PC: Dan Copenhaver
In the fall of 2009, I quit rowing forever. Nine years later, I earned a spot on the USRowing Senior National Team for the World Rowing Championships.
I had a really tough time rowing for the Princeton open weight program and, as a fiercely independent person, hadn’t felt like I could lean on those around me for help. Feeling overwhelmed by what felt like failure, I couldn’t face going back for another year.
Instead, I spent the 2009-2010 school year falling in love, riding my bike, learning to bake and working hard at all the other pieces of my life. That included my health. After gaining some weight post-rowing, I found myself in the “overweight” category on the BMI chart. I made some changes, started tracking nutrition, and slowly began the weight loss process. By end of summer in 2010, I had lost 25 pounds and decided to reach out to the lightweight coach.
Paul and the lightweight team welcomed me back to the boathouse with open arms. And with that incredible group of women, I found a new place in the sport. My first two years of college rowing, I felt a personal obligation to continue. I had no identity or friends outside of the sport. In my year away from the boathouse, I created that identity, found those friends and filled in empty spaces that I didn’t even know were there.
But it turns out that I really rowed because I loved it, and there was an empty space that only rowing could fill. I started fresh in 2010. And every day I showed up to practice because I wanted to be there. I rediscovered joy.
By the end of the 2011 season, I had worked my way from slowest in the 2V to stroke seat in the varsity boat. We had an undefeated regular season, won our regional championship and were ready to take on Nationals. But we fell 0.681 seconds short of the title “National Champion”, and that left me with some unfinished business.
After college, I tried coaching for a year, but those 681 milliseconds still bothered me. When one of my coworkers asked me if I wanted to be rowing in the boat or coaching the boat, my answer came instantly. One year after I left Princeton, I picked up (a little bit less fit than) where I left off.
Since 2012, I’ve been chasing a big dream: the Olympics. My husband and I moved across the country to a tiny town in northwest Connecticut to work with a great coach and train on an amazing body of water. In the beginning, I got my butt kicked so many times. Every time, I adjusted, put my head down, and worked hard. Slowly, I got faster. And with speed, came results. But the results were never quite enough. I’ve placed 2nd or 3rd at World Championship Trials four times, and only the winner earns a spot.
I’m not sure anymore how many times I’ve almost quit again. Too many times to count. But this year felt different. This year, I asked for more help. And the people around me stepped up in huge ways. My coach gave me space to experiment. One family friend provided housing for a winter training trip, another for a visiting athlete. The Volée showed up for my cross-training runs. Friends came to cheer me on in races. The masters and junior athletes stepped up so they could push me in practice. And all those little pieces added up to something magic: first place.
On August 8th, I earned the title USRowing National Team Athlete. It’s not the Olympics yet, but it’s a huge step in the right direction. On September 9-16, I’ll be competing at the World Rowing Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in the lightweight women’s quad with three other incredible women and our incredibly accomplished (female) coach. We’d love for you to join our cheering squad!
If you want to follow Michaela and all the World Rowing Championship action you can check out the live tracker, audio commentary, and live results here!
Best of luck Michaela!