This is Meghan's second Olympics. Read her original row2k Starting Five post from 2016.
How have you prepared differently for this quadrennial than previous cycles?
My focus and preparation during the 2016 cycle was so much built around this idea of making each day count and accelerating my learning curve. I had to fail fast and fail forward, so learning was key and it felt as though I was making huge leaps of progress in such a short span of time. That approach came from the very real fact that I was playing catch-up since I had started rowing so much later in life than my teammates and competitors.
Silver in Sarasota
This last quadrennial was much more about building upon all of those skills I had finally learned, understanding the opportunities for improvement and leaning hard into my shortcomings, and being kinder to myself. Things that I used to put a lot of unnecessary energy into worrying about or fretting over became less important as I started to understand the bigger picture of how to go fast and how to enjoy going fast. And in this cycle, it became clear to me that I'm no spring chicken. I had to put a lot more emphasis on recovery and how I trained in order to stay healthy and keep making gains as an older athlete.
Did anything completely unexpected happen, or do you have any memorable or unusual stories from this Olympiad?
The year leading up to the 2020 Olympics for me was one of the most tumultuous years of training and to be completely candid, of my life. Two major things happened that sidelined me from training at my highest level: 1) I was hospitalized in late May of 2020 for several days fighting a nasty and stubborn infection in my left arm. I was out of the boat for several weeks recovering. In a way, I was very fortunate that the Olympics had been postponed. 2) Later in the year, in late November 2020 I would have a freak bicycle accident that, coincidentally, also impacted my left side. My poor left arm didn't have a great 2020. I severed the ligaments in my shoulder that basically hold my arm to my body. It was a lot of work to get to a place where I could compete and continues to be a lot of work to maintain the strength I need to move the oars through the water.
Any/Most important advice for first time Olympians?
Enjoy it. Everybody says this, but really sit and consider what this means. One of my greatest regrets is how disappointed I was at the end of our A Final in Rio. We had come in dead last and I was devastated. I had so many friends and family in the stands and I couldn't even look at them as we rowed past on our way back to the docks. I let my own ego and shame take me out of enjoying that moment, even if the end result wasn't what I wanted. The Olympics is so much bigger than you and your result. I told myself that no matter what happened in Tokyo, I would be sure to look up in the stands and take it all in, smile and wave to my friends and family who had traveled so far to support me. While I'm getting to go to Tokyo, I won't get that chance due to the spectator restrictions. So yeah, for the first-time Olympians, the dream may not play out exactly as you want it, but make sure you enjoy it for everything that it still is. It truly is a once in a lifetime experience.
What was your state of mind like sitting in the starting block of your first Olympic race?
Heading out into the waves in Rio
I was nervous of course, but laser focused and excited to ACTUALLY be racing at the Olympic Games. The weather was insane, so that added to my anxiety and adrenaline, but you just kind of have to put the blinders on and trust the work you've put in and all of the races that brought you to this point. My first Olympic race ended up being pretty terrible and comical (well, now after five years I'm able to laugh about it). I kid you not, Ellen and I (in the women's double) ended up rowing in three different lanes across the course of our Heat. The weather in Rio had really whipped up and the lake was basically an ocean. I had never experienced or seen waves that big, and moving in all directions. We caught so many diggers and got turned sideways and pushed into other lanes due to the force of the wind and waves. I think they eventually called off racing shortly after our race. Not exactly the way you envision your first Olympic race, but you just have to shrug it off, learn from the experience and move on. We would go on to fight our way back through the Repechage, oust Olympic gold favorite New Zealand in the Semi-final race, and earn our spot in the Olympic Final.
What's different this time around/what will you do differently at this Olympics?
So many things are different! This Games will likely be like no other, but still very special in its own way. For starters, I'm in the quad versus the double and that really excites me. I've never raced the quad internationally, so this is a whole new adventure. It's faster, a whole new and different field of competition, and two more bodies to share this incredible experience with. It's been a lot of fun to be in a big boat and that will put a whole new spin on this Olympics.
Separately, I feel calmer heading into these Games. Call it age, wisdom, or both. Like all athletes in the later stages of their careers, I've been through and experienced nearly everything you could throw at a rower. I also know that this is my last Games. There's a pretty lethal power to that in that I feel very focused, I know exactly what needs to get done, and I'm going to be sure I make the most of every second because I won't get another opportunity.
Do you feel older/better/wiser/stronger/other?
I'm definitely older and wiser. I've come to learn that strength comes in different forms. I know that I'm a stronger rower than I've ever been in my career; but my bench press is certainly nowhere near what it was in 2016.
Does the phrase "the Olympics" ring differently the next time around?
I'm sort of the type of person that forgets that I'm an Olympian and now a two-time Olympian! I've devoted the last decade of my life to this journey, but it isn't who I am. My partner said something to me recently about being a two-time Olympian and hearing it out loud kind of jarred me. I was like, "oh yeah, that's me." It does ring differently this time around, but for a variety of reasons. In the 2016 cycle, the Olympics was this huge goal I had set for myself back in 2011/2012, challenging my body and mind to do what felt like the impossible: go from novice to Olympian. It is an incredible accomplishment and something I'm so proud to have done.
The Rings in Rio
But in that process and the work I've done off the water, I've also come to understand that while the Olympics is a wonderful celebration of sport and bringing the entire world together for a couple of weeks, the "Olympics" is not perfect. I love the joy and the good that comes out of the movement, but I think having been a part of it and seeing beyond the fantasy, I've come to see more clearly where "the Olympics" must grow and change to live up to the movement that it claims to drive.
As far as regattas go, comparing the Olympics to different races (worlds, lucerne), is it a better or different regatta, or just higher stakes?
There's nothing quite like the Olympics, but I found that once you're in the regatta park, it feels very much like a World Championship. It is still six lanes across, 2,000 meters from start to finish. You will likely still get waked out by safety launches and media boats and you might be mowed down by the GB or German men's eight while in the warm-up area. You still have to rig in the sun and heat, and you're surrounded by the faces and crews you've seen before at all the regattas leading up to this point. All of this creates an air of familiarity. Everything else outside the regatta park at an Olympics certainly elevates the experience in a different way. For the sport of rowing, our World Championships can often be more competitive due to the limited entries per event. But with the Olympics, the world is watching. This is the event that is the pinnacle of our sport, so there is definitely a sense of higher stakes when you're at the start line.
Hometown: Baton Rouge, LA
Club Affiliation: Princeton TC, New York Athletic Club
Date of Birth: August 24, 1984 Height: 6'0"
Education: University of Virginia
Training Location: Redwood City, CA, Princeton, NJ
Current Coach: Hillary Gehman
National Teams: Seven - Senior, 2013-15, 2017-18; Olympic, 2016, 2020
International Results: Won bronze in the double sculls at the 2018 World Rowing Championships and World Rowing Cup III...Won silver in the double sculls at the 2017 World Rowing Championships...Placed eighth in the single sculls at the 2017 World Rowing Cup II...Placed sixth in the double sculls at the 2016 Olympic Games...Placed second in the double sculls at the 2015 World Rowing Cup II...Placed sixth in the double sculls at the 2014 World Rowing Championships...Placed second in the double sculls at the 2014 World Rowing Cup II...Placed seventh in the double sculls at the 2013 World Rowing Championships...Placed second in the double sculls at the 2013 World Rowing Cup II...Placed first in the senior quadruple sculls at the 2011 Canadian Henley...Placed first in the senior double sculls at the 2011 Canadian Henley...Placed second in the championship double sculls at the 2011 Head of the Charles.
National Results: Finished third in the double sculls at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials...Placed first in the double sculls at the 2020 USRowing Speed Order. Placed second in the double sculls at the 2019 U.S. Senior and Para World Championship Trials...Placed first in the double sculls at the 2018 U.S. Senior and Para World Championship Trials...Placed first in the double sculls at the 2017 U.S. Senior and Para World Championship Trials...Won the double sculls at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials...Won the double sculls at the 2015 National Selection Regatta I...Won the double sculls at the 2014 National Selection Regatta II...Won the double sculls at the 2013 National Selection Regatta II...Finished fourth in the single sculls at the 2013 National Selection Regatta I...Finished fifth in the single sculls at the 2012 Non-Qualified Small Boat Olympic Trials.
Personal: Meghan was a two-sport athlete (softball and volleyball) at the University of Virginia as well as a recipient of the prestigious Jefferson Scholarship. She picked up rowing post-college while living in Hartford, Conn., and working for ESPN before deciding to train full-time at the USRowing Training Center. After leaving ESPN in 2013, she co-founded Turazo, a software startup helping companies recruit and hire more inclusively. She is also the Athlete Representative on the USRowing Board of Directors, Ambassador with the Women's Sports Foundation, and professional speaker represented by the BrightSight Group.
NSR Racing in early 2020