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Boys in the Boat

Basia Skudrzyk

· resilience,teamwork,tenacity,leadership,growth

The "Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown tells the true story of the University of Washington's rowing team and their quest for gold at the 1936 Olympics. It is a compelling and inspiring tale of resilience, determination, and the power of teamwork that I recently learned about after reading the book and recently watching the movie over Spring Break.

The story of these dedicated and resilient men who had so much going against them is a friendly reminder that if you truly put your mind to it and find opportunities outside the societal norms, the unimaginable can truly happen. We may not win every race we participate in, and it's not just up to one athlete to make a win. It's a collective effort of people who may rowing the boat, making the boat, being supporters on the sideline, coaching, mentoring, or just being present and cheering on.


“If you simply kept your eyes open, it seemed, you just might find something valuable in the most unlikely of places. The trick was to recognize a good thing when you saw it, no matter how odd or worthless it might at first appear, no matter who else might just walk away and leave it behind.”



This true story gave me pause to reflect and be thankful for all the people in my life who have allowed me to get to where I am today. Rules were changed in the middle of a competition; hardships were presented for many of the athletes and coaches on the team, yet they found a way and did not give up. Everything that is stacked against you can take a back seat.


“When the critical moment in a close race was upon you, you had to know something he did not - that down in your core you still had something in reserve, something you had not yet shown, something that once revealed would make him doubt himself, make him falter just when it counted the most. Like so much in life, crew was partly about confidence, partly about knowing your own heart.”


Reflecting upon these inspirational stories that occurred during WW2 in Berlin, some key valuable takeaways can certainly be applied to our professional and personal lives focused on teamwork, leadership, and strategic planning.


  1. Shared Vision: A great team must share a vision. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to inspire your team to work together toward a common goal, regardless of the challenges ahead.
  2. Empowerment and Adaptability: Empower your team with the courage to change strategy when needed. The Boys in the Boat learned this firsthand on their journey to the Olympics. They brought their community together to help raise funds to travel when they found out funding was not available despite winning. Their community came through.
  3. Teamwork Over Individual Abilities: It’s not the abilities of individual members that count but how the team works together. Focus on collaboration and synergy and bringing multi-disciplines together.
  4. Overcoming Obstacles Bonds Teams: Teams that overcome obstacles together build strong bonds. Adversity can strengthen team cohesion and resilience; as well as personal character.
  5. Focus and Self-Discipline: Hard work and self-discipline are essential in a sport like rowing. The racing shell becomes a sensitive thing, and when let go free, it works for you. It's important to stay focused on the task at hand.
  6. Character Matters: Character is more important than skill. Uphold integrity, trust, and respect within your team. Be the role model you would like to see in a leader and always follow through - this builds trust.
  7. Pulling Together: Just as rowers pull together in unison, encourage your team members to contribute equally and pull their own weight.

These takeaways do not only apply to rowing, but to various areas in life - both professionally and personally. Whether you are part of a team, managing a project, or working towards accomplishing a new goal, the achievement and tenacity that shines through the athletes and leaders in this empowering story can truly guide you and inspire you to continue to work toward collaborative greatness.


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The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics