The Rowing Roots of the November Project

How the Fitness Phenomenon Grew From Two Boston Rowers Looking to Stray in Shape

By Callie Clement – Posted on October 20, 2018

Despite the real-feel temperature of 25 degrees Fahrenheit at 6:30 a.m., dozens of citizens took to Summit Avenue in Brookline to run in the regular Friday workout of the November Project. Teachers, students, lawyers, and more pushed themselves up and down the steep inclines of Summit Avenue, jumpstarting their weekend with an intense, yet welcoming workout.

Cold, dark, and early morning workouts are something November Project runners and rowers share, fitting given the fitness phenomenon’s roots in rowing.

The movement began in 2011, when two Northeastern University men’s rowing alums, Brogan Graham and Bojan Mandaric, felt they needed some way to motivate each other to keep up their fitness. November is usually a down month for rowers. The Head of the Charles and the on-water season is over, the indoor erg workouts still weeks in the future.

So Graham and Mandaric decided to meet up in various free locations around Boston to do their workouts, like the steps at Harvard Stadium and the hill of Summit Avenue. Six months later, the fitness movement went viral on social media and the two close friends found themselves working out with hundreds of strangers. It grew ever larger from there. Today it is not uncommon for several hundred people to show up for the regular Wednesday morning runs up the Harvard Stadium stairs. In seven years, fueled largely by social media, the Project has become a global phenomenon, with November Project groups working out in 49 cities worldwide, as far away as Hong Kong.

The rowing roots of the November Project can be found in more than just the early morning workouts, according to one if its founders.

“I think there are a lot of similarities we draw from rowing here at the November Project,” said Mandaric, a Serbian native, who began rowing when he was 14, and retired from the competitive rowing after winning four consecutive Alumni Eight championships at the Head of the Charles. “Accountability is the number one thing. If you have only seven people come to the boathouse, that boat is not getting out on the water. The same thing goes for these workouts. The culture of the group teaches that kind of accountability, even to non-rowers,” he said.

Although Mandaric can no longer be found in a boat on the Charles River, both he and his co-founder, Graham, who now lives in Wisconsin, still enjoy the playful, competitive aspect of the November Project that is instilled in every member.

Another aspect of the Project that closely mirrors the roots of rowing, said Mandaric, is the hard work that every member puts in each morning at their weekly workouts.

“Plain old hard work – in rowing there is no way around it. If you’re talented in rowing it doesn’t really matter, you still have to be a really hard worker to be successful. I think that’s one of the things we do here too. All members of all fitness levels are pushed to do their best and work their hardest every morning.”

While co-founders, Mandaric and Graham, no longer lead the Boston workouts themselves, and the majority of members don’t have a rowing history like their founders, the ideals and principles that every rower is taught can be found in each participant every morning at 6:30 a.m.