Meet Everett’s Boy in the Boat

If you’re like me, you accepted the challenge of reading this year’s Everett Reads! selection, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. If you’re like me, you became emotionally involved in the story that unfolded during a bleak time in our country’s history. And, if you’re like me, you were surprised to discover that learning about this sport was both exciting and refreshing.

Since we’re so alike, you will be thrilled to read about another boy in the boat. Clinton Seal, teacher at Olivia Park Elementary, heard we were going to ask the community to read a book about his favorite sport. Clinton generously contributed his own memorabilia to be displayed at the Evergreen Branch Library, where his friend Margaret works.

Clinton Seal display

Clinton was kind enough to let me ask him a boatload of questions about rowing and how reading The Boys in the Boat brought him back to the sport he loved after a short hiatus. Everett, meet Clinton Seal.

When did you start rowing?
I started rowing back in the spring of 2001 at Everett Community College. I did track and field at Cascade High School (I was a graduate of the class of 2000) and always thought rowing would be a great sport to try, but both sports overlapped so I never had the chance to row. At the time, there wasn’t a Track and Field team at EvCC, so I joined the crew team. After I graduated, I joined the Everett Rowing Association’s adult masters team and rowed with them for another 8 years before I took a break from rowing in 2011.

What got you into rowing in the first place?
I was walking around the campus at EvCC one spring day and saw a sign on one of the doors that said “We need you on EvCC Crew!” I really wanted to give it a try and had high school friends who rowed, so I thought I’d join the crew team. It was a very small team, and wasn’t even considered a sports team; we were a club. In fact, we didn’t have our own boats or our own boat house. All we had were our own set of 8 oars, which we bought through some fundraising and local car washes. EvCC rented boats from the local Everett Rowing Association located on the Snohomish River and Langus Riverfront Park.

I rowed with the college for two years. I was able to compete in local regattas at Seattle’s Green Lake and Tacoma’s American Lake, as well as Lake Stevens. We also traveled to Dexter Lake near Eugene, Oregon, and I was able to travel to the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships in Sacramento, CA on Lake Natoma while I rowed at EvCC. We won a few races, but rowing with EvCC crew wasn’t about winning, it was more about the camaraderie and friendships made while belonging to the same team and working towards the same goals.

After I graduated from EvCC in the spring of 2002, I still wanted to row so I joined the Everett Rowing Association’s Master’s crew team. This adult team ranges in ages 21 and above. I rowed with ERA masters for another 8 years, rowing in local and regional regattas, traveling to Boston for the Head of the Charles Regatta, and the highlight of my time with ERA, winning 2 gold medals at the 2006 US Rowing Master’s National Championships at Seattle’s Green Lake. Our mens 8+ won both the Club 8+ and A 8+ races that year.

What seat did you have, and with whom did you row?
The EvCC team was a pretty small team. I think at the most we had about 10 rowers. We were lucky to get out in an 8+ on those foggy spring mornings. Mostly we were in 4+s.

When sweep rowing, I’m a starboard, so I usually rowed seat 7 if I was in an 8+ and seat 3 if I was in a 4+.  As I continued on with my rowing career with the ERA masters, most of the time I was in the bow. I’m a skinny guy and have decent technique, so my coaches put me in the bow (seat 1) of our mens 4+ and our mens 8+. You want a lighter rower to be in the bow so it can sit up and slice through the water.

Did it change over time, like it did for Joe Rantz?
I’ve seen a few changes in rowing over the years. The boats I rowed in at the college were nice, but heavy. As the years went by, Everett Rowing Association got some amazingly light and beautiful Pocock racing shells. With their carbon fiber winged riggers, they were modern and fast! As I continued in crew I also picked up sculling. I rowed sweep probably 4 years before I was introduced to sculling with 2 oars. It’s a completely different style and feeling, but I really do enjoy it..

How did you hear about The Boys in the Boat?
I’ve known about The Boys in the Boat for years. I’ve seen its cover on rowing websites, heard fellow rowers talking about it, and recently, my mom read the book last year for her book club. She shared with me a little bit about it and how she thought I would love it and how inspiring it was. To be honest, I don’t do very much reading at all. I’m so active and usually riding my bike in my spare time, that I can’t honestly remember, beside the Bible, what the last entire book I read was. Then, last year, a wonderful family friend, Margaret Remick, gave me a copy of the book and I knew that I needed to finally sit down and read it. The first day I opened the pages last July, I sat in my back yard reading for 7 hours straight! That’s a record for me…I’ve never been so passionate about reading a book as I was “The Boys in the Boat.”

When you read The Boys in the Boat what particularly inspired you to get back into rowing?
Being able to go on this trip with Joe and the rest of those Husky rowers and hear their stories helped me relive my own career as a rower. As they suffered through the pain, the weather, and the mental battle that you face in a rowing race, I instantly thought back to all of my rowing experiences over the last decade, and it reminded me how proud I was of those experiences and the people I shared them with. Some of the best moments of my life were spent in a racing shell. Some of my fondest memories of accomplishment were when I was up on a podium with my crew, accepting our medals.

I really appreciated Mr. Brown’s attention to the art and technique of rowing. It’s such a unique sport, incorporating, strength, skill and artistry; there’s nothing like gliding over water and feeling that connection with your oars and then the run of the boat beneath you. The Boys in the Boat reminded me how special rowing is. It’s hard to describe what it feels like when you and your crew row as one, if you’re describing it to someone who doesn’t row. For those of us who have, it’s a feeling that fills you with wonder and makes you want it even more.  Through Joe’s story and his crewmates’, I remembered what that feeling was like and it inspired me to want it again by returning to crew.

What was your favorite part of the book?
I loved the whole book, especially the history of the era and Seattle at the time, the information about each rower’s family, but I really enjoyed seeing how the Huskies were able to pull through to win the gold medal in Berlin.  A rowing race isn’t over until you cross the finish line. There’s so much that can happen from the time that you start, settle, and then begin your sprint to the finish.  Just because another crew is ahead of you doesn’t mean that they are going to win. Joe’s crew showed how through incredible determination, strength, and focus, sometimes even the improbable can be possible.

Who in the book did you best identify with?
I identified best with Joe. I didn’t have his upbringing, but I felt that I could relate to his spirit of hard work, dedication, and persistence. Whether it was high school track and field, rowing, or cyclocross, I never have felt that any of the sports or activities I’ve chosen to do ever came easily to me. I really could identify with Joe in that I’ve had to work hard to make my reality what I wanted it to be. There’s been periods in my athletic career where I wasn’t the fastest or strongest athlete or the one with the best technique, but after years of dedication and persistence I was able to make my way to the top.

Are you currently rowing?
Yes, I just started back rowing with the Everett Rowing Association this February.

What seat do you have, and with whom do you row?
Now that I’m back at crew with ERA, I row in all sorts of seats. We do a lot of sculling, so the seat numbers don’t relate to starboard or port sides because you have two oars. We’ve done a lot of sculling in a quad and I alternate being in the stern and in the bow.

While rowing with the Everett Community College, my coach was Holly Odell. When I joined the Everett Rowing Association, I was coached by Matt Lacey, Ben Tweedy, Corrie McGrath, Carol Stern, and now recently, Scott Holmgren.

My 2006 National’s Mens A 8+ and Club 8+ crew were (from stern to bow): Al Erickson, Colin McKenna, Adam Van Winkle, Ben Tweedy, Alex Mazick, Aaron, Haack, Dan Morken, myself, and coxswain Michael Welly.

What’s your favorite part about rowing?
I think the best part of rowing is that it is the ultimate team sport. When you are rowing with your pair partner or your whole crew, you have to do everything in unison; your technique needs to be in sync and you need to even think the same way. I really enjoy working together with other people to make a goal possible. While rowing with your crew, you can push yourself to achieve goals you might not be able to push yourself to achieve. Knowing someone is counting on you makes a big difference; you never want to let them down.

Have you ever rowed in the same areas as The Boys?
Yes, I’ve rowed many regattas on Lake Washington and Lake Union. I always feel a sense of pride rowing down on those waters. There’s so much history and prestige associated with that area. It’s special to row through the cut and know all of the crews who have rowed through there over the years.

If you could give a piece of advice to anyone curious about taking up rowing, what would it be?
My advice would be to keep at it even if it’s physically and mentally challenging. There are so many aspects of rowing that even after years in the sport, there’s always more you can learn, more endurance you can gain, and better strokes you can take. It took me years of rowing until I finally got together with a crew of 8 guys to win a National Championship. Not everyone will go to Nationals, but whatever goal you have, whatever race you want to compete in, keep your eye on that goal. It may take a while to achieve, but rowing is a sport that takes total commitment.

What keeps you motivated when you are working so hard out on the water?
If I’m rowing in a single shell, I only have myself to think about: my own technique and my own power application. It will be my fault if I don’t do what I’m capable of and my own celebration if I achieve my goal with a win. But when you row in any other boat, you have your pair partner or your crew to think about. Knowing that other people are counting on me to help the boat go fast is what motivates me to work hard. I never want to let my crew down.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Thank you for your interest. I’m just so honored to have this opportunity to share some of my experience about rowing with the community. I never rowed for the UW, Cornell, Harvard, or any prestigious college back east. I’m just a local guy who happened to find a crew club at Everett Community College which led to me joining ERA, learning more about this amazing sport, and taking it to the National level.

Nationals2006

Thanks, Clinton, for taking the time to answer my multitude of questions, and for letting me feature you on the blog! As for me, I’m still an armchair rower (that’s like an armchair traveler, right?) but I do enjoy taking the kayak out occasionally. What kind of commitment can I make? How about saying I’ll see you all on Silver Lake, though don’t be upset if it’s just me waving at you from Emory’s.

Everett Reads! 2015

everettreads

February means only one thing here at the Everett Public Library: It’s time for Everett Reads! At this time of year we encourage all of Everett to read a single book, discuss it, and come meet the author. This year we are very excited to be talking about the book The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.

boysintheboatThe Boys in the Boat is an inspiring story of a most remarkable band of brothers who upstaged Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympics. It is a tale of nine working class boys from our area who stormed the rowing world, transforming the sport and galvanizing the attention of millions of Americans.

A sentence or two doesn’t do the book justice, however. To go more in-depth, definitely check out Carol’s excellent review: When History Splashes off the Page. Don’t feel like reading a review you say? Well then listen to the Lone Reader’s excellent podcast review.

Whatever you do, don’t miss out on meeting Daniel James Brown when he comes to the Everett Performing Arts Center on Friday, February 13, starting at 7 pm.

But wait, there’s more. You will also have two great opportunities to discuss the book with fellow readers. The Southside Book Club will be having a book discussion on Tuesday, February 17 at the Evergreen Library and the folks in our Northwest Room will be discussing the book on Wednesday, February 18.

everettrowingAnd last, but definitely not least, on Saturday, February 21 the Everett Rowing Association and special guest speaker Al Erickson will discuss the sport of rowing and its deep connections to the State of Washington and the events described in The Boys in the Boat.

So many events, so little time. Don’t miss out on the February fun and grab your copy of The Boys in the Boat today.

When History Splashes Off the Page

You may recall I gave myself a list of reading challenges for 2014. They are all self-imposed and they all just randomly fell out of my brain one day in a burst of madness inspiration. Whether this is the first you’re hearing of my reading resolutions or you just want to review, here is the list of my reading inspirations:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular (see below)
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

Up until now I thought of this list as only a clever way for me to have some ready-made books to blog about. However, I really didn’t expect anything mind-blowing to result. Then I decided to tackle number five, the super-popular designation. And guys, I finished reading this book three weeks ago. Three weeks ago. I have been unable to pick up another book since. This book broke me. I am stuck in a rut, afraid to pick up another book because it’s really not fair to that book to have to follow behind one so good as this one.

The boys in the boatUnless you’ve been living under a rock, or just not in the Pacific Northwest, everyone has been buzzing about The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. The library first bought the book last June and I don’t think we’ve ever been successful at keeping a single copy on the shelf. As of this writing there are still twenty-two outstanding holds across all formats. I was lucky enough to snag an eBook copy. Pro tip: if you need a popular book quickly, the holds queues for eBooks tend to be far shorter than physical print copies.

So there I was: sitting curled up on the couch, Saturday morning, fresh-brewed coffee in hand. This was back before that big summer heat wave hit Seattle. It was just me and the title screen on my Kindle. I had no idea what was about to happen, how truly involved in this story I would become. I ended up creating countless highlights in my eBook of passages I thought embodied a person, idea, or event. I didn’t count on how difficult it would be to retrieve said highlights later. So you’ll have to keep with me as I try to put into words how incredibly magnificent this book was, and still is.

Joe Rantz was born in Spokane in 1914. His childhood and early adulthood are detailed throughout the book, juxtaposed with great inventions of the time, and a healthy dose of local, federal, and world history. His father invented as a hobby, but it was never enough to pay the bills. When Joe was still quite young his mother died. His father, heartbroken and searching for work, moved all over the Northwest. Sometimes he took Joe; sometimes he left Joe behind; sometimes he shipped Joe out to a relative’s house. As a result, Joe had a severely unstable childhood but also became extremely self-reliant. Being left behind in a half-built house in the wilderness outside of Sequim, while your father packs up his new family and leaves for parts unknown will do that to you.

By the time he got to the University of Washington in 1933, Joe was always second-guessing his worth. Despite working hard, and during the Great Depression no less, to not only scrape together tuition money but also find a place to live, Joe never really saw his strengths. Joe was used to hard work, but he thought he would finally feel like he fit in with like-minded people in college. Instead his threadbare clothes and deep poverty made him feel like an outcast from the very start of his college career.

Eventually, Joe managed to work his way onto the UW crew team. Despite his aptitude, dedication, and stamina, he saw that his place on the team was not permanent and never guaranteed. Coaches swapped students around on different boats, trying to find the right combination of rowers. This boat-swapping, coupled with his childhood of abandonment put Joe constantly on edge, fearful that he would be let go from the team just when he was starting to feel at home. Knowing that staying on the crew team was his only chance to stay in college, and have a shot at a good future, Joe was constantly worried but always striving to be better.

Over his freshman and sophomore years, his boat had its ups and downs in competitions and teammate personality conflicts. But it wasn’t until his junior year that his teammates became as close as family. In 1932 UW’s west coast rowing rivals, UC “Cal” Berkeley, had won Olympic gold. Entering the 1935 rowing season, everyone at both UW and Cal knew that their coach would be pushing them to fight for the chance at the gold medal at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. And any team competing against Germany on their home turf during an oppressive time would, if they could win it…well, do I need to go on?

The Dust Bowl. Nazis. The Great Depression. Hitler’s rise to power. All of this is set against our group of farm boys, working hard on the waters of Lake Washington. This is a true underdog story, one made more inspirational because every word of it is true. Pay special attention to the quotes from George Yeoman Pocock at the start of each chapter. He handcrafted all the racing shells at UW during Joe’s tenure, and he was wise beyond his years. I would love to read more about him and his equally humble beginnings and incredible life.

I really did not think I would like The Boys in the Boat, but was curious how a book about rowing could become so popular. I told my dentist I was going to read this book. He, an avid fisherman and happiest, I suspect, when he’s on the open water, said that it was also on his list to read this summer. I feel like I did us both proud. Look at me, reading a book about sports! But it’s so much more than that. If you, too, decide to give it a chance, prepare to be swept away at forty-five strokes per minute. Now that I’ve written this review I hope it releases me from the spell cast by Daniel James Brown. I’m going to crack open a new book tonight and test my theory.

In case you’re wondering, and lest us always remember, the boys in the boat:
Left to right: Don Hume, Joe Rantz, George “Shorty” Hunt, Jim “Stub” McMillin, John “Johnny” White Jr., Gordon “Gordy” Adam, Chuck Day, Roger Morris. Kneeling: Bobby Moch

1936 UW Varsity Crew Team