BY JEN WHITING
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER
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Blade in. Legs shoving as hard as possible. Spit flying from the corners of my mouth upon every exhale. My mind blank. My body mesmerized by my self-induced effort–a sensation that is both agonizing and addicting.
If you’re a rower, you know what this is about already. You recognize the moment in the race when your mind goes blank and your pursuit of speed is both agonizing and addicting. It’s what brings most people to the water, to the starting line, to the “more” that Lindsay Dare Shoop writes about in her new book, Better Great Than Never: Believing It’s Possible Is Where Champions Begin (Lioncrest Publishing, 390 pages, $27.99 hardback, $15.99 paperback), an in-depth look at elite-level training and racing.
In a richly told account of becoming a member of the women’s eight that won the first Olympic gold medal for the United States at the 2000-meter distance, Shoop pulls back the curtain to allow us to see more of the story than ever before. She tells the tale in a way that not only celebrates her victories but also illuminates the darkness of missed opportunities, stagnant training results, and the self-doubt that competing at the highest level can trigger. Through race scenes and training sessions, Shoop takes us inside the world of elite training and racing, where we see that it’s not so much a matter of genetic gifts or grand heroic feats as single steps taken deliberately, day after day, workout after workout.
Shoop, who didn’t begin rowing until her junior year at the University of Virginia, spent six years becoming the elite athlete who would win a seat in the U.S. women’s eight that lined up at the start of world-championship and Olympic heats and finals. Her story reveals the heart and soul of a young woman who would learn to “control what you can” and develop the patience to endure and surmount the rest. In her time on the national team, Shoop and her teammates would establish a dynasty, winning every world championship and Olympic gold medal from 2006 through 2016. Shoop rowed in the boat from 2005 to 2009 and won gold four of those years.
But Shoop’s book isn’t all about glory. In fact, the final contest she writes about–the 2008 gold-medal Olympic race–doesn’t happen until the book’s pages are dog-eared and the spine creased. If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to make the national team, this book is for you. From college rowing to Olympic gold, Shoop makes it clear repeatedly what’s most important: “Believing in possibilities that are within us all.”
There wasn’t just one person, or one practice, or one day that made Shoop realize what she needed to do and who she had to become to be successful. In the middle of the book–set four years before she would win Olympic gold–Shoop writes, “Had it not been for the simple fact that I wanted to row more than anything, I would have folded. With every week that I lost and met setbacks, I would have given in and walked away from the struggle. But because rowing was helping me to become my best, I was motivated to shake off loss after loss and to return for more every single day, trusting that my results would eventually change.”
In describing the lead-up to the Olympics, as athletes vying for a seat in the eight constantly train with new pair partners, she writes, “In order to get where you want to be, you must not compete against each other. You must compete with one another. You must help each other go as fast as possible.”
“Yes. More” is the mantra Shoop repeats as she dives deeply into training, seat-racing, traveling, and international competition. But this is not a book simply about elite rowing. This is a book about internal discovery and mastering the kind of challenges each of us wrestles with in the middle of a long erg session. “One step at a time,” Shoop tells the reader, “one step at a time.”