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The Next Stroke

“Every stroke well rowed means a better stroke next time, and so a better chance of winning the race. Every stroke well rowed is felt by all the crew and gives them confidence, and they consequently row their next stroke better; and every careless stroke rolls the boat and puts a nervousness through the crew. So Victory or Defeat depend on the next stroke.” – Steve Fairbairn

I underlined the above quote in a book back the early 1990’s when I was coaching crew. The quote was almost certainly referenced in some practice session to remind individuals about the essential power of swing in a boat. To focus on the next stroke was all that mattered. The one after that would take care of itself, and so on. Victory or defeat depended on the next stroke. One after another, until you’ve finished the race.

The rowing began in earnest yesterday. The goal is 100K in November, with only 5K completed. But this is achievable with a mix of 5K and 10K rows over the next twenty days. And then a bigger goal in December. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One day at a time.

This is my sweet spot: consistent steady state rowing over a defined period of time. I loved being on the water, and yet I row in my basement on an erg purchased over twenty years ago. I haven’t rowed in a rowing shell on the water in all that time, and yet I row still. And each stroke is a lesson.

The erg is different from the boat in countless ways, but the essence of the rowing stroke remains the same. There’s a rhythm and fluidity to the rowing stroke that translates as well to the flywheel as it does to the check in a boat moving across water. Mastering each stroke is all that matters in rowing. You might build strategy into the race or the piece you’re rowing; start fast, drop to a pace you can maintain, pick it up with 500 to go and sprint for the last 20 strokes, but strategy falls on its face if you don’t master this stroke and the one after.

This approach to rowing, mastering the next stroke, certainly applies to the rest of life too. Master the next call when selling, the next sentence when writing, the next step when hiking, the next stride when running. It’s all the same; consistent focus on mastering the moment at hand. The rest will take care of itself. From now until we finish the race.

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