Imagine: you have just finished your first year of rowing. Arms, body, legs, square, feather—all of it strange and new. Now, you are standing on the podium at the World Championships, a bronze medal around your neck.
Helluva novice year, huh?
Senior Patricia Obee doesn't have to imagine this. She lived it. "I guess I got obsessed really, really quickly," the Canadian said of those first few practices. "And if you really like something, it's easy to put a lot of time and effort into it."
Physiologically speaking, this kind of meteoric rise makes her an impressive freak of nature. (All Olympians are.) But it would be erroneous to think it is simple biology that makes her great. In truth, it is Obee's singular commitment to training that propelled her onto the international stage so soon after picking up an oar. And she just keeps getting faster.
"I really love the direct correlation between work output and results that you get in rowing," said Obee. "It was amazing when I realized, 'Oh, if I want to be better at this, I just need to try a bit harder.' How fast I could go became limitless."
"Every day, you learn how much harder you can push yourself," she said. "It gets addictive."
Seeing the opportunities to row while getting a college education present in the United States, Obee enrolled in Oregon State in 2010. That summer, she made the Canadian U-23 squad, racing in the lightweight double and winning bronze in the eight.
"After U-23s, it was suggested to me by a few of the coaches to come up and train with the national team to try and make the Olympic squad," she said. "Once someone plants an idea like that in your brain, it's hard to ignore it."
After fall quarter of her sophomore year, she went home to try.
Obee spent a year and a half training at the National Training Centre in Victoria, B.C., and eventually made it into the lightweight double,for the 2012 Olympics. They placed seventh, just out of the finals.
"After that a pretty disappointing result at the Olympics, and I didn't want to be anywhere near the Training Centre," she recalled.
Obee sought out the University of Washington to be a part of its rowing program. "A lot of the guys I trained with went to UW, and said it'd be a good fit if I wanted to get my education done while rowing in an environment that would allow me to actually get faster than I was at the Center."
She has become faster. Just last week, she PR'd on her 2k. Her coach sees even faster splits ahead.
"Obee is the most committed athlete I've coached since I've been with the women again," said head coach Bob Ernst. "When she first came on, I thought, 'I dunno, she's kind of small.' But—holy cow—the erg scores she pulls, and the effort she makes every day is just incredible to watch."
"All the other top performers all want to race with her," Ernst said. "That says a lot when you have girls who are sub 6:50 [on their 2k] who want to row with a 5'7", 130-pounder."
Obee had no choice but to make her mark with the big girls; Washington doesn't have a lightweight program. Ernst says they don't have a heavyweight program, either. "Anyone with guts enough, and enough determination and enough motivation can make any race boat they want to here," he said. "I don't see lights and heavies. I see people with courage and character, and Obee has that in spades."
After completing her degree in anthropology next year, Obee will head back to the NTC to once again train full time. She intends to train as part of the lightweight double for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and perhaps even one more quadrennial after that. "I have a lot left in me," she said. "I'm committed."