I’m Not Who You Think I am, but Then Again Neither am I

When Sean and Matt approached us with the concept for this website, I was really excited. What a cool project! After having just finished up my BAs at the University of Washington, one of which was culminated in a senior thesis project written on social networking websites, I was definitely interested to see where the site could go. The potential for social networking websites is practically limitless, and I think that the specialization of online networking is just one of the many things which are yet to come as these fascinating and unique aspects of cyberculture continue to grow and develop.

But in the meantime… an online community akin to a “Facebook for rowers” is very exciting! Unlike some of the other mainstream online rowing communities, RowCoachMedia offers a more personalized approach to connecting socially with other members of the rowing community online, via photographs, groups, forums, blogs, and other media sharing technologies (podcasts, audio sharing, and hopefully video sharing). Additionally, Sean and Matt have designed the site to cater very specifically in some ways to the elite rowing community as a means for many of the U.S. and Princeton Training Center athletes to communicate with one another and the rowing community at large about what training for the U.S. team is all about. I think this aspect of the site is particularly exciting as competing in our “low-profile” sport sometimes creates a sense of detachment from a typefied understanding of participation in “professional” athletics.

In my [very limited] experience, rowing is still not as widely known or understood as many other mainstream sports (I have found this is more true around my hometown in rural Wisconsin, versus in Princeton or even Seattle). Additionally, the concept of “training with the U.S. national team” doesn’t always ring a lot of bells for people either–“so what, does that mean you’re going to the Olympics or something?” and “You get paid to do that?”. Sadly the answers on both counts are too often “no” and “no”, but from my end I’m not sure which is more frustrating: having to say no because there’s a good chance I won’t go to the Olympics and meanwhile I’m not getting paid–OR–that the majority of people out there don’t know anything about elite or Olympic-level athleticism, the work, the selection processes, the athletes, or their lifestyles. This is, of course, excluding the extensive media coverage given to the selection of athletes for a Dream Team out of pools of celebrity baseball and basketball millionaires.

The launch of RowCoachMedia, I think, is a step in the right direction in terms of publicizing our now little-known sport, and also increasing public awareness of the meaning of Olympic training and the countless hours of self-sustained commitment that come before stepping up on to a medal stand. My hope is that the work Sean and Matt do here on this website will help push the sport to new limits of growth and development so that rowing will continue to be one of the fastest growing athletic communities in the world.

That having been said, I am not who you think I am. Though I am in fact training full time at the Princeton Training Center with the majority of the U.S. women’s crew, I like to think that I am in somewhat of a different place than say, Anna Mickelson, Caryn Davies, or Susan Francia. I say I am in a different place because I am not a returning world medalist; I am not a returning Olympian. I do not pull a sub-6:40 2k and I am not over six feet tall. And when I put it that way it sounds as if I have almost no business being in Princeton at all. Some days I genuinely feel that way. So the place that I find myself in these days, while not that of a world-record holder is one that is no less rewarding or challenging: I am the new kid.

I came to Princeton for the first time in the July of 2005 to train for ten days with the U-23 squad and to complete a required time trial in the W4- before leaving for competition in Amsterdam. I had just finished my third year of rowing as a true novice at the University of Washington when I began the camp that June so I had been hoping just to keep up with the rest of my campmates and figured that no matter what happened the camp would help me to improve as a rower for my upcoming senior year. I made the 4- that went to Amsterdam that summer and we even managed to win a gold medal in the process, which I have to admit was somewhat befuddling. I had no idea what competing at the pre-elite level was going to be like when I went in to the camp, so I can’t say that it either met or fell short of any expectations that I may have had. But coming back to the U.S. after the win opened up a multitude of new opportunities for me, among them the chance to join the U.S. senior squad following my graduation in 2006. It seemed to me that not long ago I hadn’t ever been in a rowing shell, let alone tried to race one…and now I was facing the possibility of making a career out of it. It blew my mind.

A year and a half later, I have forgone immediate entry into graduate programs, coaching, traveling and getting my first “real” job to move to Princeton and train full time. I left behind all of my friends in Seattle to join what I hoped would be a great new group of women who would teach me, push me, and support me as I worked to develop my skills as a rower. I have not been disappointed. Training in Princeton has been a fantastic experience for me, on personal and social levels, as well as what it has allowed me to achieve as a rower. And so I hope that I can use this blog to record and reflect on the ways that I am working with being the newest addition to the group at the Princeton Training Center, and how being at the bottom of the totem pole is a lot of work, but work worth doing. I hope that my perspective may be different than the women who are going on their fifth and sixth national team appearances, and that I can offer some insight and illumination to those operating both inside and outside the elite rowing community.

Until next time,

–MK

[This post originally written for http://www.rowcoachmedia.com%5D
http://rowcoachmedia.com/node/237

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