DAYTON, Ohio — During the midst of the Great Depression, a team of collegiate rowers from the University of Washington made an improbable and epic ‘run’ at the 1936 summer Olympics. Described as the working class sons of farmers, ship workers and loggers, the team was never expected to succeed, however they went on to defeat the world’s top teams and win Olympic gold.
This story as told in the book ‘Boys in the Boat’ inspired a group of Air Force Life Cycle Management Center employees to put together an eight person rowing crew and compete in a competition.
“A couple of people on the staff read ‘Boys in the Boat,’ one of the books on the Air Force Chief of Staff’s reading list, and it was a very motivational story,” said Maj. Philip Amirault, chief, senior officer management in the AFLCMC director of staff’s office and a member of the rowing team. “The book got us thinking that we should put together a team. Our goal wasn’t just to learn about rowing but to actually try and beat another group of people who row regularly.”
Of the members that volunteered for the team only two had rowing experience.
To prepare for the competition, they spent a day training on rowing machines at a gym and learning basic mechanics. From there, they spent two hours a day for one week on the Greater Miami River learning how to function as a team.
“If you think of any sport, it’s kind of tough only getting one week to train together with people you’ve never rowed with before,” said Amirault. “However, folks on the team were athletes and competitors and no one wanted to be the worse person or least athletic, so everyone had motivation to train and take it seriously.”
Lt. Col. Timothy Spaulding, former executive officer to the AFLCMC commander, and member of the team, said that while rowing may look easy, it’s harder than you think and part of the challenge is that everyone’s contribution has to be synced up.
“It’s the ultimate team sport,” Amirault added. “Everyone in that boat has to do the exact same thing at the exact same time to be successful.”
The group found success on the water, winning one of three races against experienced rowers during a spring competition.
Summarizing the experience, Amirault made comparisons between rowing and the AFLCMC mission.
“What we do in AFLCMC is a team effort,” Amirault said. “When you are building or supporting a weapons system, there’s no super genius or Tony Stark in real life. It takes a team of people to get the job done.”
Members of the team were:
Lt. Gen. Robert McMurry
Lt. Col. Timothy Spaulding
Lt. Col. Rodney Stevens
Maj. Philip Amirault
Capt. Joshua Paluch
Capt. Jerry Pribyl
Capt. Christopher Mavron