Propulsion leader by day, champion rower by night
By Brian Brackens, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Public Affairs
/ Published March 09, 2021
TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla., – Ben Boehm was a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., when he first took up the sport of competitive rowing, also known as crew.
A fun way to stay in shape and make new friends quickly turned into a passion. However, his rowing career almost didn’t happen.
“While at MIT, I tried out for the cross country team,” said Boehm. “The first workout was farther than I had ever run at one time. In Cambridge and Boston, there are running trails along both sides of the Charles River. People generally run a loop, so how far you run is determined by which bridges you cross. At one point during that practice I came to a bridge that headed back to campus. I was pretty confident I couldn’t make it to the next bridge and back, so I headed back to campus, thanked the coach for the opportunity to try out and let him know that I didn’t think the sport was for me. He agreed. Two days later I tried out for rowing and quickly got hooked on the sport.”
The first year he was a coxswain – the person who steers and directs the crew – and sophomore year he transitioned to rowing.
Now an Air Force colonel and deputy director of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Propulsion Directorate, Boehm is part of a team that ensures Air Force aircraft have the engines they need to fly, fight and win.
Recently, Boehm competed in the virtual World Rowing Indoor Championship, finishing 13th and 8th overall in the Lightweight Men 2000m event, and Lightweight Men 2000m age 40-49 category respectively. In both events he was just one of two Americans that qualified to face off against top athletes from around the world.
“For me the prize was qualifying for those races,” said Boehm. “That was a big deal for me to be able to represent the United States. It didn’t go as well as I would have liked, but it was still pretty cool. One of the guys who finished ahead of me was the on- the-water world champion in 2019 and just an amazing athlete. So it was incredible to compete with people like that.”
While rowing is a team sport, due to the pandemic, most competitions have been individual events with folks competing in real-time on rowing machine from home. Boehm said that the experience is different, however, the virtual competitions have allowed him to compete in events he normally wouldn’t compete in, such as the Scottish Indoor Rowing Championships last year.
For more than 20 years, the challenge of rowing has been a major influence on Boehm and his approach to life and leadership.
“If you ask people who work for me, they get a lot of rowing stories and analogies,” said Boehm. “I use a lot of the teamwork aspects of the sport to explain how I want our team to work together.”
When facing challenges, Boehm’s philosophy is to get the other side in your “boat.”
“When I race the single I like to win,” he said. “But when I don’t win, I try to find the person who beat me and say ‘Hey, you know what would be fun, is if next time you and I race a double together.’ So now the person I know who is potentially the biggest obstacle to that goal [of winning] is instead helping me achieve the goal. You have to focus on getting the other person in your boat, and align your goals so that both of you are able to win.”
Boehm credits his rowing success to hard work and support from Air Force teammates.
“So I don’t think I’m what people would consider a ‘natural athlete,’” he said. “Like a lot of sports, rowing rewards hard work, and over time, I’ve gotten pretty good at working hard at rowing.”