Q and A With Olympian and Author Jeremiah Brown

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Q and A With Author and Olympian Jeremiah Brown

Jeremiah Brown is the author of a recently published book – The Four Year Olympian. I have just finished the book and have written a review of my experience, which you can read here. I sent Jeremiah some questions about his journey and what follows are his responses. I am grateful to Jeremiah for taking the time to bring more context to his work. The book is now available and can be purchased on Amazon at this link.

Kevin Light Photography -  Jeremiah Brown
Jeremiah Brown Photo Credit: Kevin Light Photography

Q. What is your background in rowing?

A. I sat on a monitor at a student fundraiser during my third or fourth year of university. It was a 500 meter race, and that was the first time I ever sat on a rowing machine or was otherwise introduced to rowing of any kind, didn’t think much of it back then, didn’t think that it would become a rower, let alone an Olympic rower. After I graduated, I saw the Canadian men’s eight, win the gold medal in the Beijing Olympics and that inspired me to try to learn to row an actual boat. So I tried to row a four with some junior high school rowers at the Hamilton Leander Boat Club.

That didn’t go very well. I lost it about six or seven-hundred meters out into the bay and almost sinking us as I describe in the book and then the next time I tried to borrow a single from the Peterborough Rowing Club and just learn how to row the single on my own at a nearby lake where no one could see me. That didn’t go well either. I only managed to stroke or two without falling in. So I gave the boat back after a few days, and it wasn’t until I moved out to Victoria, British Columbia after watching the Olympics and after being inspired that I began in earnest to row and I started learning how to row with a coach named Doug White in Victoria, BC. We started on the water in early 2009 probably February 2009. From there, I rowed under the coaching of Doug until 2011. On January 1st, 2011, I joined the national team on a full-time basis as a development carded athlete. So I received $900 a month. And then from there, I was on the team full time through to the 2012 Olympics, and then after the Olympics, I retired. So that was my journey.

Q. What inspired you to write this book and share your story with others?

A. I first wanted to write this book because I thought I had such a unique experience getting into rowing late the way I did, although in hindsight, I realized that there are many people that come to the sport late. I still felt that I had quite a unique story and that I wanted to share it. And initially I thought that I could share it with really competitive college rowers in the US and Canada as an ebook and just sell it and make a few hundred bucks.

Jeremiah Brown - The Four Year Olympian - Rowing For Canada
Photo Credit: Kevin Light Photography

Therefore, it was just sort of an entrepreneurial idea that I had. I enjoyed writing in high school, and I have never done anything seriously. I thought it had maybe a little talent is probably the same way as when I started rowing, I had some talent, not realizing how much work it was going to be ahead of me. When I began writing the book shortly after the Olympics, I think I started in November 2012. It really became a cathartic process for me, and I wrote a whole draft and I hired an editor to work with me on it and she gave me some really harsh but good, critical feedback, saying that she thought I was capable of doing a better job and she challenged me to really dig deep within myself to try to tell the story and develop myself as a writer.

About a year into writing, I started over from scratch and that was really painful. I did it because I remembered actually from my rowing journey that I didn’t even realize what it was going to take until I was in touch with people like Doug White and with coaches who had coached athletes to the senior international level and knew what was required of the athlete. I wanted to heed the lesson I learned from rowing. I thought it was wise to listen to this publishing professional, this editor, and really give it everything I had because that’s how I like to do things.

Q. Why should someone read your book? What is different about your story?

A. I think you should read my book if you want an absolutely raw and honest assessment of what it took for me to become an Olympic rower in just under four years. I’m not the most likable protagonist at times in the story, but I really committed to being honest to the reader about what it took. You’ll find if you read the book that it’s quite dark at times, but I think
I don’t do any service to the reader by trumping up some false ideal of what it means to become an Olympian and to compete at that highest level. It’s very cutthroat at times. It was important for me not to have a revisionist account of what it was like. I wanted to tell a really honest story and to do that in as vivid a way as a writer as I possibly could. I think people should read the book if they appreciate that raw honesty.

Q. What is the most valuable lesson that readers will learn when they read your book?

A. I hope readers will learn that there is self-doubt or anxiety. I hope that they’ll look at this book and realize that I’ve suffered from a lot of doubt and a lot of anxiety in my life. Who knows what the reasons are? Some combination, I suppose, of environment and genetics. But this is who I am, and I hope that while honest at times and dark at times. I hope that ultimately the book is uplifting to people and shows people that we are all capable of more than we probably give ourselves credit for and if nothing else, that we don’t really know what our potential is until we absolutely commit almost to the point of obsession to our goals. So in short, what is the most valuable lesson – you really don’t know what you’re capable of until you put in consistent, focused, obsessive effort towards your goal for a period of time, best measured in years, even if it’s only one or two or three years, months, weeks, days, that doesn’t cut it.

Jeremiah Brown With Mike Spracklen
The Canadian National Team Eight Works With Coach Mike Spracklen in 2012

Q. During your book, your relationship with your Olympic coach goes through several transformations ultimately ending on a note of gratitude. Do you think you would’ve felt it felt differently if you’re lifted result had been different? Did the end justify the means?

A. This is the great question in elite sport that so many athletes face. For me going through that journey, the end did justify the means, and there was an understanding between Mike’s Spracklen and us, his athletes, that we were in effect partners, business partners in the context of wanting to win a gold medal. That was the goal. I think if we had ultimately failed and not being able to recover from our disastrous first heat, I think it would have affected me for the rest of my life. I can’t deny that. I think it would have become part of my identity. I would hope that I would have been able to learn from that failure over time, but I won’t lie. I think that it would have affect me for the rest of my life. It would be something that would be probably a mixture of regret and a what if and what if we had taken a more balanced approach or what if we had done things differently. I would have been asking a lot of questions of course.

There are no guarantees in life. Fortunately for us, the team that we had, the guys that we had in that boat and the coaching, provided a path that I ended up as a good result for us to win that silver medal and I’m tremendously grateful for it, and it took some time before I truly felt that gratitude with Mike. He pushed us beyond the limits, beyond our own known limits. That’s a scary thing to endure as an athlete. You feel like you’re risking injury all the time. In a way, it feels like you’re being attacked, but it’s this coach who ultimately wants the same thing as you. Even as I was writing the book with time, I felt more and more gratitude to Mike for doing what he thought based on his experience was required for us to have the best result that we could possibly have at the Olympic Games.

Canada’s men’s eight rowing team member Jeremiah Brown celebrates his silver medal during the podium ceremony at the 2012 London Olympics, on August 1, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, COC – Jason Ransom

Q. At the end of the book, you address mental health issues relating to some retired athletes. Why did you choose to include that in your book?

A. This is an area I’m quite passionate about. I’ve not dealt with a diagnosed mental illness in my life, but members of my family, immediate and extended family definitely have, and it’s something that runs in the family. After the Olympics what I experienced was almost a posttraumatic lingering anxiety, and it took me quite a bit of time to process the stress that had been under that I put myself under to achieve that goal with my teammates. When I went on after the Olympics to work at the Canadian Olympic Committee building this program called game plan, which was designed to help athletes prepare for and transition out of high-performance sport into the next phase of their lives.

I was actually dealing with my own situational depression and anxiety, as I went through my own transition. A lot of that has to do with identity. Identifying yourself as this athlete among the best in the world and reconciling that you now have to start over or go back to something where you’re not the best in the world. At the very least it feels like you’re beginning again. So mental health is because of my personal life, my family, I’m passionate about it and I know so many athletes struggle. We are often idolized by the media, and we’re celebrated when we win, but win or lose, given all the athletes I’ve interviewed and gotten to know in my role with the Canadian Olympic Committee over almost four years, I can tell you that it is a great struggle for many athletes and I think it’s something that at the very least we should be talking more about and there’s a fiduciary responsibility within our sport systems all over the world, whether it’s the US or Canada, to try to do a better job of preparing these athletes for what comes next.

Jeremiah Brown - The Four Year Olympian
Photo Credit Kevin Light Photography

But that said, it’s a real challenge because many athletes do perform better when they’re absolutely focused on their sport, understandably, to get to the highest level. It often can become an obsession whereas other athletes might need the balance. So everyone needs something different. Definitely, the prevalence of mental health issues and the struggle of transition is something that hundreds of thousands of athletes around the world have dealt with or dealing with now and will face in the future.

Q. What does the future hold for you now?

I left my job after three and a half years with the Canadian Olympic Committee because I felt like the right time to make a move. The program is up and running now it’s strong, it’s going to be there, and it’s going to keep getting better. My book was published in the spring of 2018. I really wanted to take this project that I had worked on for five years and help it find a market and really get it out there and get it into reader’s hands. For better or worse, have people read it and be impacted by it. I hope they are inspired by it in some way or uplifted by it. I had spent so much of my time trying to make this book as compelling as I possibly could, it was really important to me to take the time to do the media interviews and the TV and the radio and podcasts and, and try to get the book out there. There’s a lot of competition for time and attention, and so I felt those things were necessary to get the book out there. So, I’ve taken time off from my Canadian Olympic Committee job, I’ve promoted the book, and now I’m focusing full time on speaking and developing myself as a professional speaker. I’m trying to use my story to draw out the most important lessons that I think are most relatable to people in all different industries. So, I’m speaking to private corporations at association events. I’m speaking of fundraising events, I really tried to develop the craft of speaking as I build my business the same way I develop the craft of writing, so that’ll be my focus for this entire year and I’ll reassess at the end of 2019. I have things lined up for this year and things are going well now, so I want to progress and see how good of a professional speaker I can possibly become.


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