Rowing toward Olympic dreams

Editor’s note: Programming Coordinator Meghan O’Leary already has her hands full with her ESPNU duties. But the former University of Virginia two-sport star also is grabbing a chance to become an Olympic athlete. Here’s an introductory blog post about her hopes to make the United States Women’s National Rowing Team.

Eight months ago, I typed “rowing+Hartford” in an Internet search and stumbled upon a small community rowing organization based on the Connecticut River.

Therein began a journey that quickly turned my life upside down — or right-side up –depending on your perspective.

To be fair, my interest in rowing was born quite some time earlier.

I attended the University of Virginia where I was a dual-sport athlete in volleyball and softball.

I’m a tall, broad-shouldered, athletic female, so it was no surprise that the women’s varsity rowing coach always had given me a hard time. He suggested I should quit playing around in the dirt and come try the water.

Perhaps now a part of me regrets not listening to him at the time. Nonetheless, the seed was planted.

In 2008, I left Charlottesville, Va. and what I thought would be the end of my life as the athlete to enter a life working another side of athletics, in sports television with ESPN.

After a short 18-month stint as a production assistant at the ESPNU production hub in Charlotte, N.C., I found myself accepting promotion with ESPN Programming group and moving to Bristol, Conn.

After a long, cold winter of snow and ice, I was craving the outdoors, fierce competition and camaraderie of the team environment I had come to know as a way of life.

Thus the Internet search in July 2010, when I began my dance with the art of sculling (sculling involves two oars versus “sweep” rowing with a single oar).

I participated in two 3-4 week sessions. By late August, I was recruited to the Women’s Master’s Racing Team.

After winning my first race — which I admit it, I “crabbed” (when the oar catches the water funny or your hands slip; the result appears as if you “caught a crab” with your oar) — I was hooked.

It was the perfect formula of adrenaline, competition, an unbelievable workout and it is arguably “the team sport” of sports.

Flash forward to the present and I find myself waking up at 5 a.m. every morning to complete the first of two — sometimes three — workouts per day.

I’m fueled by a newly realized passion and goal to make the United States Women’s National Rowing Team and eventually compete in the Olympics.

After attending a USRowing Identification Camp in November, I learned that not only do I love this sport, but I actually could be pretty good at it. I dove in headfirst and haven’t looked back.

I now train with a USRowing Training Partner at the GMS Rowing Center in New Milford, Conn. I trek the hour there and back on weekends.

During the week, my mornings are spent on the Connecticut River putting in 90-120 minutes of training all before arriving to my desk as close to 9 a.m. as possible.

After an 8-10 hour day at ESPN, I head to the on campus gym or back out to the water for a second workout.

Often, those workouts are followed by a trip back to the office or jumping on the computer to finish up more work.

Currently I am at the level of what I like to call the USRowing National Team “Farm Team.”

Over the past six months of intensive training, I have built up the strength, endurance and stamina that it takes to be National Team caliber, and I am now catching up on the technical aspects of rowing.

Rio 2016 is the realistic goal, but what are dreams for if not for pushing yourself past the point of possibility?

The next six months will be focused on racing and positioning myself to be a legitimate contender to place at the National Selection Regattas and make a little noise at the World Championship Trials in 2012.

If things go really well, I’ll throw my hat into the ring at the 2012 Olympic trials next summer.

Besser jeden tag
quickly became my motto; “better each day” in my coach’s native German language.

Every day I get better and become that much closer to realizing a dream. I have been lucky to have a senior staff, manager and coworkers at ESPN who continue to encourage me in this endeavor and couldn’t be bigger fans.

Maintaining the balance of holding down two full-time demanding jobs of Olympic hopeful and “ESPN-er” isn’t easy and would not be possible without the support of so many good people.

Keep up with Meghan O’Leary’s training both here on Front Row and on her blog.

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