Letter from Gordon Eddy: South African Para-Olympic Rowing Team, 2008 Beijing Olympics.
I phoned a little earlier but you were in a meeting, or consulting, so I thought I would send this email. It is to thank you for all the effort you put into our Team South Africa Adaptive rowing team, ensuring that widely divergent personalities among the crew and coaches pulled in the same direction.
Frankly, I was happy with our last race and thought we rowed to our potential. I don't mind being 8th best* in the world, on that day, in our event. Personally I have no bigger athletic achievements to claim, other than being the world underwater high-jump champion, and I am a little surprised as to how much of a deal my family, friends, clients and even complete strangers are making of the rowing achievement.
I have to tell you that I had bought completely into 'smooth', the word we had chosen in your performance consultations for use as my keyword. The keyword was shorthand to describe 'long, strong and smooth' and to lock my body, mind and soul into the boat. (Smooth was the most difficult aspect of the three for me as I think my stroke has always been long and strong, but my technique is often a little eager and therefore can be rough and ready.)
I used 'smooth' to focus at the start of the heat and again at the start of the repecharge.
I then used 'smooth' again when my heart was breaking as I felt our boat slowing in the headwind, during my shift from 500m-700m in the repecharge as the power output from the whole boat declined significantly, giving the Germans a clean second place in what had been a very close race until the last few hundred metres. (I was so finished at the end of this race that I could not even put my leg down at first when we started to row away for the warmdown. I was also sad. Thankfully AJ put our performance in perspective, although I think we could have gone a little faster if we had not hung around at the catch. Kevin believes we would have gone faster if there had been better teamwork and timing in the last 250m. In either case, the Germans final 'A' final time was much quicker than our 'B' final time and they may thus have had something in reserve.)
In the 'B' final we were all amped for a win and therefore a 7th place. But to be honest the Brazilians had beaten us in the heat and while we closed on them at the end of our final they may have had enough to keep ahead even if this situation had transpired earlier. The Russians had also beaten us earlier, but when 'Jarred the Delighted' (never has there been a happier face on a rowing course) called Katala we raced ourselves from 4th to second - beating the Russians by the same margin of one second that separated us from the Brazilians. (I felt remarkably fresh compared to the day before, although I was obviously sore and my lungs were burning. We also beat the Dutch and the Danes, who had both beaten us in the past, as well as the Israelis.)
I have to say Katala was the only aspect of your excellent performance coaching about which I had been sceptical. I am sceptical no more. Instead I am amazed and impressed. I was so into how the boat was feeling that I had no idea of the other crews around me were performing and only knew of our final position when Kim and Kev discussed it at the end. I just knew the gut-wrenching, muscle-aching drive and balletic glide produced moments that will live with me forever.
At the end of the final Kev, who had been the most unhappy about our repecharge, turned to me and said smilingly 'you are quite strong for an old man' and commented that my strength had been an asset to to the crew when signing flags, which was very heart-warming. I remember you making some madala remarks in a similar light-hearted vein.
The most heart-warming event was sharing with my family. I remember telling you my teenagers did not give a tinkers toodle about my race. But, as you said, they did.
My wife Tracy, who was outspokenly excited about finally seeing me row internationally, said my daughter Cara was bouncing out of her skin. Cara certainly gave me lots of hugs and kisses, all without turning her head away as she often does in public. My son Creaghan who is the more demonstrative of the two kids, was also full of hugs and kisses. He came over to me after the final race and said: 'I'm really proud of you. My dad is an Olympian'. (Maybe he meant O'Limpian) I still get emotional when I relate these wonderful moments. Tracy, as always, was terrific and deserves this as a personal victory as much as I do as she carried the parental load while I rowed. It is wonderful to share the love with those you love most.
I also have to say that we had a lot of fun and enjoyed the different moments, as you had emphasised. Masego and I bonded as the bow pair and won gold medals in the combined bangle contest as well as individual gold and silver easily beating stern pair into fifth and sixth place, while Jarred won gold in the pin swopping contest. Adrian also had a lot of fun as did AJ and it was good to share moments with everyone on the team and their respective families including the Colin Robinson clan who backed our campaign with such great commitment.
Rod, I only wish I had discovered you and performance psychology earlier as I think I would have been truly successful in my business instead of faltering along and intend to talk to you again on that level when I have put some money in the bank. (I have been asked to talk at the Old Eds happy hour on October 19 about my experiences in Beijing and will include some details of our race and preparation including the positive effects of performance psychology and your input if you do not mind.)
I would recommend you and your skill to anybody and am quite happy for you to include this thank you email in your book of happy moments and to show it to any person.
The Irish would call you a Good man. The Americans would say you are a Skilled man. The Tibetans would say you are a Giving man. The Chinese would call you productive, a Results man. As a South African I'm happy to borrow from isiZulu, although I cannot remember the word, and say you are Man among Men.
Thanks once again.
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*The South African team went from 16th to 8th best in the world in three months. One of the crew had only been rowing for less than a year. They were by far the most disadvantaged crew with two above the knee amputees, there was only one other crew that had an amputee - the rest were of a minor disability.