In one memorable passage from The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown compares the 1936 U.S. Olympic rowing team to an orchestra.
“If one fellow in an orchestra was playing out of tune, or playing at a different tempo, the whole piece would naturally be ruined,” he writes. “That’s the way it was with rowing. What mattered more than how hard a man rowed was how well everything he did in the boat harmonized with what the other fellows were doing.”
But Rob Munn sees it a little differently. The Eagle Scout who competed on the eight-man rowing team in the 2016 Olympics last month sees a rowing team more like a Scout patrol.
“Everyone is unique and has a different skillset that can contribute to the boat going fast in their own way,” he says. “The goal is to take these different characteristics of everyone and point them all in one direction. The same can be said with a patrol. A well-run patrol has recognized the strengths of everyone and put them in positions to contribute the most that they can.”
Munn grew up in Redmond, Wash., as a member of Troop 557. His top Scouting memory: climbing Mount Baldy at Philmont Scout Ranch.
“The view was breathtaking, and I looked at it as a huge challenge at the time,” he says. “I met it head on and enjoyed it the whole way.”
In Rio, the nine-member rowing team (eight rowers plus a coxswain) didn’t quite reach their sport’s summit. The boys in that boat finished fourth — less than five seconds behind first-place Great Britain.
“Anything short of winning will always be disappointing,” Munn says. “That being said, I am proud of the effort that I put into the process of racing as well as the entire year.”
Time management learned in Scouting
In rowing, timing is everything. To go fast, each of the eight oars must dip into the water at precisely the same moment.
Timing is everything in life, too, as Munn learned in Scouting.
“I’d say the biggest thing that [Scouting] helped with rowing was the diligence and time management needed to do both activities — especially when rowing in college,” he says. “When you shift into collegiate athletics you have to be on top of everything.”
Munn’s mom and his Scoutmaster, Dave Morse, kept the youngster balanced. They encouraged him to focus on the finish line while still enjoying the journey along the way.
“Whether it came to keeping me on my responsibilities in the troop or telling me the entire experience is worth all the work in the long run, these people kept me on point,” Munn says.
Life after Rio
Racing in Rio de Janeiro meant Munn and his teammates got to test themselves against the top rowers in the world. While trying not to let the moment overwhelm him, Munn still made sure to soak it all in.
“I did not think that this was where I would end up 11 years ago when I started rowing,” he says. “There’s also no other feeling than knowing that you are representing your country in that moment as well.”
For now, Munn isn’t sure whether he’ll try to make the team for Tokyo in 2020.
“That’s a question that I will think over the next couple of months,” he says. “I would love to keep going but need to spend some time determining if I want to commit to another four years. The other route would be starting work somewhere. I know it will be clear to me what I want to do soon.”