[OPINION] Middle School And Rowing: The Race Defines Us

Summer is in full swing. School is already in the rear view mirror.

But before we lose it completely, let’s look back on the year. Weston Middle School 8th grader Owen Bernheim answered the call to submit a graduation speech.

His wasn’t selected. But his mom Jennifer thought the parallels between life at school, and with his Saugatuck Rowing Club teammates, was worth sharing.

I agree. Take it away, Owen!

Hello everyone!

It’s been a crazy few years filled with Zoom calls, new experiences, laughter, lessons learned, and COVID tests. Walking in to middle school on the first day, I thought “wow, this is going to be great.” New friends, new teachers, new school.

Owen Bernheim

I don’t like change, but I knew something was going to be different. Let’s just say this is not the type of different I was expecting.

Halfway through 6th grade, we were sent home. Just a quick break from school, nothing to worry about. Well, 2 weeks turned into a month, a month turned into 2 months, and from there, we all know what happened.

However, people took up new hobbies during the pandemic, all from home. Most of them continued back in person. Some opportunities were life-changing. The big one for me was rowing — the sport famous for early practices, grueling cardio work, and athletes with no social life.

Middle school isn’t too different from rowing. During the spring season we focus on a 2k. Spring is a sprint-race season. You go all out, as fast and hard as you can, for 6 to 9 minutes. A 2k is broken down into 3 chunks: the first 500 meters, the middle 1,000 meters, and the last 500 meters.

The first 500 is all about getting out on top, while still maintaining energy. That’s pretty comparable to sixth grade, right? Light work.

The middle 1,000 meters is all about staying where you can push, but still keeping a certain level of comfort so as to not burn yourself out, without settling too much. Seventh grade was like that, but I think we were all a little bit burnt out after seventh grade.

The last 500 meters is all about fighting for speed, and the win. It’s where your lungs and everything else starts to hurt. It consists of trying to keep your head above water (metaphorically, of course). It also consists of a sprint, which all sums up 8th grade.

Owen and his Saugatuck Rowing Club teammates, at the USRowing Youth National Championships in Sarasota, Florida. They finished 6th in the U16 8+ category.

What people don’t realize about rowing though is that it’s a team sport. You’re not doing a 2k alone; you never go through anything alone because there is always someone to guide you along the way. A friend, a coach, an older teammate. I think this is a lot like middle school.

And what people don’t realize about middle school, something that I think we all forget, is that you’re not alone. There will always be friends and teachers to support you, even when you’re struggling. Middle school is much like a team. I think it’s important to notice that and to embrace your team, because without friends, teachers, guidance counselors, principals, and many others, none of this would be possible.

Owen Bernheim at the USRowing Youth National Championships.

Everybody plays an important part in this journey. Without just one of these people, the puzzle wouldn’t be complete. There will be some struggles along the way, but that’s part of life, just like catching a crab while rowing.

A crab is when a person’s blade flips underwater, causing it to get stuck and occasionally throwing you out of the boat. Other times, your oar gets flung out of your hands. However, it isn’t about the crab itself, but how you recover. This is much like getting a bad grade on a test, or handling school during COVID. It’s also like making a split-second decision, which could determine a good grade, a bad grade, a win, or a loss.

When we make a wrong decision, it should never define us. What should define us is how we recover from those mistakes. How we change our future, try to do good, and help others. These are all things that we should be defined by. Everyone makes mistakes, but what is truly important is how we pull ourselves out of that crab that wants to suck us in. How we handle ourselves in the face of adversity is what we should take note of.

Now is the time to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. But now is also the time to be smart and not let what you do negatively impact your future.

Sometimes people hesitate to try new things in fear of mistakes and failure. However, you would be surprised how many people have been greatly successful after trying something new.

I have a small podcast where I interview CEOs and entrepreneurs about their businesses. It’s called The Rising Entrepreneurs Podcast. One thing that every interviewee has told me is that they wish they had not gone into things so hesitantly. They wish they had taken more chances sooner, because without taking calculated risks, success would not have followed.

Trying new things right now in this phase of our lives is important, because you’re only a teenager once. You’re surrounded by a big team who is truly committed to you: teachers, family, friends, coaches, and your community.

So, let’s make these next 4 years of our lives count, because after high school, we’re all going to go different ways, to meet different people, and experience new things. As I end this speech tonight, I don’t just want it to mean the end of middle school. I want it to mean the beginning of a new part of our lives. Four years that will be unforgettable — but hopefully in a different way than the last few. Thank you.

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4 responses to “[OPINION] Middle School And Rowing: The Race Defines Us

  1. Peter Marks


  2. Larry+Weisman

    Brilliant work. Congratulations Owen

  3. Beautifully done. Congrats!

  4. Nancy D Austin

    Excellent work. Owen and his family should be very proud.