Athletes Past and Present: David Banks

For most rowers, the sport leaves a lasting impression on their lives, and for David Banks, this is no exception. Banks, a two-time Olympian (2008 and 2012), found the sport by chance, discovering the meaningful, life-long impact that it can provide.

Banks, who recently finished a stint on USRowing’s Board of Directors, recognizes a need to encourage diversity in rowing, providing underrepresented groups the life-shaping lessons of the sport. We caught up with Banks to discuss his time as a rower, as well as his thoughts on how to improve participation and provide greater opportunities to underrepresented communities. 

How did you get your start in rowing, and what drew you to the sport?

I started rowing in college when I walked on to the Stanford University rowing team. I didn’t know anything about the sport until then. I was drawn to the energy and competition of the sport, as well as its simplicity. If you put in work, you got better.

Describe some of the largest challenges you faced during your journey to becoming an internationally competitive rower.

I just had to learn how to become professional and how to properly approach training. I owe this learning to incredible teammates and coaches, especially those as I was coming up who were mentors to me and really helped me get to the next level. I also owe it to my family who, without their support and inspiration through this process, I would not have been able to do much of anything.

Who are your largest role models in the sporting world? Why?

Muhammad Ali is definitely a big sports role model [of mine]. He was an impressive sports figure more than for just his athletic ability but for his determination and his belief in himself when no one believed in him or what he could do. It allowed him to achieve not only at the highest levels of the sports world but also outside of it. He wasn’t afraid to stand up for his beliefs despite the negative consequences these stands would have on his athletic career and his personal fortune. His commitment to his beliefs, his remarkable ability to connect with people from all walks of life, and his determination in the face of adversity are impressive and inspiring.

What did it mean to you to represent the United States at the Olympics?

It was an incredible feeling to represent the country and all the people that helped me get to the Olympics. It no longer was about me and my journey, but about the whole country and representing all those who could not, or did not, have the opportunity — especially in my own family where there were those that, whether because of race, religion, or gender, never had the opportunity to even try the sport, let alone represent the country doing it. It was an amazing honor.

What do you think is important to keep in mind as we try to make the sport more inclusive and diverse?

It’s important to remember to connect with people when reaching out to provide access and opportunity. Rowing is a sport with a culture of giving (both on the water and off), so it’s important to remember to give and not take to make a real difference. There are some really great people working hard and doing great things in bringing the sport to new people and new faces. My hope is that we really recognize them and really connect all these people, organizations, schools, etc., working to make the sport better, so that those new to the sport can see that diversity is possible and does not have to be isolated. Hopefully, we can actively learn from each other, so that our efforts are amplified, and we aren’t working in a vacuum but as a team to help make the sport accessible and open to all.

Watch David race in the 2012 Olympic Games men’s eight final.

Article written by Elise Gorberg,

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