Last year almost to the day, I wrote a post called The Future of RowHero with a number of ideas that I believed would truly benefit the rowing community, ranging from real-time split and stroke rate broadcasts to coaches to an analytics platform to track athlete progress over time. It was ambitious and if executed well had the potential to change how we coach and row.
It was also wrong.
Not the wrong ideas, but the wrong execution. Many years ago, a colleague gave me the advice to focus on my strengths, and along the way with this vision, I lost sight of the principle. When I hit roadblocks in broadcasting split/stroke rate to the launch, I moved on to something else, and then something else after hitting more obstacles in new disciplines. It was unclear when to push through these obstacles and when to cut my losses and move to another investment. After spending much of 2017 learning what not to do, it was clear I needed some time away from the problem space to reflect and move forward in a different direction.
That time away convinced me that it was time to leave my full-time job at Microsoft, but before I did, I needed to put together the why behind RowHero. It’s important not only for me to share this with you, but also with myself. As I learned later, the how is all solvable with the right people and right expertise, but without a foundation in why it’s too easy to choose the fast path over the right one.
In 2009 I moved to Seattle, Washington to start that job at Microsoft, and I learned to row a few months afterward. My dad always had a certain fascination with the sport, and once I moved here he encouraged me to give it a try. Now, being a small guy, I had never been in competitive athletics. At high school you’d more likely find me behind a chess board than on the running track, and the college I attended was so small and so focused on computer science that there were no sports teams. Cue the world’s tiniest violin.
I was 19 years old in a new city when I started rowing, so it was unsurprising that I took to it. It was an easy place to form friendships — when you see the same group people a few times per week and do something physically agonizing together you tend to find some camaraderie. Our core group grew into a competitive team, and over time we learned enough to change those 6ths, 5ths, and 4ths into podium finishes.
Something happened in that first year. A spark that ignited a small flame. A fascination that went beyond putting an oar in the water and pushing hard. A desire to put forth the very best of me into every practice and every race. Here was an opportunity for physical, mental, and emotional excellence that neither academia nor the corporate environment could touch. I realized that this could be more than just a way to stay in shape or get some stress relief from my day job. I realized that with a dream and the work behind it, I could achieve victories on the water as a better oarsman and off the water as a better human being.
Turns out this story is not unique. Thousands of rowers experience this spark every year and pour their soul into their practice. Hell, if you’ve gotten this far, I’m sure you’ve felt the same intense desire to be your best you both on and off the water.
But this passion for training doesn’t last forever. I spent the last four years chasing gold at the Head of the Charles, and now that journey is over, I have a different relationship with the sport as a coach. When I see in others that same spark, I have to do my part to nurture that flame to help them reach their next step.
Here comes the fun part! Even though I’ve taken a lot of lessons from my coaches and taught them to my rowers, just parroting what I’ve learned is not fulfilling. It will help my team go faster, but I have to go beyond what I already know to feel that I’m really making a difference. Beyond the technique debates, the training plans, and the metrics that we’ve typically associated with success.
There is a wealth of information out there, and with my background as a software developer, I see a path forward to help coaches pair their eye for boat movers with objective metrics to fine tune how they take the team forward.
But what is this information? All the things you can’t see even with a stopwatch and an army of coxswains recording data for you, because there has to be some value to that information. If it stays in your notebook, it may help on one day, but it cannot unlock your own insights on how to evolve your coaching and training plan over time. How athletes attack their erg pieces, who’s reaching a plateau in their ability to move a boat, who could reach that erg score to attract a college coach with just a small tweak to their training, how to motivate parts of the 1V out of complacency, and so on — all this information is available today, even without expensive sensors.
But let’s be clear — as fascinating as data can be, it is not the end goal. Data and its interpretation mean nothing without motivated coaches and rowers working to achieve something amazing together, and that is why RowHero exists — to give those driven coaches and athletes a set of data tools to reach their full potential, because the lessons you learn when you pursue excellence in rowing carry on for a lifetime.
Next time I’ll share with you the first step on this journey and how we’re transforming the erg room so coxswains never have to record another erg result again.
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Have a great day!