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My Hero
Brad Lewis With '84 Gold Medal

[I'm joining the entire Red Room community in writing a short blog post on this week's topic: "Heroes." The form and the content of the blog entry are open to personal interpretation; whether this topic calls to mind a real-life hero, a fictional character, or something else altogether, we want to read your entry. We'll choose at least one of these blogs to be featured on Red Room's homepage next week, and we'll choose three blog writers to receive free books from Red Room Authors. Submit your blog entry by Friday at 10:30 a.m. PDT [GMT-0700] for consideration. Be sure to tag the entry with the keyword term "heroes blog” so we can find it.]

 

As some of you may know, immediately before coming to work at Red Room I was training full time to try to qualify for the Beijing Olympics in rowing. It was an amazing experience and I'm so grateful for all the help I got along the way from so many people in the rowing community. There is a tradition and culture in rowing, unlike many other sports, that encourages sharing of information and generosity.

In high school, when I first started rowing, I read Assault on Lake Casitas by Brad Alan Lewis. This book is a wonderful story about how Brad and his partner, Paul Enquist, went from being cut from the Olympic team to winning the gold medal in the double in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles (the rowing course for those games was at Lake Casitas). The story of going from outsider to champion is something that any teenager would find meaningful but I was particularly impressed by Brad and the deep philosophical and spiritual insights that he brings to rowing and training. He sees rowing as a metaphor for life and believes that through perfecting rowing we can strive to become better people. Needless to say, Brad is one of my heroes.

At the age of 29, after graduating from law school and working at a law firm for three years, I decided that I wanted to commit myself to trying to qualify for the Olympics in rowing. My then girlfriend and now wife, Ivory Madison, encouraged me to take this risk and was the most supportive partner I can imagine anyone having when they’re on a quest. Several family members and friends were not so supportive and discouraged me from taking any risks or taking an unusual career detour.

Soon after I started training I reread Brad's book to try to divine some of the training methods and philosophy that drove Brad and Paul to become champions. After reading the book again I had some good ideas but decided that I should try to get directly at the source. I did a search for Brad on the internet and found his email address on his website. I wrote him a short email telling him how much I admire him and asked him if he would be willing to talk to me. I was delighted that Brad wrote back to me and said that I could call him any time. 

When I first spoke to Brad I told him my story and he said that I was courageous to take on this challenge. Once I told him that I was engaged, he wanted to make sure that I knew that winning a gold medal in the Olympics isn't as important as the other things in life that you can win a gold medal in: Being a gold medal husband, father, or friend. This perspective and wisdom are a couple of the reasons that Brad is my hero. He won a gold medal but knows that that is only part of his life.

In the spring before the Olympic trials in 2008, I moved to Huntington Beach to train under Brad and got a chance to know him better. He is constantly thinking of new and interesting drills to do on the water that stretch you and expand your rowing skills. I learned so much in the month that he coached me. This experience was incredible and even though I repeatedly asked Brad if I could pay him for his time he refused and insisted that I should just make sure that I taught others when they ask me. Brad is a unique sort of person, he doesn't seem to worry at all about acquiring material goods and only makes enough to be able to live and spend some time with his girlfriend and family.

Rowing is also unusual in that many people who pursue rowing don’t fit the stereotype of the dumb jock. Brad is well read and very philosophical and has written several books, fiction and memoir. Ivory and I have spent hours with Brad having fun and intellectual conversations with him. Before the summer is over I’m lucky enough to be going backpacking with my hero.

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a hero to a hero

My guess is that in your recognition of Lewis' accomplishments you became as much one of his heroes as he has become one of yours. That seems to me extremely important because heroes being heroes are nevertheless human and need positive input to maintain those qualities that make them who and what they are to others. Awesomely beautiful, to this author, when life works out that way.

Aberjhani
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)