I received a postcard in September 1979 – all the way from Bled, Yugoslavia. It was a beautiful commemorative postcard from the 1979 World Rowing Championships, held on Lake Bled. The postcard was from my good friend John Fletcher, who stroked the U.S. lightweight 8+ (they finished second to Spain by the width of a bowball). I pinned that postcard to a place of honor on my bedroom wall, where it stayed for five long years. (Inspiration can take so many forms.) In addition to the lightweight 8+, the usual flurry of events took place at those Worlds, including the pair with coxswain event. The U.S. entry was Fred and Mark Borchelt along with coxswain Chris Wells (back then the pair w/ coxswain was still an Olympic event and wildly popular among swarthy Baltic types and semi-closeted masochists). The U.S. crew qualified for the finals in fine form. If they could produce a similar effort in the finals, a medal was well within their capabilities.
Unfortunately at the starting line of finals, Fred Borchelt was jumpier than a twenty-nine year old virgin on her wedding night. Fred and Mark hacked their way through a terrible first 1500 meters, well out of medal contention.
What happened next? Suffice to say, one solitary race can change your life. Point of fact, one solitary 500 segment of a solitary race can change your life. It can change your life for the better or it can change your life for the worse. Not wanting to spoil the surprise, I'll leave it at this: the first chapter of Fred Borchelt's new book, Power 10: An Olympian Shares 10 Ways to Improve Your Rowing
, offers up an excellent treatise on how to overcome any of those devilish demons that might be lurking between your ears.
Eight, nine, 10. Eleven. Why 10 Commandments? Might 15 Commandments have been better in order to address the lure of less savory pursuits, both electronic and organic? Regardless, we are left with 10. And for author Fred Borchelt, it turns out that 10 is a nice round number when wanting to collect your hard-earned wisdom; wisdom garnered from 30-odd years of rowing, racing, coaching, teaching and raising a family. Suffice to say, in Power 10
, Fred has produced a book that captures it all, with clear-eyed grace, wit and competence.
Back in the day, Fred and his older brother Mark were known far and wide as the Heater Brothers. Stopping in the middle of a piece to partake in an angry shouting match was their bread and butter (such is the value of a lasting brotherly connection that they could survive as a team). But it turns out that there was more to Fred than a short fuse and powerful leg drive – his book proves that he is smart and clever and wonderfully capable of analyzing the complex of motions that go into creating a good rowing stroke. Basically, having taught high school physics for decades, in Power 10
Fred neatly decodes the mechanics of rowing. (This is exceptionally useful – so much so that I have already liberated his genius in the name of the People's Republic of Rowing and put it to use in my own coaching efforts. Thanks!)
I like the way Fred has blended his real life experiences with decades of mulling-and-meditation. His chapter on 'Teambuilding and Teambusting' was especially interesting to me. How a coach can corral eight ego-driven rowers into one boat and have them cooperated as one unit is certainly one of the most difficult challenges in rowing (it was damn near impossible to create a team when it was just my partner and me).
When Fred started his rowing career, women didn't compete in Olympic rowing. Boats were made of wood and oars had long, skinny blades (apparently back then Russian rowers were given an ax and sent into the forest to fashion their own oar). Fred points out that the principals of rowing are unchanged since those distant days; also unchanged is the immense challenge of getting to the finish line ahead of a worthy opponent. Likewise the beautiful spirit that infuses all of rowing lives on. These insights and more can be found in Power 10
You can purchase Power 10: An Olympian Shares 10 Ways to Improve Your Rowing here.