The Amateurs by David Halberstam
One Line Summary
Four Men’s Quest for Gold in the 1984 Olympics
Many of you may not know this, but I actually was a pretty serious rower growing up. The crew team was the largest and one of the most successful sports programs at my high school (Saint Augustine Prep), with several boats having won National Championships.
I tell you this because my four years on the crew team was extraordinary transformative. I had entered as a cocky freshmen, assuming I would wipe the floor with these kids. After all, that had been my experience in middle school.
Instead, I got my ass handed to me. Over and over and over again.
I didn’t have A CLUE coming in what it meant to compete athletically at a national level. But I quickly figured out it was going to take a lot more than “wishing”. “Wishing” didn’t get you in the gym 6 days a week. “Wishing” didn’t push for those final 500m in a 2k when you felt like your lungs would explode out your chest.
I learned discipline, humbleness and a reluctant love for the process of “day in, day out” work ethic.
During that time, The Amateurs had a huge effect on me. It’s a story of four rowers all shooting for the gold medal in 1984 Olympics. Each one fighting to represent the USA in the men’s single scull category https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67Jqvum3L2k.
This isn’t a book you’d find in the “self-help” isle of a book store, but I fail to see why someone couldn’t learn from it. Even if you’re not into crew, this book is entertaining, informative, and shows you the insane level of dedication necessary to compete at the Olympics.
Why it’s Awesome
The Amateurs follows the lives of four men: Christopher “Tiff” Wood, John Biglow, Brad Lewis and Joe Bouscaren. As Olympic rowers, there is little to no money in what they do. Although things have changed since 1984, at the time sponsors did not go for rowers. Rowing isn’t much of an “exciting” sport to watch if you’re not in it. It looks peaceful and calm, not hard hitting and flashy.
Much of the book details their financial struggles to maintain their dream. If you think it’s hard having a full time job, imagine having the workload of an Olympic athlete and needing to support yourself. Silicon Valley entrepreneur doesn’t seem so bad all of a sudden.
Tiff was the oldest of the three, but was also considered by most to be the favorite to win the coveted single scull spot for the USA team. He hailed from Harvard and seemed a natural choice for Harry Parker, the ex-Harvard rowing coach who took over the Olympic head coaching job.
Biglow comes from Yale. Slightly socially awkward, he made up for his poor social skills by dominating on the water.
Bouscaren was the smallest of the bunch. Former teammates with Biglow at Yale, he also was the underdog coming in.
Brad Lewis was the rebel. He never did well with coaches are preferred to row out West, which was sacrilege in a time when the East Coast dominated the sport.
The story is incredible, taking you all the way from their college days to the ending of the Olympics. I won’t spoil who wins, but suffice to say that’s it tough to not want all three of them to succeed. But of course, that’s not how life works.
I want to shove this book in the hands of every faux spiritual person out there who talks about “manifesting” their reality but then fails to do any real work. The men in this book were beyond committed; they were monomaniacal. But there could only be one winner.
The Amateurs shows us that greatness is possible. It shows us that your beliefs are absolutely essential to success. But it also shows us that not achieving your goals is also possible.
In fact, not achieving your goals is what is going to happen to the majority of people in their life.
This doesn’t have to be depressing. After all, there’s more to life than achieving end results. But I’ve also never understood people who insist that “positive thinking” means becoming delusional.
Yes, at certain points in my life I’ve had to almost have blind faith in myself because there wasn’t anything else. That kind of self-trust in invaluable. But realizing that you can fail has power as well. It forces you to confront the stark reality of your situation.
Every solution to a problem starts with accepting it. The cliché that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” is way overused, but there’s a reason it’s played out. And that’s because it’s just so damn true.
I’m going to half-brag right now, but I’m trying to prove a point. I’ve had people literally just offer me the job of helping run their business. That seems like a free lunch, but the reality is I’ve provided a ton of value to those people and worked to put myself in a position where they would trust me to help head their business.
Anyway, the point is that The Amateurs is a reality check. It’s a honest look at what some of those who are climbing to the top are going through.
Ask yourself: are you really willing to go through that?
Most people aren’t and so they don’t get it. Plain and simple.
Who Will Love It
-High Performance Athletes
-Those Who Study Success
Why Does It Suck
I get that everyone might not be into this book. Crew is kind of a niche sport, and although it has branched out in recent years, it’s still mostly consists of upper class white people. So if crew isn’t your thing, you might have a tough time relating to the story.
The Wrap Up
The Amateurs has been an influential book in my life. Reading it is like zapping success secrets into your brain. You even get to see how these Olympic athletes would motivate themselves and what drives them. Amazing sports story that everyone should check out.