Unleashed: No One Can Match UW's Olympic Strokes
July 11, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - This month, NBC will begin going gaga over the United States men's basketball "Dream Team" at the Olympics. The Peacock will be going cookcoo over American Michael Phelps swimming for more gold at the 2012 London Games.
Too bad they won't be letting the world know more about Megan Kalmoe and her UW friends, too.
Talk about Olympian.
The former Husky was a softball all-conference player, student-body president and drum major in high school in Wisconsin before enrolling at Washington in 2003. Now she is one of an astounding 12 current and former Husky rowers competing in the London Games beginning July 28.
That's double the amount of America's next most prodigious producers of Olympic rowers. Washington's archrival California plus Princeton and Harvard each have six rowers representing them in these Olympics.
No wonder Washington Director of Rowing Bob Ernst, who's been at UW since Gerald Ford was president and has coached four different U.S. Olympic teams since 1976, says: "(Our) coaches know how to do it. We've produced Olympians. We've produced lots of them."
And make no mistake, Kalmoe is every bit as Olympian as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and their fellow multimillionaire pros with endorsement contracts.
Make that, she's more so.
Kalmoe and fellow Husky rower Adrienne Martelliwere walk-ons at UW. Now they are half of America's quadruple sculls lineup in London.
You don't need both of your oars in the water to know Kalmoe, Martelli and their 10 fellow current and former Husky rowers heading to the Olympics aren't exactly rolling in cash, luxurious homes or NBA-like personal trainers.
This Dynamic Dozen of Huskies won't appear on covers of Wheaties boxes after these Olympics, even if they win enough gold to fill Fort Knox. The only places they are household names are in their own households.
We've produced Olympians. We've produced lots of them.
They churn and burn through the point of retching often before dawn each day in ice and wind and rain for nothing more complicated than competition, self-fulfillment and pure love of their sport.
I'd say that's more Olympian than Phelps and the "Dream Team," eh?
"On a really basic level, it can be really tough financially to do what we do," Kalmoe told my UW athletics communications colleague Jeremy Cothran before she made her second U.S. Olympic team in four years late last month.
The top athletes on the national team get a minimal monthly stipend from the United States Olympic Committee to offset their living expenses.
"But it's not enough to cover the cost of living and training in Princeton," the 28-year-old Kalmoe said of the college town in New Jersey where USRowing has its headquarters.
That's also where a check of online rental prices Wednesday showed any decent one-bedroom apartments going for $800 per month and up.
The native of St. Croix Falls, Wis., writes frequently on her blog. Her latest entry on megankalmoe.com, from July 6, details the financial reality for her and all members of the U.S. Olympic crew teams.
"I've never pretended that I'm going to end up wealthy as an elite rower. I don't have any endorsements or sponsorships to help make ends meet, and my lifestyle is far from glamorous ..." she writes. "This August when my USOC funding is cut off, I'm going to be back in the US -- tired and happy -- but also broke and unemployed.
"No regrets, no complaints. It's the way it was before I got here, and it's the way it's going to be for the generations of women who come after me."
Beyond that, beyond the water and the boats and the erg machines, Kalmoe, her fellow Olympic rowers, and those competing in many other, similarly less-prominent sports have endured hidden personal sacrifices to get to London.
"On a more existential level, having to sacrifice personal relationships for training can be really hard," she told Cothran. "Not everyone in my life has understood my commitment to training and competing, and I have lost friendships and relationships because of it. It can be painful to have support systems disintegrate that way, and can be confusing or worse -- make you feel guilty for doing what you love."
WORLD CLASS -- FOR MORE THAN ONE NATION
Martelli was the captain of her basketball team at Curtis High School in University Place, Wash. She studied biology and psychology at UW. She and Kalmoe are joining former Huskies three-time national champion coxswain Mary Whipple on the American women's team.
The 32-year-old Whipple won a gold medal as the coxswain of the U.S. eight at the 2008 Beijing Games and silver leading the American eight boat in 2004 in Athens.
"You've just got so many different backgrounds," Ernst said soon after USRowing announced its Olympic teams last month. "A kid like Scott Gault, for example. Scott really didn't reach his ultimate potential until after he left here. What a sensational athlete. He's a really bright kid; he's an engineer -- fortunately to his credit he wanted to row enough.
"And Scott Gaultjust kept going. (Plus) Giuseppe and Brett, those guys just kept going after they left here, and they certainly have the genetic and motivational tools to be world class in rowing."
Not to mention, in life.
Newlin transferred from Michigan State to Washington as a sophomore about a decade ago. He then somehow plowed through a grueling academic program in computer science while training fiendishly at dawn and dusk to be a champion - and now an Olympic rower.
"The dean of the department was having dinner downtown with (one of UW's rowing supporters) and the dean would not believe that somebody was doing computer engineering and also a varsity athlete," Ernst said. "He said, `It takes too much work. It's too hard. It's minimum 40 hours a week with just class and lab time!'"
Ty Otto rounds out the Huskies' dozen Olympians. The national champion with UW in his senior season of 2011 will be going to London on USRowing's budget after making the team last month as a spare. The last Husky rower to have that role in the Olympics: current Washington men's coach Michael Callahan, at the 2004 Athens Games.
UW taught me how train hard.
Husky crew has even inundated Canada's Olympic team. The Canadians will have five current and former Washington rowers competing in London: Conlin McCabe, Rob Gibson, Will Crothers, Anthony Jacob and Dave Calder.
These 12 Huskies have formed the most remarkable lineage in rowing today, as impressive of one as there has been in Olympic rowing.
Consider: There are 42 members of the American men's and women's 2012 Olympic rowing teams. Washington is one of 20 colleges represented on them. Yet Huskies make up 29 percent of the squads.
That makes Ernst the deliverer of more Olympic content than Bob Costas.
The dean of Huskies coaches has been at UW since 1974. He coached the U.S. women's crew team to a gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
Ernst moved back to leading UW's women's program for the 2008 season, after 20 years and two national championships coaching the men. So he's been the college coach for eight of the 12 Huskies on the U.S. Olympic rowing teams that will begin competing July 28 at Eton Dorney Rowing Centre, on Dorney Lake 25 miles outside London.
He points to the disparity in rowing experience of these Olympians before they got to UW and says, "You see, that's why we have so many Olympians come from our team. It's because you can have a great rower over here, like Dave Calderwho came in as a junior world champion. Or you can have someone like Martelli come in with an all right gene code.
"(Our) coaches know how to do it. We've produced Olympians. We've produced lots of them."
And not just for our country. The traits that are the foundation of Husky crew -- pushing past perceived limits and sacrificing for the greater good of the team - transfer across any international border.
Especially the one an hour and half north of Seattle.
"UW taught me how train hard," McCabe said a few months ago from Victoria, British Columbia, during training for Canada's Olympic team. "I thrived in the environment and felt myself getting substantially fitter. It was motivating and made me want to continually push harder.
"So many of the things that make the UW program successful are the same at the senior (Olympic) level."
Ernst loves that Husky crew crosses boundaries come Olympics time.
"We've always had a really good relationship with recruiting Canadian kids, because those kids and their families and the national team coaches know we don't have any national-team bend here at the University of Washington," Ernst says. "We want the kids to be on the Canadian Olympic team and win the gold medal if it's in the stars for them.
"We're proud of the fact that our kids win medals for Canada. And consequently I think Canadians are really comfortable being here. I don't care what country they are from. They're Huskies.
"As far as I'm concerned, I'm always trying to get the best kids in our region to come to the University of Washington," the coach said. "It just so happens that our region is the California-Oregon border all the way up to the Yukon."
Calder won silver with Canada in the third of his three previous Olympics, in 2008 in Beijing. Jacob is what Ernst calls an "aerobic phenom." As a teen growing up in Vancouver, B.C., he was a Canadian national elite junior triathlete.
I don't care what country they are from. They're Huskies.
The fun-loving, 6-foot-8 McCabe, a native of tiny Brockville, Ont., is still a UW undergraduate because he took a year off to train with his native national team for London. He's worn faux mullets while emitting primordial screams to enliven grueling Husky practices on Lake Washington. He's also painted his sunglasses different colors depending on the opponent and setting for Husky races.
He will row in the men's eight for Canada, the defending Olympic gold medalist. So Will Crothersand Gibson, 2009 UW graduates from Kingston, Ont. They helped return Washington rowing to national prominence while winning national championships in 2007 and '09.
"They got it back," Ernst said. "Those two guys, Jesse Johnson, that bunch of guys really did a number getting us back to the top of the heap."
"REALLY GOOD KIDS"
Of all these Husky Olympians, McCabe and Otto share what is my favorite quality, at least according to Ernst.
"Ty and Conlin are the nicest guys on the face of the earth," the coach says. Then the most accomplished and tenured coach at Washington thought of these dozen Olympians that will be representing the Huskies in London.
He thought of Kalmoe and Martelli fiendishly working from walk-ons to become Olympians. Of the pain and the sweat and the studying and the relative anonymity that went into all 12 becoming Husky champions and now proud representatives of their countries.
"Those guys and gals," Ernst said, "are all really good kids."
To me, no matter where their boats finish in London, thatis gold.
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.