“The Boys and Girls in Our Boats”
Over the past couple of years many of you have approached me and asked if I have read The Boys in the Boat. This book has captivated so many people for its stirring portrayal of the true story of working class young men who took successfully took on the traditional and privileged powerhouses of the sport of rowing before going for gold against a powerful German team in their home country at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The story of American grit and determination certainly showcases the unique characteristics of the sport that plays out in quiet fashion on our own Oklahoma River every day.
By the time you have read this, the men and women of the Oklahoma City University Rowing team will have ventured to the most traditional of all sporting events, the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship in Princeton, New Jersey for the second year in a row. For a rowing program that began along the banks of the North Canadian River at Lake Overholser in a rundown, converted baithouse at the beginning of this century, it is quite overwhelming to line up on the water along side crews representing storied programs that started well before the start of the last century. While it was certainly a program milestone to qualify for this event, the athletes in those blue OCU racing shells are ready to compete and help validate this ongoing rowing renaissance in a place many thought would be the last place to become a new hub for the sport – where a rapid infusion of new traditions and culture continues right here in downtown OKC.
It has been 16 years since the Stars dipped their first oar in the water and since then, a similar story of teamwork, grit, and determination unfolded throughout downtown Oklahoma City. In what has taken generations in other places, OKC defined a place that has already become legendary in the sport of rowing and within the Olympic Movement. Iconic boathouses have risen, lives have been transformed, internal and external perceptions have changed, and a profound sense of civic pride has set in. Against all odds, OKC has found ourselves standing out among America’s greatest cities through an authentic and sustained conviction among so many or you to achieve greatness. What has been accomplished across Oklahoma City (and absolutely inside the Peake) is a modern validation of the power of hard work and determination that serves as an example for others – and a great lesson for the young generation in our community.
The fact that there is not such surprise in the crowd when the announcer at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association calls out Oklahoma City among Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cal, Washington, and others is demonstrative of the respect our city and associated Boathouse District programs have built within some of the most storied corners of American sport. Athletes pull their hearts out for millions of meters on our Oklahoma River to have a chance to successfully compete in one 2000 meter race. Our young tradition of high performance at the Oklahoma River continues to unfold from high school athletes achieving college scholarships, to the University of Central Oklahoma amazingly recently becoming national runners up at the NCAA Women’s Rowing Division II National Championship.
Just a few weeks from now, the United States will be represented by young men who proudly call Oklahoma City home and will compete in the lightweight four event at the Rio Olympics. These “boys in the boat” feel so strongly about their connection to OKC, that they insist on keeping a sticker on their boat that ensures their competition knows that not only do they represent the United States of America, but they also represent the people of Oklahoma City. These young men will be racing for a medal in an event that attracts very steep competition among the world’s powerhouse rowing programs. Perhaps that culture of grit and determination that is central to OKC’s ongoing renaissance will show itself on the waters of Rio.
Thirty years ago a group of lightweight national team athletes entered under the name “Oklahoma City Rowing Club” at the World Championship in Lucerne, Switzerland as a joke since it was the most far fetched place in America they could imagine being from associated with the sport of rowing. This summer the lightweight boys in the USA national team boat will take on the world and proudly come from Oklahoma City’s high performance center where the USRowing lightweight program is now based. How times have changed.