Olympic rower Adam Kreek’s book navigates waves of life

Adam Kreek of Victoria has navigated all kinds of conditions as one of Canada’s greatest oarsmen, from the placid waters of the man-made Beijing course in winning gold at the 2008 Summer Olympics, to the angry swells of the Bermuda Triangle in an aborted attempt to row across the Atlantic.

There were also the political breakers with the offer to row Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg across the Strait of Georgia to the Island.

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Kreek has now turned his attention to the waves of life and business by authoring The Responsibility Ethic: 12 Strategies Exceptional People Use to Do the Work and Make Success Happen.

After winning gold with the Elk Lake-based Canadian eight at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Kreek’s exuberant personality made him much in demand across North America as an inspirational speaker and executive coach. His business card reads: “What’s Your Next Gold Medal Moment?”

How can you resist that pitch?

“People came up to me after speeches and asked: ‘Do you have a book?’ The book came out of that,” said Kreek.

“Any first book has to be right for yourself.”

In other words, write about what you know.

“I am satisfied with the book,” said Kreek, the married 39-year-old father of three.

“It’s a reflection of who I am and the work that I do.”

There is one thing he didn’t want to add to — the self-help tomes that make bookstore shelves groan under their weight.

“I didn’t want this to be more personal-growth crap,” he said.

“This was written for people who want that extra edge in their career and for growth-oriented individuals who love to be entertained by sports stories. I hope the reader gets energy and insights — from my personal story — on how they can improve as an individual and working-age human.”

Each chapter begins with a story relating to things Kreek learned as an athlete and adventurer.

“In many ways, this is a homage to my Olympic and ocean-crossing teammates,” said Kreek.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the book begins with the harrowing 2013 capsizing in the Bermuda Triangle in rough seas, and eventual rescue by the U.S. Coast Guard of Kreek and his three rowing mates — Markus Pukonen of Tofino and Pat Fleming and Jordan Hanssen of Seattle. It came 73 days after leaving Dakar, Senegal, en route to Miami, Florida, in a 6,700-kilometre attempt to set the world record for the longest unaided human-powered crossing of the Atlantic, and also to monitor ocean health with the scientific equipment on board.

“Everybody experiences failure,” said Kreek.

“Living through it is hard. Knowing how to take responsibility for your failures is even harder, but it’s the first step to learning. Learn to fail forward.”

Kreek develops a concept after each sports anecdote that begins a chapter. He concludes each chapter with a “reflection and summary.”

“It’s a collection of 12 individual ethic essays rather than a full narrative arc,” said Kreek.

The chapters are titled Ethic 1 through Ethic 12. Each chapter heading begins with “Take Responsibility for Your . . .”

And what is there to take responsibility for? One through 12, according to Kreek’s chapters, are taking responsibility for fear of failure; your goals; sharing leadership; your stress; your professionalism; your recovery; your coaching and mentoring; the people in your boat; for your safety and that of others; communication; your resilience; and for enacting Providence.

Kreek admitted to finding the process of writing difficult, coming as he did from the world of the physical to the world of the cerebral.

“I hate writing more than I love it,” he said.

“Writing this book felt like training for the Olympics. It was actually analogous to preparing for the Olympics and achieving a goal.”

Which is what Kreek did twice in the Mike Spracklen-coached Canadian eight, turning relative failure at Athens in 2004 to resounding gold-medal success in 2008 at Beijing. The Canadian crew was the 2002 and 2003 world champion heading into Athens, so the fifth-place finish in the 2004 Olympics was considered a disaster by its standards.

“Our expectations were not met at Athens,” said Kreek.

“I thought I was done. But I used the next four years to recharge and regain my energy and passion.”

Again, it was about failing forward. Four years later in Beijing, persistence paid off as Kreek and his Canadian crewmates from Elk Lake became Olympic champions.

“A rowing crew is about shared leadership,” said Kreek.

That is a theme that runs through his book.

For most athletes, an Olympic gold medal would be the pinnacle. And enough. But not for Kreek.

“An athlete has to recognize when a particular portion of their sporting career is over,” he said.

“But other avenues open up,” Kreek added, about his attempted crossing of the Atlantic by rowing.

“After the Olympics, I began looking for something else exciting, extreme and engaging.”

He then smiled and added: “I like to think of myself as the Minister of More.”

The Responsibility Ethic is available in local bookstores and through the regular online sources.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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