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Tony Mantegani: Just pull harder

Friday, May 24, 2013

Tony Mantegani ’13 and the Men’s Crew team at practice on the Seekonk River.

This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2013

While at Brown, the building I became most familiar with had nothing to do with classes, dorm rooms or Blue Room muffins. It’s a place most Brown students have never been, though it’s only a mile from campus on India Point. Originally it was a fish processing plant, but today it’s the Hunter S. Marston Boathouse, home of the men’s and women’s crew teams.

Over the past four years, I have spent countless hours working out in the boathouse and rowing on the Seekonk River in pursuit of perfection. The problem, of course, is that perfection is a near-impossible standard. I have never experienced a single flawless 2000-meter race (lasting roughly six minutes), and I don’t know anyone who has. So why do it?

Like many other Brown students, I have sought excellence in the classroom as well. But for me, doing so always emphasized the ends over the means. The focus was on earning a good grade on the first paper, then the midterm, another paper, and the final exam — all for that A. Perfection in rowing is different. It can be found in a single stroke of any practice or race. There are literally hundreds of thousands of chances in a season to be perfect, or not. When I row, I’m not just thinking about winning the next race. I think about the process, about feeling the rhythm of the crew and making the next stroke as perfect as possible. And then doing it again.

Unlike a GPA, rowing is not all about the individual. I won’t get an A on my transcript for rowing, and I have zero hope of pursuing a professional career in the sport. It’s not about getting something for myself; it’s about contributing to something. Brown crew is known in the rowing world for its unique commitment to the concept of a total team. Our coaches often emphasize the importance of “upward pressure” — each boat pushing the one ahead of it in an effort to build speed and success at every level. We are one of the few teams to regularly race all our boats together in practice. It’s competitive and sometimes tense, but by the end of the season it gives everyone a sense of ownership in the team’s success.

I have raced with a B on my chest against crews from as far away as Russia and the Netherlands. At the Henley Royal Regatta in England I heard complete strangers, both British and American, cheering madly for Brown as we went down the course. Not for me, nor for any one of my teammates, but for Brown. As rowers, we do not wear our names on the backs of our unisuits. In fact, the mark of the very best crews is the anonymity of the individual oarsmen as they come together in a demonstration of uniformity and precision. No single oarsman can carry the team to victory, and there are no individual statistics when it comes to races. There is only the crew, only Brown.

In a generation that is so often lambasted for self-centeredness and an overly developed sense of entitlement, this subordination of self is liberating and rare. It’s a good reminder that it’s not always all about me, and realizing that can have amazing outcomes.

Tony Mantegani wants everyone to know that there is more to rowing than sitting down and moving backwards while a small person bellows at you.


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  1. David Scofield says:

    Very cool!!!

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