Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 93 - Aquil Abdullah - EARN YOUR SEAT

No, I mean, I think that rowing experienced a huge boom, I’d say in sort of the early 2000s when schools were really pressing hard to sort of meet Title Nine, sort of qualifications. So, you had a lot of opportunities for young girls to actually you know move into the sport.
Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 93 - Aquil Abdullah - EARN YOUR SEAT

AQUIL 00:33
No, I mean, I think that rowing experienced a huge boom, I’d say in sort of the early 2000s when schools were really pressing hard to sort of meet Title Nine, sort of qualifications. So you had a lot of opportunities for young girls to actually you know move into the sport. And for me, it was just, I happen to be lucky. I grew up in Washington, DC and oddly enough, I was at the only school at the time, public or private that had a rowing program.

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JESSE 01:24
Welcome to Smart Athlete podcast. I’m your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today was the winner of the Henley Diamond Sculls in back in 2000. He is a four time US national team member and competed in the Olympics in 2004 as a rower. Today, he is still an athlete and software engineer and a company called Hydrow that’s Hydrow with a W on the end. Welcome to the show Aquil Abdullah.

AQUIL 1:49
Thank you for having me, Jesse and thank you for mentioning that there’s a W at the end of Hydrow.

JESSE 1:55
Well, it’s phonetic sounding. So you’re like hydro. Okay, I got it. But because I don’t know if it’s technically some double entendre, but you know it’s an amalgamation of words then it’s important to make sure the W is on the end. So I bolded that so I didn’t miss that part.

JESSE 02:14
Good stuff

JESSE 02:15
Yeah. So before we got going, you told me you’re coming back from skiing. You’re already starting the week off weekend off, right? I’m just doing research on you looking at like a couple of short interviews I’d seen with you. I was like, I mean, hang out with this guy. He just seemed like a fun guy to hang out with and you proved it right off the bat be like, Oh, we just got back from skiing like just my normal day.
AQUIL 2:42
Yeah, man. I mean, it’s one of those things. You know, it’s just the crazy. This has been a crazy year. And it’s just was, last minute decision but just had to take the family. Get them on the slopes. You know, my son who’s almost three. He just loves it. He just wants to go fast. So, we’ll see. We’ll see how he does tomorrow.

JESSE 03:07
Do you think he’s going to be sore tired not wanting to do anything?

AQUIL 03:11
Oh, no, he’s follows his big sister everywhere. So he’s going to be like, I’m all about this. He’s going to be ready to go. Okay, hopefully he’ll sleep tonight, though. He didn’t sleep last night. Though, he didn’t sleep last night. He kept coming upstairs to say to my wife and I, I love you, mom. I love you, dad. We’re like thanks buddy but it’s time to go to sleep and his sister was out cold
JESSE 03:35
You know I think after a day of skiing that he’d be pooped out but I guess I haven’t been around a lot of three-year-old energy, so maybe I’m just delusional because if you can tell me about all that.

AQUIL 03:50
Yes, He’s good. I think we’ll be in good shape tonight so good stuff.

JESSE 3:54
I don’t know anything about skiing so let’s start there. like cl [phonetic] I’ll say we have a skiing snowboarding venue here. But I’m in Kansas City. So it’s not the closest obviously we’ve got Colorado 9 hours away well, Denver nine hours away but you know there’s nothing terribly ski around here. So I’ve never gone how’s that work with kids. Like, are you taking him on like little slopes? Are you like strapping him on you with a baby Bjorn and going down big slopes like what are you doing?

AQUIL 4:33
Yes, so basically, I’m getting my workout in as well because we are basically just on the bunny slopes. right now. And I have a leash or a harness and he’s attached to it so he doesn’t get away from me. But so we just like go down and he falls back and I push him forward and he falls back and I push him forward and then he falls forward and gets going faster and I have to pull him back.

So you know I told my wife I said like this is just paying the dues now so that, you know, by the time he’s five, six we’ll be able to actually go skiing as a family and have some fun. So it’s all just putting in the work right now.

JESSE 5:16
Yes, Well I mean, I don’t have any kids at least at the moment. It seems like that is the philosophy in general, right, put in the work now, it’s going to pay off later.

AQUIL 5:28
It’s crazy. and I think I was trying to think about sort of my athletic career. and I know that one of the things my dad used to always make me walk like, everywhere, like he would not pick me up. And I do the same with my kids. And sometimes my wife is just like, she’ll go pick up the kids, when we’re on like hikes and stuff but I think that’s just like, but now, I just love to walk. I think that was part of the origin of it. So yeah, starting early.

JESSE 6:03
Yes, Well, it seems like I saw if you don’t mind me mentioning. If you do, we can move on. But I saw I think on your Instagram that your little girl’s in martial arts?

AQUIL 6:15
Oh, my goodness. Yes.

JESSE 6:18
So I’m a martial arts background. So I identified with that I started when I was in first grade, I can’t think of what age that would be like, six, somewhere around there. And yeah, went through the end of high school before, you know, collegiate athletics took over, I couldn’t do it anymore.

But it’s a journey, man. So I just want to encourage you, basically, after I saw that I was like there’s something at least for me there’s something very powerful about it in terms of just being centered, just day-to-day, not even just like, while you’re doing it, but just I know, I feel like I miss something of myself from that time period where there’s like, not just a confidence, but like, center is the best way, it’s like, everything’s just a little calmer.

AQUIL 6:22
So yeah, you know it’s part I think. I won’t call it the ritual of sport, I’ll call it the ritual of movement, right? like where you go through this repetition constantly and then you become proficient at it, right? and then you can go to a place where you start to notice things and the transformations as you go through those movements.

And I think that for me, that’s been sort of the beauty of what I’ve seen about her not only in confidence in terms of like taking martial arts, but also in terms of her going through the different forms now, and becoming better at them and just watching her confidence in herself, but also, just how it does have that centering effect for her. She’s crazy. I mean, I should have said she has a lot of energy.

JESSE 7:21
Last is good, though. You know, this it’s such a great venue, I think. Because it’s it combines so many like it’s anaerobic, it can be aerobic depending on what you’re doing. There’s all the mindfulness required. I remember so I, grew up with a Russian instructor. And when I say Russian instructor, I mean, straight from Russia like he got out of Russia because they like, I don’t I can’t remember his entire story. But he spent time in like a Russian prison for being a dissident and yeah, came here.

And he practiced martial arts, while he’s in prison. And he was a competitive bodybuilder, so big guy, and I just remember him always, I’ll say yelling but you know in an encouraging way, yelling, it’s like focus because you know just saw I could do better but I needed that attention to zoom in yep and just that whole thing you know I i don’t know that I have a question for you like I said it’s just a matter of I saw it. And I was excited for you and excited for her to go through that journey. Because I’ve been through it. So and I enjoyed it.

AQUIL 9:24
Well, you know, that moment in particular that you saw was when she was graduating from the dragons, which is where she started to the juniors and she’s been really excited about becoming a junior getting her half purple belt. you know, the whole thing has been especially through this year, she’s just you know, it’s been, one of those things we felt like we had to keep going for her just to maintain that consistency. And so, yeah man, that was pretty cool for her she was pretty excited about that.

JESSE 9:58
Yeah. So I’ll jump a little bit onto you. This is one thing that you’re the third rower I’ve talked to but the first Olympic rower so you can tell that place, I always have to ask, because I’m a kid who grew up in the suburbs in the Midwest, so I get like skiing, I’m like how the heck do you even get into rowing?

Like, what? Where is there an avenue that it’s like, I’m going to get into rowing? the only person I personally know the guy in the rowing was never a rower, but just like she had a tall build, she was she played volleyball and then was recruited into college to put to row. yeah and that is my only personal touchstone with rowing at all so how do you how do you even get started? Does it a matter? Have you got to live near a coast? Like, what culture? Am I missing out on?

AQUIL 10:53
No, I mean, I think that rowing experienced a huge boom, I’d say in sort of the early 2000s when schools were really pressing hard to sort of meet Title Nine, sort of qualifications. So you had a lot of opportunities for young girls to actually you know move into the sport. And for me, it was just, I happen to be lucky. I grew up in Washington, DC and oddly enough, I was at the only school at the time, public or private that had a rowing program. And so I had a bunch of friends who were like, who had been asking me to row pretty much throughout high school and I was like yeah you know that rowing that’s not a real sport.

Get out of here. Come on. And, and finally my senior year, I played football, I decided to row in the spring instead of run track and it was a lot harder than I thought. And within the course of a couple of months I was hooked. And I got lucky enough to be offered a scholarship to Roy George Washington university. And so that’s sort of how it started.

I think you look around now and you see a lot more programs rowing programs for juniors and a lot more scholastic programs in high schools and I think that a part of that is due to the fact that there are opportunities for college scholarships. you know definitely on the women’s side that have increased. So yeah so I mean I think that it’s out there, but if you live in the middle of Idaho, probably not a rowing program around but you know you can always just get a single. Yeah, you know, there is probably a rug program around town here.
JESSE 12:56
You know, I had an affinity for running. So that’s where you know I played. I played soccer and softball when I was young, and as I mentioned, did big karate, but you know I probably already got the single route because I played soccer played softball did those each two seasons and of the four combined seasons I played my teams won zero games. And I think at some point, I said I’m done with this. I’m going to do my own thing. I’ll be in charge because I was competitive, I still am. And I was like, I want you I want to win. I don’t want to lose every single game we play, but you know so that I think that probably led me down that path.

But you know I grew up like middle class or middle class suburb. I don’t know I have this perception of rowing, as like a high class sport and triathlon is that way too because triathlon is darn expensive. It doesn’t, I mean, you can get into it for maybe 500 bucks. But if you really get into it, you are thousands quick. So I don’t I don’t know, how much a boat costs? But it doesn’t seem like the average thing that everybody had.

AQUIL 14:21
So yeah, in terms of access, that is something that is really near and dear to my heart right now I participate on the national rowing foundation. I’m a board member. I don’t know if you’ve heard of a most beautiful thing it’s a movie that’s out it’s about the first all-black high school rowing team, out of Chicago, west side of Chicago in the 90s and that you know so like I’m really working to make sure that we can get that access of the sport, because as you said like boats are not cheap.

However, if there is a school program around, if there is a community program around, then you can show up and there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll be able to get into a boat. So that’s not the limiting factor. But as you said there’s other barriers like you know cultural and things like that, I don’t know the sport of triathlon all that well. One of our athletes at Hydrow Nick Karowski used to be a triathlete, or probably maybe still does. But you know but I don’t know what the demographics of triathlete. The triathlon athletes are like, but can tell you and growing that at least in the united states it’s predominantly white.

JESSE 15:54
So yeah, it’s definitely similar. I think like if when USA triathlon, they’ll publish their stats like if you want to look in the magazine to try to get advertising. Whatever, they’ll say average household incomes like a little over a hundred thousand dollars and I went to these elite development races there’s only a handful it’s like three or four of them every year they’re draft legal and follow the same format as the Olympic format, but for amateurs right, which can be dangerous, if you’re just doing anybody which is why there’s only a few of them and its invitation only.

But they’d have junior races there, and it’s mostly you know young white kids with parents that can afford to fly them to Florida with bikes and yeah you know there’s a lot of cost barrier there. Where you know even just like middle class doing well family may not be able to afford that. So that you know limits a lot of people from participating and even if they can participate like, I said you could participate on a local level but then progressing up gets difficult quickly.

AQUIL 17:04
Yes, but the thing that I tell people that you know about rowing, because we think of like Ivy leagues and Oxford and Cambridge and all of that. I say the guys that rowed on the team with me, there were guys from temple SVSU, Ohio Wisconsin so there were guys from all over. That that had made Oregon like you know so they’re it. while it does have this perception you know, I think that if you look at least the years that I was competing there were guys with you know from all over, at least in terms of the schools that they went to.

JESSE 17:56
Right, well I want to back up a little bit, because sure you know, you had talked about you played football and then you know most football athletes in high school decided to track. As you mentioned and you decide not to do track. what mindset shift what changed your mind there? because you went from no, to I’m going to go out and then you know things progress so like I mean what’s the point of inflection?

AQUIL 18:26
I wanted to party. but I wanted to stay in shape. Okay like, it’s my last year of high school, I was going to play football in college. My dad played football. He wanted me to play football. I liked football, but like I didn’t want to be like, I didn’t see myself like being a football player. My dream wasn’t to go to the NFL that wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy with my team. I enjoyed the guys, I played with. I enjoyed, just sports in general. So like I knew that crew was tough but I didn’t know how to and so I was like I’m going to do this this this spring. I’m going to stay in shape. I’ll still run, and so I was going.

This is the sort of the story; you can ask my mother if it’s how truthful it is. But I was beating her all next time I was basically walking down the stairs to go to beach week, and I hadn’t decided whether or not I was going to play football or whether I was going to row in college you know and she said she was standing at the bottom of the stairs, and she said, you’re not leaving the house until, you just tell me what you’re doing for school next year? I didn’t want her to go outside, because I knew that there was a trunk full of beer in the back of the car.

So I didn’t want her walking up with the facts. So I had already made the decision, I just needed that forcing function to say like I’m going to row. and it really was. I tell people there was probably like three months of rowing, in high school. when I went from sort of just where I started to get it where I was like out on the water. And like it was just it was a meditative type of thing we were talking about earlier, about how you get into that zone that is it how you can focus and you know when you have eight boys, in this case moving almost together with me being the odd man out, I got thrown in with the varsity team and the JV team.

Because I had the strength to do it, and so they were like we got to get him up to speed and get rolling well. so that he can compete. yeah so, that’s sort of the journey that I took was one where I enjoy, I enjoyed football but IT wasn’t what I wanted to do and I saw it more of a vehicle for getting education than I did, as like I’m going to go to the NFL. So that’s sort of the transformations at places like, oh I can still get a scholarship and not get hit. I’m in.

JESSE 21:27
Yeah, it’s not such a high rate of injury. It’s like we hold up, I feel like I talked about this, I’ve mentioned this previously with other guests. But Kansas City is now doing pretty decent in the NFL, finally. But when people around here they still get like pains, like, if things start going wrong they’re like oh it’s the old juice again. But I’m like man, it’s part of the whole season and this showed up, I think, hugely in in the super bowl. It’s a war of attrition. If you lose your guys, what you could do? So like injuries play such a huge part, and I don’t think average joe thinks so much about how easy it is to get injured even though those guys are enormous. My homes [phonetic] himself has knee spun around, and ankle. Like, all those little stuff.

So I don’t fault you in the lease. I don’t want to get hit anymore. I’m going to go row. and be able to get up and walk in the morning instead of just wanting to lay in bed and not go to class. Yeah, so walk me through the timeline, from college to trying to make the Olympic team. Where are we years wise? Is there overlap? I think, I missed a little bit on the timeline there.

AQUIL 23:12
So, basically, I finished up at GW around 96 and then I went to, I actually went to the Olympic trials in 96 and came in fourth in the single. I started rowing and so this is sort of the tell that this is like. After my freshman year, I went to sort of a rowing development camp, and it was coached by Tony Johnson. He was the coach at Georgetown at the time and he told me said, I got a lot of good guys coming down from Dartmouth and yell and so on and Georgetown they’re going to be here, so why don’t you try sculling.

So, in rowing there is sweet with one ore and that’s what you predominantly see in college and in the movies and then there’s sculling with two oars and so that’s sort of the route that he guided me into and I think that that was actually really good for me because it was something that I could do by myself it was something that I could start to much like yourself I could get better at and I could do and so by the time I was graduating from GWI. I become pretty proficient now that being said I did flip in my first race. I was rowing my coach’s boat at the coach at GW at the time was john Delvin[PHONETIC].

I was roaring his boat and it was probably it was older than I was and I took maybe four strokes in my first race and the oarlock broke off and I flipped into the water so I always like to tell that story because you know it’s easy to think that like people take routes and they then they’re good right away. You were talking about attrition and in sports a lot of times it is attrition, there’s guys that are better than you and there’s guys that are not as good as you and you’re putting in your time and you’re improving and somebody retires and boom you get your shot you know and so I think that the one thing that I love about sports and rowing in particular that I found is that, you always have that opportunity to get better to improve.

So, basically, what happened is after college it wasn’t you know there’s a couple of paths to making it to the national team one in college you’re identified you get invited to national team camp and you’re training at camp and that’s how it goes. I wasn’t quite good enough to make it to the camps right out of college.

So I rode at a club I wrote a Potomac boat club in Washington DC and there I was lucky to be around a bunch of amazing athletes that were really pushing at a high level to get better and to actually make it to that next level and soon enough I did, I got a call up to row at the camp in basically in Princeton, New Jersey but once again I’ll tell a story like it’s not it’s not easy for about two months while I was trying to make it to that level. I lived in Tampa Florida in a two-bedroom motel with three guys, we had two beds, we rotated who would sleep in the bed and who would sleep on the floor, we had a microwave.

So we ate eggs tuna fish sandwich and peanut butter and the name the owner of the motel’s name was sham and like clockwork every week he showed up to get paid you know and it’s just one of those things that I was like just trying to rub two nickels together to try to you know scrape and scrounge and make it and so when you talk about resources and access to the sport one of the things that I want to make sure of is if there is anyone that has the potential that they have the resources to actually make it so that they don’t have to make that decision of do I have to end my career because I don’t have the resources or can I keep going because there’s someone there to help me and so that’s sort of what to me like is important today and sort of like what I can do but once again I jumped ahead I’m sorry I’m like no in the future.

JESSE 27:50
No, you are fine man.

AQUIL 27:57
I got to get my train of thought back yeah so we jumped off let’s say let’s say we’re in 1997 I made I got selected as a spare to go to the world championships in in sharmini[PHONETIC] and I tell you man that sorry ex Levant in in France and I tell you I got to see one of my good friends Jamie Coven [PHONETIC] win the world championships in the single scull and that was like for me like a moment where I was like wow like this is this is what I can do this I can make it you know and so I worked hard and then in 99. I went to the Pan-American games and I won the silver medal in the single and so I was feeling pretty good about myself yeah but then 2000 came around, I’ve been training in Princeton with the national team and everything’s all of this talk oh gill’s going to go to the Olympics.

He’s going to be the first black male to ever go to the Olympics and all of that that record is playing and we get to the trials and it’s the best two out of three and you know I made I won like I did the time trials heat semis and I’m in the final I win the first final and in the second final I have an asthma attack lose the second final so we’ve got to go to a third final and basically I lost the third final by thirty three hundredths of a second and I mean you know you’re a runner you’re a triathlete thirty three hundred thousand yeah that’s nothing , that’s a brutal one.

JESSE 29:52
You’d rather be like five seconds or something like, exactly it wasn’t even like it wasn’t I got beat that’s just how it is right.

AQUIL 30:03
So yeah, I lost it and I was crushed, and a lot of people ask me like how did you come back from that? and I was like well I was lucky I had it, The people around me. Really, and this is why I really like so you got to have a great support system. You have to be around people that are in your corner and pushing for you. Because the head coach of the national team at the time this was mike teddy and we’re standing on the dock I’m standing there, Jamie coven’s there, he knows both myself and Don Smith, who had just beat me.

Like, I was I was ready to go to Australia, but now I wasn’t going and he like looks at me and my parents are standing down, at the end of the dock and he says a kill, hold your head up! he says, look down the end of that dock he says, your parents still love you, it’s just runway. and I was like wow! I was like just rolling to you, but it helped to put things in perspective.

At the end of the day, we love sport and it provides so much for us in the way of opportunity and maternity and sorority. But we have that people and relationships are what life is about, and that’s part of the journey. The same year I went and I won the Henley royal regatta, over in England.

So that sort of put my head right and I was able to come back and compete for the next four years, and eventually go to the Olympics in Athens. So I represented the US and every sculling boat the single, the devil, and the quad. So that has been like awesome sort of experience.

JESSE 32:10
You know, what always strikes me about, I mean, your story and I think a lot of Olympic stories. I think it I wouldn’t say for sure, but I would say it probably if there is a rule, more the rule, your story is more similar to everybody else’s. Like, in an easy pathway, but you know think about we turn, when we turn the Olympics on. And there’s all the pageantry of it that goes on, and you know it’s right on television, and you know, the Olympic theme plays and the whole the ceremony and all of it elevates it to this place where it’s you know the pinnacle of sport for all these sports.

And I think in some ways like disguises or brushes over the part of the story where you’re bunking with a few other guys sleeping on the floor, peanut butter, like to get to this moment. There’s all this glory to be had in this single moment. But it’s like I feel like there’s a lot of stories about people even the people that win at the Olympics, they get gold and then they’re like crushed, like what now? That singular moment and then the floor falls out, especially for those that have to retire. I mean how many times did Phelps[phonetic] retire and come back and retire come after 2008? I think he’s done it twice.

Now I don’t know just the whole thing it’s it is the pinnacle of sport. But I think it’s hard for people to wrap their heads around the reality of the day in, day out, work it takes. Even if you have a spot at the Olympic training center. Like, I’ve been to the training center, if you go to Colorado Springs you can go visit it’s not a five-star hotel!

AQUIL 34:32

JESSE 34:46
You can, easily in a week, or a day, not have a spot at the Olympic training center, it’s not like oh I’m here but I got to stay here. You know, it’s not like oh I’m here, now everything’s great. it’s right. And it is that you know you’re talking about having the right atmosphere, it does obviously lend to a lot of the things, you need. Food being one of them, where you don’t have to worry about food. They’ve got that figured out. They know, what you can eat, and yeah all that figured out. You don’t have to worry about, where you’re going to sleep? At least as long as you’re there. You know, all that support. I don’t know again, a whole lot of questions just more commentary on the situation, and the dichotomy of the reality versus what I think, is the mass understanding of what the Olympics are.

AQUIL 35:27
So, you raised I think something, that I think, you raised. You made a point that I think is worth talking about. That is sort of the way we as athletes view ourselves, Right. We are judged by the clock. We are judged by judges. We are judged by ourselves. There’s so much in our lives, that is about judgment and whether it is comes time for us to retire, we have to, how do we now judge ourselves? and I think one of the things that I love about being at Hydrow, where I am now, is that I have been able to expand the way that I think about the world, from judgment to curiosity, Right.

So, we can say, I fell down or I didn’t work out today, I’m a bad person or we can say, I didn’t work out today, why is that? Let me try, to work out five minutes tomorrow or ten minutes and as we move from this space of judgment to this space of curiosity. We can be kind to ourselves, Right. This is not, we’re still holding ourselves accountable. For the things that we have to do, but we can be kinder to ourselves. I think that one of the hard things for me as I made the transition from being an athlete, an Olympic athlete, to being a work a day Johnny, still had that competitive nature and I still do. But I had that judgment that really was wrapped up in my worth, of who I was and how I moved forward.

And I’ve seen a lot of athletes who like once they retire they don’t know what to do, with themselves. and I think that was really lucky. Our coach once said I want you guys to have a job because if I have to cut you, I want you to be able to go on! Right. And that’s a powerful thing for a coach to say, because there’s a recognition that like you have to be you, that there’s a whole athlete there, that there’s a whole human being there. Not just an athlete.

Maybe not all sports that works, but at least in I think a large number of amateur sports, that having something else, there is powerful both for the longevity of the athlete, but also for the emotional and like psychological stability of the athlete.

JESSE 38:19
Yeah, well in it, I mean, you touch on this it’s like where do we draw our self-worth from? I’ve been here, I still am here, in some aspects, like I’ve. I think I even talked about this in in my last recording, with Eric Bell, former pro triathlete. We’re only good as our last time. If that happened yesterday, that was yesterday, that’s not today! It doesn’t matter, Anymore. so it’s like your self-worth gets wrapped up in that, because it’s such a big part of who you are.

So I mean that begs the question how did you move on? and you find yourself now at Hydrow? but before that, you worked as software engineer for several different companies. How do you make the transition? and then I think, before we got going, you’re talking about the CEO Hydrow, saying basically, they made the company so you could you could help run it.

AQUIL 39:26
No, I think so, I was lucky in that. When I decided to stop rowing, there were rowers that were there to say, okay! what do you want to do? Like, you know, I could have transitioned into finance or I could have transit. I could have transitioned into software engineering.

So I had the gift! If you will, or the luck of people, who understood sport and know me maybe even a little bit better, than I understood myself. To help me make that transition, because it is hard to be so good at something, and then go into a place where you’re not quite sure how good you are? and is that’s a hard thing to do.

So I got lucky to work at a company interactive supercomputing, where the CEO was you know, this guy Pete Peterson, he was a hard ass, hopefully, you don’t have to bleep that out. He demanded accountability. But he also understood how to build a team. So, I think that as we transition, we have to be in places, where you have management, that understands how to build a team. That is for me I think been where I’ve been lucky.

Wherever I’ve been since, putting down I’ve had people who knew how to build the team as you know leading the companies. That worked for me, that was great! because they understand that not everybody has the same talent and that maximizing the talent that you do have, so that you can shine, so that everyone can shine. I think that for me like that’s what I love.

There’s so much about you, where I work now, and how grateful I am to have the opportunity to do what I do at hydro but we have a great team and we I and we have great leadership. I think everybody gets to shine, and everyone is made to feel like they’re valuable. That’s I think part of it, coming from athletics, right. Sometimes you have coaches who don’t make you feel valuable, and you internalize that. Right! and so you have to get out of this thing, of like, have to get out of that psychology. So we go, that’s a whole thing there, I want to get. I don’t bring it down, but I know you’re right you’re an athlete, you can I’m sure you’ve had coaches who were just, you know.

JESSE 43:00
I’ve had a variety of coaches with different styles, and thoughts. Just expectations and lack of expectations. I think, I wouldn’t call myself the CEO because I have a very small team, but you know I think about it. I was team captain of pretty much every team, from high school through college. and think about being a leader and what does that mean and I think that’s a couple things is like, you mentioned recognizing what people are good at?

And letting them know that they’re good at, as well as giving them the opportunity to shine. Some free reign to do it. when I work with people I hire, freelancers to help me, from time to time, if I need coding done or if I need artwork done I find somebody who like I’ll speak to the artist point, there’s an artist I love, working with for some of these products, I make.

And I say to her like I’ve got an art background, so I can sketch some things and I just say this is my idea, you go do it, I don’t say that needs to be red and this needs the blue! I just say I love your stuff like, show me, what you got? and very rarely do I have to do anything. Like, oh let’s revise all this. It’s like I love what she does. let her do her thing, and I think that’s part of to me being part of a great leader. And building a team is giving people the breathing room not micromanaging them like, you hire them to do the job, let them do their job. So 100 yeah.

AQUIL 43:47
So, it’s crazy, sort of going back to what you said about, how you know I have a job that was like basically designed for me. when I came to Hydrow, Bruce and Matt Lair, our head of experience, we went and had lunch, and they talked to me, and we were about to have our second child. And I really wasn’t up for the risk, and I also didn’t get it because I had this idea of what a rowing machine was supposed to be? It was supposed to be this thing it had little statistics on it, and it hurt, and it was painful, and nobody really liked it. But they didn’t. That was my idea, what really was.

Having been here, I realized that this sport it can be a beautiful experience. That we can create a platform, that gives people something to feel good about. and helps connect them with other people. And that to me has been one of the most amazing things about this past year. I mean there’s a lot that’s been said about this past year, don’t get me wrong, but the connection the ways that people have found to connect, have been to me pretty amazing. I feel like, I talk to people more even though, it’s virtually now, than I did before.

So being part of a company that is engaged in connected fitness, thinking of ways that we can we can help people along their fitness journey as well as you know come together, and make new friends. You know, has been pretty awesome. But to be able to get out in front of the camera, row, and then you know come back home, shower up, and then put on my nerd hat and sit down and write some code that’s really feeds my soul. So I think it seems like it’s just going to be a lot of points of joy.

JESSE 47:22
You know, I’ve got an upcoming interview with, Gosh! I just forget his name. He wrote this book called the happiness handbook for high achievers. Here at the end of the month, he sent to me. and it’s like I’m just getting started. With it get ready for this interview, and it’s like that is the point, Right. You know, we want to be happy, like people, don’t think I want to be rich or was like okay those are ancillary things. You think, being rich will make you happy. Like, the happiness, that joy is what you’re after, so it seems like you’re in a good place to have lots of joy from just day to day.

AQUIL 48:12
Yeah, and it’s crazy too, we got our Hydrow back in march, and my wife was like she’s a highly decorated swimmer, collegiate swimmer, and she used to do yoga, and all of this stuff. Before we had kids, she wasn’t really working out, as much, you know as she would like. You know that fitness was something that was missing, from her life. Fast forward a year and you know we got us back in march, she’s like connected with a group of women, that use the Hydrow.

They have their own pushing each other, coming up with their own fitness programs. I am constantly amazed at how people have found ways to connect, not only on our platform but on other platforms. To me, that is something the bit of joy, that I’ve actually found in this year. Given like, you know the hardships that so many have had to face.

JESSE 49:27
Yeah, well I think, one of the things we can take away from a year in isolation, is that, it brings into sharp relief, how needed some social interaction is meaningful. Social interaction I even saw an article the other day, about like the value of casual friendships you know, where it’s like there are a lot of people. I have a good friend, I met years ago, when I traveled to Canada. We keep in touch. It his complaint a lot of times to me, is like he moves around, and he’s like oh it’s so hard to make like deep friendships.

It’s like well it is, but like there’s also value and just like having a buddy, you can see every once in a while. You don’t have to be like soul mates, with a best buddy all the time. Just like there’s value, in just talking to somebody. I get a lot of value just being able to hang out with people like you on Fridays. Your story I think that’s part of what has probably driven people to platforms like Hydrow where it’s like, Alright! I know I need to work out, I don’t want to go to the gym, I’m not comfortable, whatever.

And then I also need to connect, I mean it’s like it sounds like Hydrow’s you building steam peloton, obviously, has picked up a lot of steam. All similar idea like, let’s be connected but on your own time. At the same time, I think that’s one probably good thing we can look at, in just as long as we remember we do need this, and it is part of our own health not just physical but mental health, like we need to connect. Such an important thing so, yeah, your comment about casual friendships.

AQUIL 51:22
Just had me, think about, the fact that there are a group of people that I used to ride the train into, and commute with. some of whom haven’t you know seen in over a year and that’s crazy. Like, I used to see these people every day. They were in my life, you know, but that’s sort of thinking about the nature, like you said. you know, I knew a lot about them, like people’s kids. Being about this thing, and that thing, and we didn’t really hang out other than the train.

Maybe we got together, once in a while, but you know but like those, I haven’t seen those people in so long. Maybe I need to do, like a commuter party, or something like that. When things are back to, whatever the new normal is. We’ll see how this year develops.

JESSE 52:21
Yeah, Aquil, as we’re winding down, I think you are a triumphant story. Finishing this question, if you listened, I don’t know, if you got through the whole episode that you talked about listen to Steve. But this year, I’m asking everybody, how do you stay motivated after failing to reach a goal? And it seems, like, you’re uniquely qualified in some ways to answer that.

AQUIL 52:45
Yeah! I think, that what we spoke about it, a little bit, I have moved away from judgment. I believe, in curiosity and accountability, right. Like you move toward a goal, and if you fail, you can ask a whole lot of questions about why you fail? and as long as, you’re willing to, and you know, in some ways it’s funny. Because this is sort of nature of my mind, from the analytical side, is that give me data and let me process that data. Let me see if I can do it, again.

Change this and change that, and so I think that one of the ways, that we can stay motivated, after a failure, is to have the people in your corner that will help to nurture your spirit. But the other is to be curious, how the things happen, that happen. Sometimes people are just better than if you’re like, that’s just, that’s why you lost, you know, yeah. Other times, there are choices you could have made, that were different and that’s why you didn’t achieve your goal. But if you don’t ask those questions and if you give up, because of that, then to me that’s a bigger loss.

JESSE 54:20
It’s a very solid answer. I appreciate it. Aquil where can people find you? see what you’re up to?

AQUIL 54:27
Yeah, you can find me on the IG Instagram at Aquil underscore Hydrow, against Hydrow with the w, and that’s a-q-u-i-l underscore Hydrow. Yeah! you can see pictures of my daughter kicking the bag, and kung Fu me, zooming down the hill surfing rowing, the whole shebang.

JESSE 55:01
Sounds good! I appreciate you taking time to talk to me, today.

AQUIL 55:04
Oh, it’s been a pleasure man. Pleasure’s been mine. Good Stuff!

JESSE 55:07
Take care.

AQUIL 55:09

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