Between The Covers | June 2015
By Terri Schlichenmeyer, June 2015 Issue.
Course Correction: A Story of Rowing and Resilience in the Wake of Title IX by Ginny Gilder. Beacon Press, 2015 | $26.95.
The song went ‘round and ‘round in your head. Maybe that’s why it’s called “a round.” You know how it works: one group starts to sing and, when they get to a certain point, the next group begins anew and so on, until the endings lap like waves.
But, as in the new book Course Correction by Ginny Gilder, the things we plan don’t always go merrily, merrily, merrily.
The first time Ginny Gilder ever saw a rowing team in action, she was 16 and didn’t quite know what she was seeing. Everything about that boat, its rowers and the motion spoke of serenity and control – things Gilder lacked in her young life.
Two years later, while enrolled at Yale, she finally got a chance to try the sport, though the women’s rowing coach strongly discouraged her. Gilder was physically shorter than is optimal for a rower and, because Title IX (ensuring an end to gender discrimination at federally funded institutions) had only recently passed, she’d never seriously engaged in sports before.
She was out of shape and inexperienced, but determined. She started training, running and practicing. Within six weeks, she was competing.
“Everything hurt,” she said, “including my butt. My hands sported new blisters, my lungs felt like they had been rubbed with sandpaper ... I had never felt happier.”
For the rest of that year, Gilder threw herself into her newfound love, barely socializing except with teammates at workouts, training and competitions.
Rowing helped her focus and forget about the home life she’d escaped: her family’s wealth, her father’s infidelity and her mother’s mental health issues. Rowing helped hide her self-consciousness and lack of self-esteem. She saw her teammates swagger and confidence, and she saw two of them try out for the U.S. Olympic team in Montreal. At least one teammate was gay and didn’t try to hide it, Gilder recalled, “I couldn’t imagine being that bold or comfortable…”
Her self-doubts were exacerbated by family naysayers and by Gilder’s own inner critic – a voice she had to silence before she could excel at the sport she desperately needed. Eventually this sport enabled her to come to terms with all aspects of herself – including her sexuality.
I’m very happy to say that, while sometimes a little rough in a first-time-author way, Course Correction is a nice surprise overall.
Within the intimate making-of-an-athlete narrative, Gilder writes of the past that caused her to lose faith in herself, even as she was gaining strength, physically and intellectually. That uncertainty of self – a big part of this book – led to many regrettable decisions and is portrayed so well that it’s hard not to feel empathetic. That empathy leaves readers to wanting more. Add in heart-pounding accounts of races and trials and you’ve got a historic memoir about a subject that’s largely unsung by an author to watch.