Joe Rantz overcame many obstacles as a child to attend the University of Washington, and become a great athlete. His mother died when he was 4-years-old, and his father was so overcome that he left the family and went to Canada. He would later return and re-marry but his second wife never accepted young Joe, and he was abandoned by them at age 15 and told to make it on his own. He worked hard and difficult jobs, building up his body and managing to survive, which he did.
At the University of Washington, Rantz rowed the seven-oar for their eight that won the Olympic Games in 1936 and the IRA Regatta in 1936 and 1937. While he rowed for the Huskies, the crew never lost a race. Rantz studied chemical engineering at Washington, and later worked for 35 years for Boeing. After his retirement he started his own business making cedar posts and shakes. His story is well-told in the book The Boys in the Boat.