Her dream was forged early. Huddled in front of an old, rabbit-eared television in the middle of a New Zealand winter, a seven-year-old Kirstyn Goodger watched the Summer Olympics and was transformed. "I saw someone get a gold medal, and remember seeing the expression on their face and I was just overcome in that moment," she said. "I knew right then that I wanted to go to the Olympics."
At the time, the Goodger, or "Goodg" as she's called, had yet to try rowing, the sport that she hopes will lead her to Rio in 2016. The Auckland native has already tasted success on the international stage, winning a silver medal for her home country at the Junior World Championships in Brive-la-Gaillarde, France in 2009. Now in her senior year at the University of Washington, she intends to bring the training discipline and mental fortitude learned in her four years in Seattle back home when she competes for a spot on the New Zealand national rowing team.
"Here [at Washington], every day is a test," Goodger said. "The varsity and the JV boats are rowing alongside one another every day, so every day is a test of your ability."
That ability is tested across multiple boat classes. Washington rowers learn to excel in eights, coxed and straight fours, and, the team's wheelhouse, the pair. And on a squad filled with internationally successful rowers, the daily demand for high performance in each of these boats is perfect practice for the challenges Goodger will face in her bid to make the national team.
"You never know on any given day what boat you'll be in, or what seat you're going to sit," she said. "But every day, I have to perform to prove I deserve that seat, otherwise I could lose it."
The need to adapt will serve Goodger well in the environment of post-collegiate rowing. "When I go back home, there will be no situation that is unfamiliar," she said. "Whether I'm in the eight or the pair, I'll know how to be focused and on my game, and in a good state of mind."
Victoria Nenchev and Goodger after the Varsity 8+ beat Cal last spring
Washington head coach Bob Ernst has watched Goodger grow as a fitter, stronger athlete in four years she has rowed with him. "When she came here, she was a tremendous athletic talent and a very motivated person," Ernst said. "Now, not only is she a better athlete, but, because of all the time we spend in the pair, she's developed a lot of confidence in her boat-moving abilities."
That confidence is no doubt bolstered by her success in the pair; regardless of the other rower with whom she is paired, Goodger has yet to lose a pair race in her time at Washington. "My nickname for her type of rower is the universal donor," Ernst explained. "She makes everybody else she rows with row better. She helps you blend, and helps you become more effective, and helps you feel the boat."
"If you're with her, you'll probably row better than you would anybody else," he said.
When Goodger returns home after graduating in June, she will not only be equipped with a world-class Washington education, but she will also have gained a unique perspective on how a national team trains. (Ernst, a former Olympic coach, trains his crew at an extremely high level, and even inserts current US national team workouts into the team's schedule.)
"In New Zealand, it's about kilometers, kilometers, kilometers, and here, it's a different kind of training, " Goodger said. "I think if I told some of the girls over there about the intense training we do here, and they'd tell me I'm crazy."
Goodger knows the training program at Washington has made her faster, and she says she won't soon abandon those training principles in her pursuit of making the team. "There are definitely some training practices I've learned here that, if I made the national team, would take back home."
"Even if they all think I'm crazy."