Being an ex-rower I have read all the rowing autobiographies that have appeared since Redgrave's was published at the time of the Sydney Olympics. Of all of them, Alison Mowbray's is the one I would recommend most highly to anybody, whether they have any knowledge of rowing or not.
It is a beautifully written autobiography that, however, covers a lot more than the story of her development as a rower from beginner in the late 80s to Olympic Silver Medallist in the quadruple sculls at the Athens Games in 2004. The book contains the best descriptions of sculling technique I have ever read, and an insight into the psychological and physical preparation of a true racer; indeed her performance in the boat was way better than her ranking in the squad based on the dreaded ergometer and other land-based tests results. Her description was such that I felt inspired to get back into my single in order to find the magic she evokes in the text (but didn't because I sold the boat 10 years ago)!
Along the way, Alison gives a unique view of the politics, manipulation and worse inside the women's squad. Moreover, her descriptions of the experience of being under two contrasting coaching regimes, leading up to Sydney and Athens respectively, are revealing and fascinating.
The rest of the book deals with the other challenges in her life (see the publisher's blurb above), how she overcame them, dealt with them or learned to live with them. Included amongst the challenges is the oft forgotten trauma associated with giving up the obsessively focussed life of a top-level sports women, and the struggle to find contentment in life after rowing.
One could write much more, but suffice it to say that this was one of the few books that I have read 'cover to cover' (or whatever the Kindle equivalent would be) in just a couple of days. I found Alison's book informative, inspiring and, above all, thought-provoking. Highly recommended!
Sporting autobiographies can often be bland affairs, being more of an attempt to cash in on celebrity than offering much insight into the personality concerned. This book is quite different. Alison Mowbray may not be a name that is well known outside rowing circles, and by her own confession she never saw herself as a naturally gifted athlete, but the story of her long 15-year progression from a complete beginner at university to finally mounting the Olympic podium is all the more fascinating as a result. There can be no tougher training regime in any sport than is undertaken by Olympic rowers, and it takes extraordinary determination to accomplish it. When you add to that the intermittent setbacks of selection disappointments, friction with some coaches and other squad members, the background strains created by academic study and family problems - all recounted with great honesty - it is clear that her ultimate success was a heroic achievement. This book is inspirational, and gives readers a great opportunity to glimpse just how much grit, pain and effort really lies behind every single medal won by Britain's most consistently successful Olympic sport.
I loved it. I read it in 3 days. Quite unusual for me.
I knew nothing about rowing before reading it, and it leaves me in awe of all that do this sport at a high level. You would not have to be a rowing fan to appreciate her story. Although you may end up as one once you've read it.
It is full of inspirational mantras turned into real life success. This woman is intelligent & naturally talented but has not been given an easy ride in any way. Yet time & again she has picked herself up and carried on.
I found it amazing how open she has been about her own life, but so discreet and sensitive with anyone else she has mentioned.
I have 2 daughters and have been reading bits to them that I thought would inspire them & provoke them to think about their lives. I would definitely recommend this to anyone with teenage girls.
A great read. Loved it. Head and shoulders above most sports autobiographies. The key advantage that it has, is that Alison appears to have little or no ego (which is very different from determination to win) so this isn't a book telling us how wonderful she is. It is a very honest but thoroughly enjoyable and inspirational account of how she went from the schoolgirl who didn't get picked for sports teams to an Olympic medalist.
In one sense it is all about rowing but in another, rowing is simply the vehicle behind the story. It would appeal to anyone who rows, anyone who remotely likes sport, anyone who is interested in what happens at an Olympics and anyone who has a goal and needs a bit of oomph.
On a deeper level, the book deals powerfully with addiction and what it is like to grow up with an alcoholic father. To those who don't live in such an environment it is immensely enlightening. For those who do, I imagine that there will be experiences shared and a great deal of common ground (if I'd read these words, written by someone else when I hadn't read the book, it would have instantly turned me off - not my sort of book. But these bits aren't heavy and are well worth reading so don't let them put you off.)
The book painted marvellous canvasses of both the joys and the bloody hard work involved in rowing at the very top level. There is great stuff on the technical side of rowing, training, psychology and team dynamics but all woven into the narrative in a thoroughly engaging way. Put simply, Alison demonstrates how much you can get out of something, anything, if you are prepared to put in the commitment and the hard yards.
Alison sucks you into her world and throws out all sorts of vignettes of inspiration without sounding preachy or overbearing. I particularly like her mantra of one small step at a time. We have all heard it so many times before but when she talks about being so exhausted she can't possibly do another session so breaks it down into just get out of bed, then just get to the car, then just get to the water etc etc it brings life and reality and a whole new perspective to a perennial challenge.
If you are wondering what book get someone who likes sports or inspiration as a present, that they won't necessarily have heard of and will make a real impression on them and they will remember for a long time, get this book. They will think you are really cool for finding it!
I am training with a university squad this year and found the book very inspirational. Could not put it down from the day I started reading it. I really enjoyed the personal touch to the story and that it is not just about rowing but about how it can be part of someone's life. I could relate to many parts of the book and also found that I learnt a lot about rowing and the mental toughness aspect of the training. Reading so much about sculling made me want to try it and so I went out for a few outings to have a go and I now hope to learn to scull at some point (currently I do sweep rowing). And the flapjack is great! I baked it for my friends and they all loved it!!!
What I enjoyed about GMFSML 1. Most sport autobiographies are about super naturally talented athletes who worked hard to achieve. Alison's talent is to work hard and find the real positives to take the next step. This book gives a great insight to those thought processes. 2. The swinging form the 'glamour' of a world class athletic life to uncomfortable subject matter like anorexia and alcoholism, mixing light with heavy worked for Shakephere and works for Mowbray 3. The descriptions of moving the boat faster and feel. I think the race descriptions are the best I have read in a autobiography and get my blood pumping. 4. Alison talks openly about in crew bitching and in squad bullying ,it happens, its real and makes good reading Who should buy this book 1. If your reading my review then you have enough interest to really get a lot out of reading this book so go treat yourself. 2. I think students male or female age 14 up could learn a lot form it . It is a must read for young rowers. Some good insights in how to make self improvement a bit easier. Over the years I have fallen out of love with rowing - didn't keep my back right, weight down or my asthma in check. Alison's book has relit the flame. Had a my first date with my sculling boat earlier this week we're talking it slow! Regards Shane Kearney
This truly inspiriational book tells the journey of a seemingly “unsporty” girl who becomes an Olympic rower. Gold Medal Flapjack, Silver Medal Life is beautifully written: it is a frank, honest account of Alison Mowbray’s path to becoming an Olympian. It is a thoroughly enjoyable “page-turner” that brought me to tears and made me laugh in equal measure.
As well as giving a fascinating insight into the level of dedication and mental strength required in the world of Olympic rowing, Alison talks very openly about her personal life – it is an incredibly moving story and one that we can all relate to in some part.
A thread that runs throughout the book is the manner in which Alison uses her coping strategies when she is faced with tough times – she shares her many mantras – one of my favourites is: ‘Expect nothing, Blame no one, Do something’.
I would wholeheartedly recommend Gold Medal Flapjack, Silver Medal Life and would especially encourage parents to buy a copy for their teenage children who are growing up in this ever-competitive 21st Century.
Alison Mowbray's first book is inspiring and testimony to the potential we all have, when we take responsibility for our lives. She has a talent for writing, and in this, her autobiography we learn first hand of the unrelenting determination and resilience required to win an Olympic Medal. Despite having no rowing knowledge I found the book difficult to put down. Highly recommended.Gold Medal Flapjack, Silver Medal Life: The Autobiography of an Unlikely Olympian
I worked in the men's team up to 2001, overlapping with Alison's time in the women's team. Alison's account is beautifully written, witty and touching all at once. Alison is open and honest in her reflections on her experiences. I really recommend this book to aspiring athletes, practicing coaches, and anyone else who is interested in a story of continued determination in the face of what must have seemed like insurmountable odds. Great book!