My mother began rowing for "Dick's Chicks" a masters club coached by legendary UW coach Dick Erickson. I grew up going down to San Deigo for the crew classic and watching races back in Seattle. My mom's team raced in bright yellow tank tops and they wore bandannas wrapped around their heads. I thought they looked awesome. I signed up for novice rowing at Mt. Baker and went to my first practice in the fall of eighth grade. I remember my coach having us count off and I was told I was going to be a starboard (as I remain tried and true sixteen years later). The novice team rowed in big wooden Pockocks with wooden oars and when we learned to feather it took about three hand rolls to get the things to turn.
2. Was there a practice, race or other event when you fell in love with the sport, or when you knew you might not be too bad at rowing? When you thought you could make the national team?
My shift to rowing "seriously" happened in the summer after tenth grade. I was in a great boat and we won the Youth Invitational. A few of us went to development camp and raced at the Olympic Festival (the last one I think, Kenny Logins played the Opening Ceremonies in Mile High Stadium). We worked so hard at that camp, training three times a day in 100 degree Sacramento heat. At the Festival my four won and we all got to row with the senior development team in eights. My boat was stroked my Tori Folk (Olympian in 2000) and I thought I had really made it. We got HUGE medals for every race, wore matching wind suits on the medal dock, each got a bouquet of flowers and they played the national anthem (we were all USA athletes)! I was 16 and hooked.
3. Best race/practice, worst race/practice?
I've had many of both, in the racing category winning Brown's first NCAA championship in 1999 was incredible. We had to break UW's winning streak to do it and I just remember the pure thrill and the complete satisfaction I felt. One of the hardest races was losing NCAA's to Washington as defending Champions in 2001, my senior year. We had a tough regatta, came back and were leading the final in the last 250. Mary Whipple coxed her boat right through us in the last 20 strokes. I can still hear her... it haunts me.
I love great rows you can look back on and still feel. Anna (my partner in the pair) and I had this great row out in San Diego this spring. It was getting dark and we were just clicking along. Tom was out with us but all the other boats had gone in, we were doing 20's, just flying along with no effort. It was just FUN and fast, I go back to that whenever I lose that feeling of glide.
4. Best/Anything you've done in the sport no one knows about?
My husband Luke (6'6", 2k:5:51) and I (5'9", 2k:classified, Olympic pair) got married so that someday we can combine our strengths and have kids that are fast on the erg AND fast in the pair and the national team coaches will build teams around them.
5. Any/Most important advice for young rowers?
On my second 2k erg test I was determined to improve my score of 9:30 or so. I swear to this day I went out in the 1:30's at a 45 (mind you I was 14) for almost a minute. After 30 strokes or so I was blinded by pain, totally incapacitated and I just tipped over and fell off the machine. I could taste blood. My coach pulled me aside and calmly told me I would NEVER, EVER stop in the middle of a race or erg. She told me if I was sensible I would make a plan, set a goal and start again in five minutes, or no one would want me in their boat. I quickly learned that twenty fast stokes does not win a 2k, the value of pacing (walking away with about a minute off my previous time) and that sometimes it will be tough and awful and you will taste blood but keep moving, or as Brown coach John Murphy would say: don't be a suitcase.
PORTIA MCGEE BIO:
Hometown: Seattle, Wash.
Current Residence: Princeton, N.J.
Club Affiliation: USRowing Training Center
Began Rowing: Mt. Baker Rowing Club, 1992
Date of Birth: 3/9/1979
High School: The Bush School
Undergraduate Education: Brown University, 2001
Current Coaches: Tom Terhaar
Personal: Portia is a four-time senior national team member and first-time Olympian...Portia was named USRowing's 2007 Female Athlete of the Year...After many years on the east coast, Portia looks forward to joining her husband, Luke McGee, in her hometown of Seattle, Wash., this fall where Luke coaches rowing at the University of Washington...Portia and Luke were married in the fall of 2006 after meeting on the 1997 U.S. Junior National Team, where they both rowed seven seat...Portia lists John and Phoebe Murphy, her coaches at Brown University, as her rowing mentors and her husband, mother and father as her biggest supporters and greatest rowing fans on earth...She was in Sports Illustrated's Faces in the Crowd in September of 1997.