Today, we, meaning the freshmen of the Photo/Video Boot Camp pre-orientation group, Brian Palmer, and myself interviewed a retired sailboat racer named Ralph "Towney" Townsend. He grew up in Chestertown and has been sailing since he was ten years old. After high school he planned to attend the Naval Academy, and after passing all but one of the required tests for acceptance, he was asked to identify a couple letters within colored circles. He could not do so, was told he was colorblind, and rejected from the Academy. So he attended Washington College and graduated in 1952 with a major in Physics.
He's been hugely successful in sailing and racing, winning so many awards and trophies he started giving them away to his crew, and when one of the students asked him how he became so successful as a sailor, his response was accidentally some of the most inspiring [and metaphoric] advice I have ever [indirectly] received.
Well...I guess it could be because I've been at it for so long, but I think it's because I'm so focused. I'm always focusing on making the boat go. That's the most important thing; making the boat go. I see these other skippers focusing on the other boats and where they're going, where they're headed, how fast they're moving, what they're doing. Yeah, they're making sure they don't collide with the other boats, okay, but I'm just focused on making the boat go. Not how fast it's going, not where I might end up...just making it go.
If you don't get it or just don't care, that's cool, but I was frozen when he said this. I knew after he said it that every single word was literal and that he was talking about actual sailing the entire time, but man, was that just amazing, yet simple, to hear as a senior in college. I was blown away that every single phrase seemed to build upon this unintentional advice. It was a little crazy that there was no part of what he was saying that wasn't sinking in. It all fit into this fantastic metaphor created by him telling us why he was considered a talented sailor. I have never really been asked why I am good at something, and that sounds like a peculiar, maybe awkward, question to answer, but I think that if I could answer it...and I mean really answer it and not just say "practice, practice," I think I might be able to inspire someone, too. Just like Towney.
It truly was inspiring. Maybe it's the boat metaphor, maybe it's hearing it from a man in his 70's that I am quite convinced I would love to talk to for hours, but the mindset that he has when he is sailing is what I want and what I need to be able to tackle the sometimes overwhelming path that I have chosen to follow to my future.