Monday, September 10, 2007

Oar or oar

John B. Kelly was a world renowned rower from Philadelphia who won medals in both the 1920 and 1924 Olympics. The father of Grace Kelly, he is an icon in Philadelphia who was immortalized with a statue(Pictured above) along the Schuylkill River, the nation's rowing capital.

The statue sits at the end of the rowing grandstands adjacent to the recreation trail that follows the river. Many experts and trail users never understood the reason the oars on the statue were so short.

A recently discovered diary revealed the story. The truth is that from 1905 to 1943 it was very poor etiquette for a rower to use their boat for anything other than rowing. Kelly knew this, but decided early one crisp autumn morning to use his boat for fishing.

"It was a remarkable day for fishing as I could almost see the bottom of the river. What an immaculate river this is. I quenched my thirst with a cup of river water," wrote Kelly in 1919.

A United States Rowing Division official was on the water that morning and reported the incident to the group's officials. The USRD punished Kelly by demanding his oars be no more than four feet in length then forcing him to race.

"It was painful as the entire board of the USRD watched as I was forced to cut the oars in two," Kelly wrote.

This pushed Kelly to work harder and to prove to the USRD that he could still be an effective rower with the shorter oars. With hard work and determination Kelly felt he could make up for the disadvantage. The rest is history as Kelly went on to win three Olympic gold medals.

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