by Geoffrey Knauth
Robin and I attended a banquet and induction ceremony into the Soaring Hall of Fame honoring two great pilots, Roy McMaster and Sarah Arnold. We were in the company of some previous honorees, and in general we were surrounded by amazing glider pilots. Some of them are also professional pilots, flying airliners all over the world for decades. Much of this would have been familiar to my rowing friends. These were people who had spent a lifetime pursuing the highest goals with a love of their sport, highly developed skill, and dedication to inspiring the youth of today and future generations. In rowing, on one end of the spectrum is the fledgling nestling just trying to keep from flipping in a single, and at the other end you have complete masters of their craft, minds and bodies, keeping their nerve and achieving extraordinary speed in the face of the toughest competition and often rough waters. In soaring, novices think in terms of just getting on the ground safely, going up and coming down, while the masters of soaring read nature like a book, commune with and learn from birds (the true masters), venture many hundreds of miles from home, and occasionally do things so miraculous, surprising and brave it makes all the other masters stop and cheer. The longevity of Roy McMaster’s career in soaring is remarkable and people told of his bravery and generosity. At his table were at least three generations of glider and professional pilots, all there to see their father and grandfather honored. The stories around Sarah Arnold reminded me of the greatest athletes I’ve known in rowing. I’ll relate one that will be immediately recognizable to rowers, since we just had the Head of the Charles regatta in Boston. (By the way, soaring competitions are also regattas.) In a large field of elite glider pilots not long ago, she started last, passed everyone, and finished first. In a more recent competition, everyone was watching her final glide, the point many miles away from which you try to have enough height that you can make it to the finish. Conditions were difficult, margins were thin, people wondered if she’d make it. In soaring, some people go by just one name, such as “Sarah.” In a great moment demanding skill and courage she made it, she won, and in that feat astonished and beat everyone else yet again.