Yesterday we officially dedicated the Steele Family Boathouse on Thorndike Pond. It was a wonderful ceremony following an exciting day of racing. Our rowers and coaches have been working without a boathouse for the last ten years and it is gratifying to see them in a space they have earned through their commitment and dedication. We are truly humbled by the generosity of trustee Tim Steele and his family. Below are my concluding remarks from the Steele Family Boathouse dedication:
I would like to conclude today by talking about this crazy and wonderful sport of rowing. Why do we row? Why do we get up at six in the morning to drive to the lake or get on a rowing machine and row for hours? Why do we push our bodies to extreme limits and tear the skin off of our hands?
The oarsman Stephen Kiesling wrote in his excellent book on rowing, The Shell Game, that, “[o]nce one is beyond a certain level of commitment to the sport, life begins to seem an allegory of rowing rather than rowing an allegory of life.” I personally first sat in a crew shell as a twelve year old coxswain in 1982 and have been involved with the sport almost every year since since, and I must say that I see wisdom in Kiesling’s words. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes once described life as, “solitary, brutish, nasty, and short.” He could easily have been describing a crew race to the uninitiated! However, on the other extreme, there is a group of people who associate the sport more closely with our initial introduction to the sport in Kenneth Grahame’s children’s story The Wind in the Willows. In that story Mole asks the Water Rat as he is sculling by in a boat if rowing is nice. “Nice? It’s the only thing!” replied Water Rat. “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing, messing—about—in—boats; messing—“
Rowing is a perfect sport for Dublin School. It accentuates the values on which the Lehmann Family built this School. Rowing forces us to focus on process, growth, collaboration, and pure and simple hard work. There are no short cuts, and in an age that encourages immediate gratification, rowing provides enduring rewards by teaching us that those things in life truly worth doing, things like relationships, building community, making a contribution to society, take time and commitment. This sport operates on these young people in ways that they will not fully understand until they are much older.
Hopefully you witnessed the joy that the rowers and coxswains experienced today. If you ask rowers why they row, many will tell you that they are chasing a feeling. A feeling that one experiences after hours of training and practice with their friends and peers, a feeling of speed and flow when the boat seems to glide just above the surface of the water, creating an ethereal feeling of lightness.
When I graduated from high school my crew coach gave me a framed copy of a poem written by the boat-builder and rowing philosopher George Pocock, that comes as close to capturing that feeling as anything I have ever read.
“It’s a great art, is rowing. It’s the finest art there is. It’s a symphony of motion and when you’re rowing well, why it’s nearing perfection. You’re touching the divine. It touches the you of you’s, which is your soul.”
The Steele Family Boathouse provides a launching point for our student--athletes for today and for decades to come to chase that feeling and grow deeply into life. I recently asked a young woman rowing for the first time what she thought about the sport. “It’s all I think about, every day I just want to get to Steele as soon as possible.”
Thank you all for coming today and thank you to the Steele Family for this wonderful gift.