In notes a the end of "Unbroken," Laura Hillenbrand describes the stories she is drawn to by saying, "In times of extremity, ordinary individuals must reach into the depths of themselves, and there they find the true content of their character. Some find . . . wondrous virtues - courage, resourcefulness, self-sacrifice, daring, ingenuity, the will to solder on when will is all they have left. These are the virtues that turn history, and these are the virtues that enable individuals to prevail in the supreme trials of their lives."
A rowing race is a time of "extremity," a time when competitors push their limits, perhaps to the point where "will is all they have left." When we watch sports on TV, we often forget that we are seeing not only a display of skill, but also a display of stamina and will to persevere. When we watch a rowing regatta, the same is true - it is almost impossible to imagine the extremities of fatigue and wind that the competitors are experiencing in the boat as we watch from a chair along the shore.
Is the faster crew winning because of natural physical endowments such as greater size? Or is it more skillful technique? Or is their speed in the second half of the race due more to trained fitness and a highly developed will to persist?
Any rower will tell you, you have to put in the miles on the river in order to have speed in a race. But it is not just miles rowed; it is also the level of effort, the experience of being winded and accepting it and going on regardless. It is experiencing the desire to stop or slow down and developing the mental toughness to continue in spite of that feeling. It is the experience of the mind and guts being stronger than the doubts and fears, and of training through former weakness to a higher level of functioning. It is training the body and using the body's incredible natural reaction to healthy demands, resulting in increased capability.