Feb. 22, 2012
The "Road To London" series will take the occasional look at the Husky oarsmen and oarswomen who will be representing their nations at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. This time around, we profile Megan Kalmoe, who has gone from walk-on to Olympian and is now looking to secure her second trip to the Summer Games. Along the way, Kalmoe documents her experiences on social media and her personal blog.
SEATTLE -- There are the occasional eye rolls in the boathouse, but Megan Kalmoe is not about to apologize. She wears her Husky pride like a badge of honor, and she doesn't care if her USRowing teammates are tired of hearing about it.
See, without the Washington crew program, Kalmoe would be on a path far different than the one she's carved for herself now. She certainly wouldn't be training for the 2012 Olympics in London this summer, set to realize an opportunity available only to a fraction of athletes who pursue the sport.
"I am incredibly proud to have come out of Conibear and am not shy about sharing it with anyone who will listen," said Kalmoe in an email to GoHuskies.com.
Nor should she be. This is Olympic cycle No. 2 for Kalmoe, who graduated with a degree in Latin and English from Washington in 2006. Since leaving Seattle, she's been able to earn a living representing the United States as an elite rower, splitting her time between Princeton, N.J., Chula Vista, Calif., and various race courses around the world.
Learning to be a rower within the Husky tradition taught me to be gutsy, fearless and fiercely proud. But also to always, with no exceptions, uphold the highest levels of humility and respect in any competitive situation.
Kalmoe specializes in sculling (double-oared boats), and is coming off a silver medal at the 2011 World Championships in Bled, Slovenia, in the quad. This is a sea change from the sweep rowing emphasized in the NCAA, but for someone who learned the discipline almost by necessity, Kalmoe says she prefers competing as a sculler. Part of the reason is that Kalmoe wants to be on the forefront of the group that is able to take down the established Europeans - many of whom have been sculling since middle school - in the Olympics.
Besides, the 27-year-old Kalmoe likes the accountability that comes with rowing in small boats, something highly emphasized at Conibear Shellhouse during the fall/winter months.
The Washington crew program has an established track recording of developing Olympic athletes. Kalmoe is the latest in a long string of Huskies who have rowed in the sport's pinnacle event. Her career started as a sophomore walk-on when the St. Croix Falls, Wisc., native arrived at Conibear Shellhouse admittedly carrying an extra 30 pounds on her frame, the result of the usual freshmen indulgences.
During her first experience with winter training, Kalmoe said she contemplated quitting each and every day. Rowing is a sport that punishes the mentally weak, when the pain cripples the mind and makes the athlete cry out "no mas." But it also rewards those who endure, and Kalmoe admits she can't comprehend what would have happened if she quit 10 years ago.
Over time, the ideals that make the Husky program special molded Kalmoe into a strong, capable athlete. She made All-Pac-10 teams, All-American teams (both academic and athletic), and was named team captain in 2006. She rowed on the U-23 team, which sowed the seeds for an international career after the four she rowed in won gold. Despite not having great size, the 5-10 Kalmoe succeeds because of a manic devotion to her craft - whether it be training, physical therapy, rest - and a hyper-competitive drive to be the best at what she does.
"Learning to be a rower within the Husky tradition taught me to be gutsy, fearless and fiercely proud," Kalmoe said. "But also to always, with no exceptions, uphold the highest levels of humility and respect in any competitive situation."
The Husky support network has been instrumental in helping Kalmoe develop as an athlete. Kalmoe remembers searching out former national team rower Anna (Mickelson) Cummins, who authored a similar career as a walk-on turned Olympian, when she first arrived in Princeton. Now she's the mentor for Huskies such as Adrienne Martelli ('10) and Kerry Simmonds ('11), whose national careers are in their infancies.
"I try to make myself available and supportive but whether or not they consider me a mentor is really hard for me to say," Kalmoe said."I know from my experiences being a young, inexperienced and relatively clueless athlete coming out of college I benefited a great deal from the guidance and experience of the older women on the team"
Kalmoe gave herself one option when it came to choosing a school. She had fallen in love with Seattle on earlier family vacations, and wanted to be a Husky before she was even sure what that entailed.
Kalmoe keeps in regular contact with a network of Husky coaches, both former (Eleanor McElvaine) and current (Bob Ernst). She reached out to men's crew coach Michael Callahan about hosting his team at a BBQ in Princeton when the team was rowing at IRAs in 2010, and took on the responsibility to feed dozens of hungry Huskies.
"That kind of loyalty to alma mater is what we constantly preach here at Conibear Shellhouse, and Megan is a shining example of that," Ernst said.
There are challenges that come with being a national team rower far beyond the monotony of training and racing. In need of a creative outlet, Kalmoe started a blog (www.megankalmoe.com), which started as an innocent project but has now evolved into a sometimes poignant window into the mind of an elite athlete. She writes about the fear you manage before a 2K erg test, the challenges of boat selection, the lack of adequate funding for full-time rowers, and why being an elite athlete puts a crimp on dating. On a lighter note, Kalmoe also talks about the music playlists she creates for workouts, and has put together what she calls "The List," i.e., the 20 hottest male athletes in the sport. Yes, there are t-shirts.
The website, which began in 2008, started as a therapeutic way for Kalmoe to handle the ups and downs of the sport and keep in touch with family and friends. Little did she expect that it would attract a global following.
"I think much of the full process of making the National Team and winning medals for the US is lost on a lot of people," Kalmoe said. "My hope has always been to demystify the process and share what we do with people who want to know."
As the Olympics approach, Kalmoe and her teammates are gearing up for the intensity of the selection process, an often remarkably cruel event that has seen some athletes left home on the eve of the Summer Games.
Kalmoe said those thoughts remain on her periphery, thanks to a coaching staff - headlined by Tom Terhaar - that cocoons the athletes in a relatively stress-free environment. This leaves Kalmoe free to let it rip on the water, as only a Husky knows how, pushing her limits and chasing speed. As Terhaar often tells her, "You can get the results you want, but you have to work."
Kalmoe echoed this mantra when discussing the advice she would give to a walk-on athlete looking to achieve a similar dream.
"If you really commit to pushing your limits and always finding ways to improve, get stronger, get fitter -- you can be as fast as you want to be," Kalmoe said."It may take years of training to reach your goals, but if you want it badly enough, you can do it.Full-time training isn't for everyone, but if you're willing to do what it takes, there's no reason in my mind that anyone who really wants to make it, can't."