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How Champions Rise To The Top



Any time you see THE BIG GAME, or any competition that awards a first and second prize, you’re seeing a finished product.

No one steps into the sports arena and dominates from the beginning. There is always an apprenticeship before becoming journeyman, or master, of it.

You’ve seen Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps. They were gifted kids who moved to the top quickly. But they didn’t start there.

Though different sports, both Tiger and Mike had one thing in common. Was it their burning desire to win? Their hours of practice? Their natural ability?

No. None of that. It’s something more important.

Tiger’s dad and Mike’s mom are the reason they got started early and didn’t stop. Parents at every stage of development can make or break their kids’ dreams. It’s a delicate balance.

Let’s focus on making dreams come true here. Compare the sports of wrestling and rowing. The athlete on an eight man boat pulls his oars while looking at the neck of the rower in front of them. Not for everyone, but when you break it down a little more, it is.

Like wrestling, rowers also have a singles race one on one.

Like wrestling, rowing uses all phases of conditioning and funnel it into competition. Also like wrestling, you don’t get breaks after each play. There’s no halftime in rowing. You start at the line, go on the horn, and don’t stop.

The winner isn’t the toughest, just the toughest for the longest time. It’s a concept all athletes share: go harder longer than the others and you win.

Rowing, unlike wrestling, isn’t a ‘backyard’ sport. No one drags a boat onto the lawn, jumps in, and starts pulling.

It’s not always a school sport, either. It’s a club sport where parents find the right boathouse, the right coaches, and most important, the right bunch of kids. If you’re going to carpool, and you will, you want good company.

Let’s say you introduce your kid to rowing. They know how to swim, but they’ve never rowed. What are the odds they’ll stick? Call it 50/50 when an out of shape rower starts from scratch.

The odds are better if they like the boats, the coaches, and the teammates. One year goes by and the kid improves, but they still might find another sport. Then the changes start happening.

Their times drop until they’re beating teammates who seemed unbeatable at the beginning. They get on a workout regime and lose weight until their muscles start peaking out. And they get a new coach, someone just off the Olympic Gold Medal 8.

Where are the parents? What are they doing? Not much, just cooking for the whole team so they don’t have to get by on sub-standard nutrition. Lentil-keenwa chili, humus, spaghetti, all home cooked on a traveling grill. No fast food bags and Ho-Hos for these rowers.

As the race times drop, the parents compare them with others at the same level. When the times start approaching college standards, the dream gets bigger. Their rower might be the first D-1 athlete in a family of NAIA studs.

Good rowers find more attention at each regatta. Club coaches and college coaches take notice. The parents are flattered but not infatuated. Instead of stage parents, they’re sports parents who support their athlete instead of jumping on the coattails for a ride to glory. They leave that to an uncle.

Once the groundwork is laid, once the odds of sticking with a sport moves toward 80/20, it all turns to the athlete. They have as many questions and doubts as anyone else, but winning and setting personal records keeps all calm.

When the rower sees other rewards the sport has to offer, and works even harder to get them, call the odds of sticking 90/10.

If the words, “I want other rowers to know my name,” comes out of their mouth, it means you’ve got a gamer. If they see the swag other rowers got at nationals and say, “I want some of that,” just stand back and watch the show.

Something cool is happening when strangers walk by and say hello with your name.

What do you tell other rowers and their parents when they ask, “What does your rower eat before races,” and they’re taking notes?

Keep the chili hot and the cheering set to high because once an athlete realizes they have more potential than expected, and they don’t skate on their sport’s required conditioning, the race is on and they’re headed for clear water.

Find clear water in Oregon here.

About David Gillaspie
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