Achieving Olympic gold, from out of the dust

Are you struggling against some big odds in your CA(SA) journey?  Financial struggles, academic challenges, parental expectations, health issues or sometimes just a feeling of being alone?

I read an inspiring book this past week that I want to share with you.  The Boys in the Boats tells the story of Joe Rantz, an Olympic gold medal winner, who also faced many struggles in his life.  His mother died before he was 10 and then his step-mother no longer wanted him around when he was 15.  His family abandoned their house to try and find a better life in Seattle and he was left behind to fend for himself.  He studied, hustled to provide for himself and one day, whilst still at high school, was invited to try out for the University of Washington rowing team.  The rest is in the book!

It tells how a team of young men, similar to Joe, managed to persevere and ultimately win Olympic gold in 1936 – whilst still at university.  If you want to watch some footage of that 1936 Olympic final, click here.

This is a fantastic book, full of interesting history and insights.  Here are my thoughts for all CA(SA) students:

  1. The value of deep practice. It is estimated that in his four years of University rowing, Joe rowed 4,344 miles in practice.  Guess the total distance he raced over that time?  28 miles and he never lost a single race.  That blows my mind.  The key to success is not found on the day of the race, it’s the hours of unseen practice that are key.  When you complete your tutorials under exam conditions, there will be no one waiting to cheer you on, but those are the moments that make all the difference.
  2. The concept of swing. This is the moment when all the rowers are perfectly in sync, their oars enter and exit the water at the same time.  They are putting in huge effort and it feels like they are taking off.  It is easy to lose swing because if you think too much about it, you lose concentration and you move out of alignment.  Have you ever felt swing in your studies?  You trust the process, are working hard and you are starting to reach deeper levels of understanding.  On the other side of the challenges, awaits this magical state – keep going!
  3. The value of history. We all have a large bias towards valuing the new and neglecting the past.  Do you find yourself only listening to the latest podcasts or reading the latest articles?  To what extent do you look through the archives?  We all tend to over value the new and neglect the past.  There is much that gets lost with this approach.  Be a student of history.  Read the classics.  Don’t just read Warren Buffett, read his lecturer Ben Graham’s book Intelligent Investor as well.  In The Boys in the Boat I learnt about the economic depression the USA experienced in the 1930s.  It took decades, and a world war, but they showed that it is possible to alleviate poverty on a large scale.

You, and the challenges you are currently facing, are unique but there is much encouragement from The Boys in the Boat.  When I finished reading it, I felt richer for having journeyed with this extraordinary rowing team – I trust that you will have the same experience.  The CA(SA) journey may be tough, but it is worth it!

Paul Maughan

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