Marcus McElhenney

Marcus McElhenney shares rowing lessons he applies at school

One of the best things I learned from rowing [is by] not being afraid to screw up while still trying my hardest all the time, I always walk away with something.

I hate law school. It is one of the dumbest things I have ever come across in my entire life. But, there is nothing else in the world I would rather be doing right now.

Funny thing is that is exactly I how I have always felt about rowing. Well to be specific, that is how I felt training for the Olympics.

Both law school and training for the Olympics are very difficult undertakings. You have to surround yourself by the best so you are constantly being challenged. For the lead up to Beijing I always tried to partner myself up with the best athletes. I knew that guys like Beau and Volp would not let me get away with anything but my best. Oh yea, they would lay into you for just about any mistake. I also knew that I would try my hardest not to let all these guys down. They trained hard and deserved my best.

In school you have to do the same. I seek out the smartest people to study and work with. My study groups and classmates challenge me to not just get by, but to pursue excellence. They quiz and question me to make sure that I understand the law and can argue to the best of my abilities. We also get stuck on assignments and cases together, and I do not want to let my classmates down by not doing my best.

The funny thing about it is that you do not necessarily get what you want, nor do you get it right. I know there have been times when I have let my boat mates down. Crashing into a bridge at the Charles one year comes to mind. But I do not regret that experience. It has made me better and stronger. It even prepared me for situations when I let my classmates down, which has even happened recently.

Last week, after working for hours to prepare an argument for Criminal Procedure Class, I completely screwed the pooch and let my classmates down during oral arguments. Basically my mouth spewed forth such incoherent ramblings and juvenile style logic that the most appropriate word to describe me would be dunce. The judge asked us if we “actually had anything intelligent to say.”

Do I wish I did it differently…actually, no.

I am glad that I screwed it up and have learned from it. This is one of the best things I learned from rowing. By not being afraid to screw up while still trying my hardest all the time, I always walk away with something.

'This is one of the best things I learned from rowing. By not being afraid to screw up while still trying my hardest all the time, I always walk away with something.' - Marcus McElhenney Click to Tweet

Screwing up now at school is like screwing up while training leading up to the Olympics. It allows me to learn and get all the bad stuff out of the way now so it does not happen in the future. All the crap I am doing now, just like all the crap I had to go through for training leading up to the Olympics, is worth the experience. And if the reward of being an attorney is half as awesome as winning an Olympic medal…I am sure it too will be worth going through all the crap.

– Marcus McElhenney

Enjoy reading this? Read the full collection of coxswain tips.

Interested in taking an even deeper look at how national team athletes train and race? Check out The Longest Odds.

Marcus McElhenney

Marcus McElhenney
Marcus McElhenney began coxing in 1997 at Monsignor Bonner High School and started his international coxing career with a silver medal in the M8+ at the 2001 Nation’s Cup. His career highlights include a gold medal in the M8+ from the 2005 World Rowing Championships and a bronze medal in the M8+ from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The Longest Odds Inside the Olympic Journey

The Longest Odds

Go behind the scenes of the Olympic Journey with The Longest Odds, a photo-documentary that goes inside the Beijing and London Olympic journey of the US Olympic rowing team. 

This book illustrates what you do not see on television – it’s a raw look at what athletes go through during their years-long journeys much before anything appears on television.

The Longest Odds allows us to see those highs and lows, the conflicts, joy, exhaustion, elation, fear – and most of all, the bonds of friendship being indelibly forged.

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