At first glance, Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat is the triumphant story of Joe Rantz and his fellow Husky crewmates overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to win gold at the 1936 Olympics. But, as successful as Joe and his crewmates were, their path to victory was never easy. As Mr. Brown shared during the One Maryland One Book author tour, his ultimate goal for the book was to honor the rowers’ perseverance on the water and in everyday life.
Led by Professor Magin LaSov Gregg, Frederick Community College students read the book and attended the author tour. Here’s what these students said on resilience in The Boys in the Boat:
Some writers may write because they want to encourage their audience to make a change in the world around them, and others may write because they want to inform their audience of a particular issue. However, [author Daniel James] Brown wrote his book because he wanted to tell the story of the American rowers and their perseverance, humility and strength. In fact, Brown just happened to meet Joe Rantz, one of the nine rowers at the 1936 Olympics. After listening to Rantz tell his story, Brown had the idea of writing a book about Rantz and the other rowers. The American rowers’ success at the Olympics after overcoming several obstacles is an inspiration to many, and I believe Brown himself found the story motivational as well as fascinating. The notions of courage and teamwork resonate with many people and led to the book’s success.
Throughout the book, Joe Rantz is aided in simple ways by the community. While some people support his resiliency, others are the cause of it. To discern between the two, readers must understand Joe’s motivation as well as his main goal: to keep his spot on the University of Washington’s rowing team in order to continue his education—one of the main things that Joe has to be resilient towards in order to achieve a more long-term goal. His fiancée, Joyce Simdars, is the motivator for this long-term goal; in order to provide for her, he knows he must stay a student at Washington, and the only way he can afford to is by earning a position on the rowing team. Joyce isn’t the cause of his resiliency though; that can be credited to people from his past. Ultimately, Joe was in this situation because of the people from his childhood that did not treat him as well as they should have.
Through Brown’s story, readers learn that it is not Joe’s journey that makes him the man he is, but his determination to persevere even when others are not always there to support him. […] As the story of Joe Rantz develops, the reader gets the chance to see a character with formidable beginnings mature into a man who refuses to let the world define him. Beginning in his childhood, he learned to cope with constant change and rejection from those who should have cared about him most. Transitioning into his young adulthood, Joe shows that it is not the journey that makes the man but the man that makes the journey. Similar to being in the boat rowing down the length of Lake Washington, with a unified team of individuals propelling the boat forward, Joe let everything in his life –– even devastating turns –– propel him toward his goals.
Reagan Kinsey, Laura Mundy, and Leilani Vasquez are high schoolers who take Frederick Community College courses as part of the Open Campus program. “The Boys in the Boat” was a core text for English 101: Composition, instructed by Professor Magin LaSov Gregg.
What’s YOUR take? Did you find any of the characters in The Boys in the Boat inspiring? Leave a comment with your thoughts!