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The Art of Trying


Practicing the art of trying with an 8-year comeback at the Olympic Trials.

The time is 6:39 p.m. at the Olympic Rowing Center at Lake Mercer, New Jersey. The first race of the National Selection Regatta for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Rowing Team will start in about a minute. Rowers race backwards, so my partner, Andy Baxter, and I cannot see the finish line as we prepare to start the race. The sun is setting directly in our faces, so we can barely see anything. We’d hoped the wind would die by evening, but a crosswind is threatening to blow us out of our lane. So instead of sitting still, emptying my mind, and concentrating on my breath before the green light flashes and the starting buzzer sounds, I’m rowing with short strokes to keep the bow of our shell pointed into the wind as I think about how we should have shipped our own boat from Ashland, Oregon. I think that we should have left the rudder on this boat. A rudder slows the boat with every course correction, so we’re faster without it. But this is a borrowed boat and the crosswind is tricky — 32 years of rowing and I still make such stupid mistakes. And mostly I’m thinking that I’m thinking too much. The voice of t …

Stephen Kiesling is a former Olympic rower, cocreator of the Nike Cross Training System, and editor at large of Spirituality & Health. A 35th anniversary edition of The Shell Game: Reflections on Rowing and the Pursuit of Excellence has just been published.

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