capital will be hosting a Summer edition for the second time. The Games in 1964 radically transformed the country. According to the organizers of the event in 2021, the Games of the XXXII Olympiad of the modern era will be

“the most innovative ever organised, and will rest on three fundamental principles to transform the world:

  • striving for your personal best (achieving your personal best);
  • accepting one another (unity in diversity); and
  • passing on a legacy for the future (connecting to tomorrow)”.
and while you’re here read this post about another historic Olympic event
one more thing

If the title of this post puzzles you, here is an explanation of “called on account of rain”-I didn’t know all of this either.

exploring the HEART of athletes

Thanks for joining me to meet these athletes. I hope you will explore them further and gain new inspiration for your own athletic journeys; we all have one, in one way or another.

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

                              Dr. Aletha 

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