Reading Group Guide

  1. Book ImageDrawn to the Rhythm: A Passionate Life Reclaimed

    Sara Hall

    The inspiring story of one woman's journey of healing and transformation.

Discussion Questions

  1. In the first few weeks of learning to master the difficult discipline of rowing, Sara Hall sometimes is discouraged when she compares her age and lack of skill to the youth and competency of the other rowers on the dock. At one point she says, “As a newcomer, a novice, and a middle-aged woman, I was an outsider on three counts, hardly worth the most cursory greeting. . . Sometimes I found myself feeling stung and intimidated” (page 84). What keeps her going? What would keep you going?
  2. For most of her first summer on the water, Hall ends up practicing alone in the first light of dawn. Why does this solitary, early time become invaluable to her as an aspiring rower and, ultimately, as a competitor? As a wife and mother? In your own experience of acquiring a new skill, when are you best served by solitude and when by learning in a group setting?
  3. At the end of Chapter One, “First Race,” Hall recounts finishing dismally last. Though she goes on to win many races, why does she describe this first race as the greatest triumph of her life?
  4. In describing her painful teenage years, Hall says that, like many young women in first relationships with men, she “relinquished the authority of her voice and body, [and] abdicated the power of her own instinct and experience” (page 44). For her, “‘Becoming a woman’ meant a bloody and apparently irreversible loss of sovereignty over our own selfhood.” Do you believe that the loss Hall describes is a result of cultural conditioning? How are the attitudes of young women today different from, and similar to, those of Hall’s generation?
  5. Hall often talks about the rewards and trials of being a stay-at-home mother. How much do you think her decision not to work outside the home was determined by the nature of her marriage? Do you think she would have remained in her marriage as long as she did if she had pursued a career?
  6. Do you think that even a healthy marriage can be endangered when one partner finds and passionately pursues a new sport or interest not shared by the other?
  7. Hall talks about the importance of aggression in competition. Yet aggression is not a trait that our culture, at least the culture of Hall’s generation, normally rewards in girls and women. Why is it important for Hall to have found and gained access to her own source of aggression? Why might it be important for any woman? Are contemporary young women more at home with their own aggressive instincts? Do women express competitiveness differently from men?
  8. Hall quotes Beth Silverman-Yam, clinical director of Sanctuary for Families: “‘Psychological battering is real. Like physical abuse, its purpose is to gain control, not by attacking a woman’s body, but by destroying her sense of self’ “ (page 173). In the Chapter Twelve Hall says, “If my husband had hit me—broken my nose, split my lip—I could have seen him for the enemy he was” (page 179).What incident makes Hall understand how deep the problems in her marriage were? In what ways is psychological battering more devastating than physical battering? In our society, in our own neighborhoods, what are some of the ways we discount psychological battering? Have you, or has anyone you know, ever been in such a relationship? How would you counsel a friend in such a relationship?
  9. How does the physicality of rowing help Hall rediscover “what’s real” in her life? In her marriage? Are athletics necessary in offering women a more direct experience of their bodies and capabilities?
  10. Hall talks about the value of “letting go.” Why is this critically important not only to her performance as a rower and competitor but also to her ability to handle the impending turmoil in her marriage? Where might “letting go” serve you in your own life?
  11. Hall writes, “When we let go of our ego’s need to bend the world to our will, we can, at last, worship the beauty of this glorious water, this embracing air: God’s miraculous world” (page 160). What role does faith play in Hall’s life? In her racing?
  12. In Chapter Fourteen, “Contact,” Hall rows the national championship in a double scull and discovers for the first time the satisfactions of a “true partnership,” one in which “each partner has the freedom and support to express his or her greatest individual strengths” (page 207). How many marriages do you think are based on such a “true partnership”? Do you think young people these days have a greater understanding of and commitment to “true partnership” than those of Hall’s generation?
  13. Hall talks at one point about the hotly debated Title IX legislation (enacted in 1972), which requires academic institutions to invest the same resources in women’s athletic programs as it does in men’s. What is your view on the benefits and costs of this law? Do you think Title IX has had an impact on the self-image and competitive attitude of young women?
  14. In defining herself as “just a mom” Hall expresses an ambivalence many women share. On one hand, she experiences being a mother as deeply rewarding, and she enjoys the lip service society pays to motherhood as a noble occupation. On the other, she sometimes speaks of being “just a mom” disparagingly—shorthand for a sheltered woman who earns no money or formal recognition, someone who isn’t really a player in the world. How do you view women who are “just a mom”? How would you feel if your own daughter decided to forego a career for full-time mothering?
  15. In Chapter Sixteen Hall finds a part-time job selling racing boats and comes face to face with an old adversary—Vespoli—a force in the “old-boy” establishment of rowing. How does Hall handle this challenge? How have her behavior, attitudes, and actions changed since her first encounter with Vespoli during the embarrassing scene at the Canadian Henley two years before?
  16. Hall is buoyed by the support of her father and other family members. Why is her father’s support so important to her? How have her relationships with her parents, her siblings, and her Uncle Tucker been a source of strength throughout her struggle? If Hall had not had a close, loving family, where else might she have sought support? Where would you seek it?
  17. At the end of the book Hall talks about racing the final of the World Master’s Games. What valuable lesson does she learn in the last moments of the race? When she says in the last sentence of the book, “I crossed over,” over what does she cross? What is the significance of this crossing, versus the “crossing over” of her first race?

About Sara Hall

Sara Hall is the 1998 World Masters Champion in the women's single shell. She lives near Boston, Massachusetts, and continues to row competitively.

Books by Sara Hall

  1. Book CoverDrawn to the Rhythm: A Passionate Life Reclaimed

    The inspiring story of one woman's journey of healing and transformation.More