Olympians’ Romance -OR- My Life As a Single Person

Happy Valentine’s Day.

This year is yet another in a long succession of Valentine’s Days spent at the Olympic Training Center, deeply invested in the selection process for a World Championship or Olympic Team. Valentine’s Day tends to fall right in the middle of winter training… a time of physical and mental fatigue; blisters; chafe; ice baths; never-ending piles of dirty, smelly laundry; erg testing; and everything else about our sport that is decidedly unglamorous and unromantic. To say that I’m not in a Valentine’s-state-of-mind is a bit of an understatement, but nevertheless even in my state of social and geographical isolation it’s almost impossible not to be aware of the arrival of the the reddest and pinkest day of the year.

Because as it stands, I’m one of about five women at the Training Center who aren’t currently dating someone–a statistic that surprised me when I realized it the other morning. When did being single become the minority on the Team? Almost my entire career as an elite athlete I’ve found dating to be frustrating and difficult (read: impossible)–a mindset that until recently I thought was more universal among my peers. But as it turns out, most of my teammates seem to find it easier than I do which gives me hope that it is actually possible to train at the elite level and have a romantic relationship, I just haven’t figured it out for myself or met the right person. What’s more is that most of my teammates’ relationships with their significants developed after they started training (e.g. they weren’t pre-existing in college, etc.) which means that–yes, it can happen. Just not for me. Yet.

And why not? I spend a lot of time blogging about training, racing, fundraising, traveling, and everything else that goes in to the elite athlete lifestyle. But it’s not very often that Olympians talk about their sex lives (or lack thereof) despite being some of the physiologically and evolutionarily fit individuals on the planet. Superior genetics, unmatched competitive drive–according to Darwin we should all be swatting away suitors left and right.  But I’m not.  Not by a long shot.

And it’s not like I haven’t tried to make room for romance in my life  (flirting on Twitter with Conlin and Gennaro doesn’t count).  There have been forays into the dating world–almost all with other athletes–but nothing that has worked out. Usually time and geography get in the way. So when that hasn’t worked, I’ve even considered online dating. But the problem with online dating is filling out the profile:

Age… 28. Well, at least it’s not 30.
Status… Single. Seriously?
Height…5’10”. I am taller than 99% of men on this site. Great.
Body Type… What exactly am I supposed to put here? I have 15% body fat, a six pack and my quads are as big around as a lot of women’s waists. “Athletic”? Does the girl who does the elliptical 3 times a week for 20 minutes at the gym also describe herself as “athletic”? I’m confused.
About Me… college-educated, lives with a roommate in Princeton, New Jersey.  I’m in great shape because I work out 3-6 hours a day.  I eat, a lot. I also sleep, a lot. I don’t go out on Thursday or Friday nights, and if I “go out” on Saturday, I can usually only stay awake until about 11. I can’t travel for leisure because I don’t ever have time off. I can’t do anything adventurous or physical during my few free hours a week because I have to recover for my next practice. I overachieve at everything. Extreme perfectionist. Competitive….all the time. Both of my hands are covered in calluses that have been there for 6 years or more; I won’t mention the tan lines.  I live month-to-month off of a USOC stipend, so for all intents and purposes, I’m broke.  I move to California for 2-4 months every winter, and travel to Europe twice a summer, but you can’t come with me or stay with me when I go because I’m with my Team.  I will always, with no exceptions–ever–choose training, eating, sleeping and recovery over you.

Call me?

My point is, that my situation is unique. I’m almost nothing like most people my age, and so it follows that any relationship I want to have or could have can’t be like other relationships. As an elite athlete I’m tired. I’m moody. I’m preoccupied with training, improvement and selection all the time. I’m completely invested in a low-profile sport that most people know nothing about.  I don’t have a lot of time to meet new people, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have the time or resources to engage in the compromise that relationships necessitate.  My lifestyle is extremely selfish–everything I do, I do with the hopes of better preparing myself to perform athletically–so finding ways to incorporate the needs and wants of another person may ask or require more of me than I am able to give.  As a romantic, it’s sometimes hard for me to admit that there isn’t a fairytale option for me while I continue to train; that there isn’t a perfect match for me who is perfectly willing to tolerate everything about my lifestyle that makes me impossible to date while surpassing all my expectations and making me deliriously happy.  But realistically:  I just don’t have the time.

However rather than brooding about it on Valentine’s Day, here’s my thoughts on this year’s holiday:  I say thank you.  Thank you to all of the people who do love elite athletes and who are loved in return.  Thank you for putting up with our insane schedule and obsessive eating, training and sleeping.  Thank you for being patient and understanding even if you don’t actually understand.  Thank you for driving us to the bus when we leave for competition.  Thank you for picking us up at the airport.  Thank you for talking to us on Skype for hours at a time on a crap internet connection for three straight months.  Thank you for sending us Valentines at the Training Center when we’re away from home and miss you.  Thank you for listening.  Thank you for being a part of our journey–whether we end up in London or not–your support means more than you think.

I’m not expecting any Valentines this year (the obligatory cards from my Mom and Grandma already arrived) but that’s ok.  I’m happy that lots of my teammates are going to have a special day today in between practices.  And while they’re enjoying their flowers and cards from their special someones, I’ll be happy to continue to push the limits of my love-hate triangle between me, my single and the erg today…something tells me we still have a lot to work out between the three of us.  Besides, I’ve already gone above and beyond the call of duty in festive-ness thanks to yet another salon catastrophe which has left me a redhead for this Valentine’s go around.

Long Live the Dream,

–MK

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21 responses to “Olympians’ Romance -OR- My Life As a Single Person

  1. Great post – it’s a thing that never really comes up in the world of intense athletics. You’ll find a great man one day!

  2. I love you Megan. Your flirting with Conlin on twitter always makes me happy, just for what it’s worth.

    And I mean… let’s be serious, I find dating impossible even in college, so you’re not alone. It doesn’t seem to make a difference whether the boy is on the same campus or across whatever stretch of miles… I have no time, period, the end, and find a long distance relationship preferable because it means we’re both focused and driven on our own stuff, and you know, most sane people do not see life that way nor have any desire for a relationship as such, so… problem.

    Your post is very cathartic. Thank-you and have a most happy training day tomorrow.

  3. I have to say, this “Superior genetics” comment did grind a bit.
    Just because some of you, elite athletes, do have some exceptional physiologies, it does not make you attractive from the evolutionary point of view.
    In fact, in my time, I’ve met enough top (male) rowers to know that good looks and high intelligence are not qualities possessed aplenty by individuals with ripping six packs. Nevermind good humour, caring attitude and interesting personalities.

    Rather than blame the sport and the life-style, how about a good hard look in the mirror?
    Love is never about yourself, is always about the other person.

    PS I am also on my own on St Valentines, and attending a conference away from home in a foreign country. No need for anyone to feel sorry for me.

    • I am sorry that you found the post offensive, but I think you may have misread some of it. I wasn’t at any point trying to make people feel sorry for me, just offering a point of view (mine) from the perspective of one elite athlete. Obviously not all elite athletes struggle with finding the time or resources to have relationships, as is evidenced by the success of most of my teammates, and MANY others in international federations who manage to have spouses and families.
      I have always tried to make my writing about me, personally, and my experience with sport. I don’t in any way “blame” sport for what I write about here–rather I realize that my lifestyle is a choice and with it comes a certain level of sacrifice, and that a certain amount of that sacrifice is likely not something that most people understand. Also that I, personally, don’t believe that I have what it takes right now to maintain a fair and healthy relationship (hence the bit about compromise).
      I didn’t write the post as a means to scrounge a relationship up off of the internet on Valentine’s Day. I was being honest when I wrote that I’m ok being single and am happy to focus on my training.

      Thank you so very much for reading and for your very kind comment, much appreciated.

      • @nodders: I agree with Meg here. As another Ellte athlete struggling with the exact same problem, you missed the point.
        When you tend to be a “perfectionist” you have high expectations of yourself across all domains which means not only wanting to be the best athlete you can be but the best lover too. But at the end of the day, a jack of all trades is a master of none so I think her point was even if she found that person willing to cater to & accept all the selfishness this low-profile sport demands, it may not still be satisfying for someone who doesn’t innately want to be selfish (but is rather forced to be because of this sport) because DUH…love is about the other person and you don’t want to feel like you’re taking advantage. Just my .02.
        Moreover, from an “evolutionary” perspective…it’s about “survival of the fittest” so while I agree I’ve lost count of the # of blockheads I’ve met, most athletes are more “evolved” physically for longevity if they know how to take care of themselved even if the intelligence is not always up to snuff.

      • @nodders: I agree with Meg here. As another Ellte athlete struggling with the exact same problem, you missed the point.
        When you tend to be a “perfectionist” you have high expectations of yourself across all domains which means not only wanting to be the best athlete you can be but the best lover too. But at the end of the day, a jack of all trades is a master of none so I think her point was even if she found that person willing to cater to & accept all the selfishness this low-profile sport demands, it may not still be satisfying for someone who doesn’t innately want to be selfish (but is rather forced to be because of this sport) because DUH…love is about the other person and you don’t want to feel like you’re taking advantage. Just my .02.
        Moreover, from an “evolutionary” perspective…it’s about “survival of the fittest” so while I agree I’ve lost count of the # of blockheads I’ve met, most athletes are more “evolved” physically for longevity if they know how to take care of themselves even if the intelligence is not always up to snuff.

  4. Every time (usually towards the end) during a 24k erg or another multi-hour training adventure I live thoughts much similar to yours on romance, Megan.. Just keep swimming! There are elite guys out there with six pack abs, a Ph.D. and a sense of humor:-) I am certain one will come your way one day.

    Your blog is a great place, keep it going and give us a shout (maybe) when you are next at Henley!

  5. I feel the same, my love-hate triangle between me, the single and the erg doesn’t allow anybody else yet to interfere! I guess its just like you say, someone who likes you beyond or including all our (hopefully) olympic reality will appear. The ideal situation will be for it to happen with someone that does the same thing as you, or similar at least!

  6. Thank you for writing this. I’m a non-rower, non-athlete, slightly squidgy, normal volume eating girlfriend of a rower.

    In my experience of dating a rower I’ve lost one and a half dress sizes, go to bed at ten, learnt what things like split and rate and bow and stroke mean. I can name the crew (and their seat/weight etc) and the coach. I do separate lycra washes in the machine, and count how long that towel’s been in the gym bag. I’ve sat on the banks of rivers – cross stitching. I can quote his PB’s – and work out the split/time if required. I provide a continuous service of dropping his heart rate monitor off at the gym. I know before a test not to talk to him. He can’t hear/see me. I know his cereal needs the biggest bowl.

    Most of the time he’s rowing, eating or sleeping.

    The only way to survive is for me to be independent enough that I can cope when he’s away or too exhausted to give me anything. I have to lead my own life, I have to have my own goals and interests. I have to talk to him about rowing, I have to learn and I have to understand. I need to be flexible, plans are easily destroyed by him being exhausted, a romantic evening in isn’t so romantic if he’s snoring.

    It’s frustrating. I dress up, do my hair, cook a lovely three course meal and put on the suspenders. He’s asleep on the sofa still smelling of rowing.

    But I love him.

    The rower dating a rower idea, although does suggest a level of understanding between you, sounds like even more hard work. How would you ever find time in the same place and when you weren’t both exhausted.

    I wish you every luck finding the right man.
    Kate

  7. That’s such a great post!

    I can’t totally relate to this…I’m a professional fighter! I was actually looking online for some tips because I’m currently seeing someone but because of my lifestyle I might have to break it off. I’m scared it may be to difficult, and she is such a nice girl that I would hate to not give her what she deserves… I mean I can but that will jeopardize my focus with my career.

    Some people will never understand what a high level athletes goes through! Thanks again for this post. All the best and train hard!

  8. Late in replying here, but… nodders, dude, wake up and smell the java. This was a humorous, punchy and yet sensitive, insightful and spot-on look at how incredibly difficult it is to be an elite athlete and have a “personal life” outside of rowing, one of the more non-mainstream sports in the world. I thought she absolutely nailed it. The humor and sarcasm was perfect, pointing out the seriousness of the dilemma in a way that was sweetly self-depracating while remaining true and committed to her sport. It was a great piece of writing! And Megan, you are young, attractive, intelligent and very accomplished. I’m not worried about your prospects for finding the right guy.

  9. @ Kate. You are a ‘Betty’. No mattter how much/hard he is training he can pack and upack his own gym bag and seperate his own laundry. Someday you will have children and they will respect you for being a ‘mommy’. He won’t.

  10. Just wanted to say that I completely agree with your post. It doesn’t get any easier when your not an athlete yourself anymore, but rather when your coaching elite athletes and your still maintain in that mind set and lifestyle. With that being said, I wish I could find some that was as driven, dedicated, and competitive as you. Everyone in the real world just doesn’t understand that lifestyle, much less want to deal with it. Just saying, I’d date you in a heart beat!

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