For some reason, when I received this audio in the mail from Penguin Audio, it didn't initially pique my interest, despite the fact that I do love true stories. But then I heard that some friends were reading it for a book club, and Kathy told me SHE had listened to it and been blown away. I pulled the discs off the shelf, loaded them on the iPod, and then waited until I was in a non-fiction mood.
Synopsis: This is an amazing story about a team of nine boys from the University of Washington...a rag-tag group of farmers and blue-collar workers with a special bond...who trained and competed during their years in college and in their senior year went on to the 1936 Olympics and captured the gold.
The heart of the story is focused on Joe Rantz, one of the rowers who grew up without any support of family. His mother died when he was young, his step-mother had no use for him so he was kicked out of the house as a teenager to fend for himself. He scrapped for work to pay for college, and refused to accept defeat in any part of his life. We also get to know the charismatic yet nonverbal coach, the eccentric British genius who designed the team's boats, as well as their other boys.
This inspirational story recounts obstacle after obstacle that these boys encountered...everything from the overwhelming competition of the money and tradition of the Ivy League crew teams, sickness, lack of funding from the university, the Great Depression, and the heavily favored German team on their home turf. It is a true testament to the tenacity of the human spirit.
My thoughts: I am so glad I was persuaded to listen to this...what a heartwarming story. It just doesn't hit any closer to home than this, and makes you stand up a little straighter knowing what can be accomplished if the will is strong.
There is much to be learned here. The author educates us in the basics of the sport of crew. I had no idea it was so intense and physically rigorous. We learn about the engineering of the perfect boat. We learn about the rumblings of trouble in Berlin, the efforts made to elevate Nazi Germany to world class status, and the documentation of these efforts made by Leni Riefenstahl.
The human perspective was equally as compelling. The average boy would have admitted defeat had they battled against the odds thrown at Joe Rantz. One particular story I will never forget...that at the Olympics, one of the rowers was deathly ill - nearly comatose - but the team refused to compete without him. So they put him in the boat, though he could barely sit up, and everyone compensated for him. And they still won gold.
This is the type of book that I would compare to "Unbroken" or "Devil in the White City"...pieces of history that everyone should read and appreciate.
A few words about the audio production: Our narrator for this book was Edward Herrmann, who actually did read "Unbroken" as well as many other non-fiction audios. His voice doesn't vary much, and does take some time to get used to. Eventually, however, you get accustomed to his style and is actually pleasant to listen to.
Listening length: 14 hours and 25 minutes (416 pages)
4.5 out of 5 stars