What Comes Next

Ok, I admit that I have put off writing this post for a little too long.  I meant to sit down and do it last week, but I somehow got caught up in the intoxicatingly sublime way of being that involves having nothing to do and nowhere to be. Well, not absolutely nothing, but compared to my activity itinerary over the past three months, it felt very tame.  And as most of us know, the less you have to do, the less you get done.  So I instead made very good use of my Netflix membership and plowed through the end of Season 3 of Glee AND Season 3 of Scrubs, not to mention taking a good chunk out of Season 4 of Castle.  It was also a very proud moment when I dusted off the Netflix discs that had been sitting, waiting for me since before I left for London, and watched those.  I also found time to mail all the List packages and to make a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner for myself and a friend which was perfectly humble and quiet at home with absolutely no travel involved.

So after three long months of traveling, packing, unpacking, laundry, re-packing, restaurants, hotels, airplanes, in flight movies, overhead bins, photographs, autographs, smiling, and trying like hell to reconnect with all of the people who have been a part of my journey to this point, I am finally done.  I spent all of last week sleeping in my own bed, cooking and eating in my own kitchen, and getting back in to the comfortable routine of my life in Princeton.  I didn’t do much else last week, but I did finally feel like my feet were both back on the ground and I was able to just… be home.

So.  What comes next?
Admittedly I’ve known for some time already this fall what the next step was going to be, as all along the way I’ve had people asking me–“what now?” or more specifically: “So… Rio?
Oh boy.
So here’s what I’ve told all of them:  I’m committed to train for the 2013 season.  My goal is to get back in to training over the next few months in order to be ready for racing and selection in the spring, and then make the 2013 World Championship Team.
Heading in to London, even as early as the fall of 2011 (like this post) I was preparing myself to be done with elite training and competition.  I knew that there was a very real possibility that after the summer of 2012 I would be ready to retire from Olympic rowing.  I was preparing myself to fall out of love with the sport and experience a sense of closure or finality.  I expected to feel ready to be done.  And then I wasn’t.

The thing that’s tricky about contemplating retirement is that Sport is a sly mistress.  This summer was an amazing, rewarding, life-changing experience.  Everything that winning an Olympic medal has brought in to my life has been so much more than I ever could have hoped and I am so grateful and (still) thrilled.  But for every single happy photo I’ve taken, or autograph I’ve signed, or young person I’ve talked to this fall, there were probably ten times over the past four years that I was miserable and frustrated and just angry about training or selection.  I have no idea how many times I wanted to quit, or scream obscenities at myself or my teammates or my coaches.  I failed, a lot.  I got my ass kicked, a lot.  I got injured, lost races, was told I wasn’t good enough, barely scraped by financially, and continually found myself in the most dizzyingly ridiculous situations.  A lot of what I did over the past four years just plain sucked.

This summer made me forget all of that.

As I tentatively move forward with an eye on 2013, I am wary of being lured back in to something that, at times, was maddening, and made me miserable.  After all, one of the golden rules of competing in this sport at this level is that it is almost impossible to do anything good if it doesn’t make you happy and you aren’t enjoying it.  Is it possible that all of the good experiences I’ve had since July can overrule all the bad experiences I’ve had since 2009 so I can break even and start over?  I’m not sure.  The only way to find out is to get back in to it, and report back to you from the inside.

I won’t tell you that I’m definitely training for four more years, or that I’m definitely aiming to go to Rio.  I can’t know that at this point.  Instead, I’m going to take the next steps one at a time, set immediate goals, and work my way back in to it.  Even though this all goes too fast, four years is still a long time.  I don’t feel any real rush to commit to four more years when what I can definitely do is focus on the next several months and getting back in to shape, making the World Championship Team and then attempting to win my first World Championship title.  And yes, I’m going to do all of that from Princeton.  For all the times I have lamented having to live and train in New Jersey, I do feel that my role is to be here, serving my teammates and the PTC.  Someone has to make sure everything stays on track around here  and the new girls are doing their power cleans right.

So what’s right now?  I continue to work back into building base fitness with 2-3 sessions a day on the erg or the bike, doing work in the weight room and mixing in some running.  I’m on my own through the month of December before camp officially strikes up again in San Diego in January.  Is it easy?  Absolutely not.  Training alone is a Catch-22 in that it is lonely, but I also do not want my teammates and coaches knowing how slow I am right now (even though there’s a good chance we’re all a little out of shape right now).  Moreover, words cannot express my impatience for my body to hurry up and be ready to sustain the same erg splits I was pulling at this time last year.  But just like coming back from an injury, coming back from time off has to be patient, systematic and structured.  I’m good with the latter two–the former, not so much.  So when I am feeling like the slowest, weakest, most out of shape athlete on the planet, I think of it this way:  right now, my job is to be excellent at getting back in to shape.  That means I have to be excellent at doing steady state at my normal split +4.  And I have to be excellent at lifting less weight in the weight room.  And running a little bit slower.  And the improvements will come.  The process hasn’t changed, and neither has the approach that Tom gave to me my first summer in Princeton: “You can get the results you want.  But you have to work.”

So.  That’s what’s next.  See you out there.

Long Live the Dream,

–MK

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4 responses to “What Comes Next

  1. what an interesting and inspiring read. thank you for sharing what’s been going through your head as you prepare to climb that mountain yet again! I cannot imagine where you’ve been, all the pain and agony you had to face head-on to get there and now you are preparing to go down that all too familiar road again. you are a true American hero, a real Olympian.

    I know a bit about rowing – the kind of fortitude it takes to put your body through hell each and every day. the mental games played out as you deal with the ups and downs, the rise and fall battling fatigue and plateau and near misses over and over and over again, only to oddly hit that moment of pure love and enjoyment (the sweet spot) just as you were about to chuck it all!.

    rowing is addictive for the most novice of us, but for you and those like you, it must be akin to that love affair you just can’t let go of quite yet. you are pulled outside your comfort zone and continue to chase the dream, but on some level you know there will come a time when you must let it go and leave that part of you behind.

    I hope that time for you has not yet come. you have what it takes…strength of will, fierce determination, physical gifts beyond us mere mortals and the intellect required to drive yourself continually through the pain and disappointment – good old mind over matter. it’s as much a mental game as it is a physical one.

    three cheers for megan! i cannot think of a better role model for my daughters, or any young girl out there.

    as my darling father would say, “just keep on keeping on, girl”.

    God speed!

  2. I think the approach you are taking is a smart one. Four years is a long time and alot can happen in that span. If you would have told me 4 years ago about my current situation I wouldn’t have believed you and the same could very well happen in your case. Even the most innocuous event on any given day can set you on a different path that you didn’t know existed prior. For me it was a person I did a computer repair job for leaving a comment on Angie’s List about me. Little did I know that this event would snowball and create the situation where I am considering leaving my full time job and starting my own business. Sometimes it is the little things that make the most impact. Getting too far ahead of yourself sets you up for disappointment all too often. I like how you have set short term goals and are formulating a plan to meet them. if your past is any indication then I don’t see any problems with that happening.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your time “off” and got to bask in the glow of your Olympic medal, not to mention simply having time for yourself. You’ve earned all that has come your way by navigating the gauntlet of pain (mental and physical) all the while proving you are among the best in the world. The pictures you and others have posted of you are absolutely beautiful.

    I also like how you are taking on a leadership role for your team. This can only be good for your standing with the team, your resume, and your general well being. Who knows, maybe it can springboard you into your life after rowing (at the national level).

    Best of luck with your training and I look forward to more blog posts and catty twitter quips.

  3. Thanks for your honesty and candour – I have no idea what it’s like being a professional athlete but I do know that in the US you have little financial support compared to other nations and so I say thanks and let us know if we can help you out.
    I have paid out to support US athletes (and I’m not even American) because I love the pleasure they give me in the races.

  4. The best stories tend to be the ones about when things didn’t go your way. About pain, and frustration, and struggle. But you get to look back at four years and go, “Jesus H., I’m a bad ass.” And in your future, when you’re whining about inconsequential shit, all you have to do is have one sobering look at your years of training and say, “If I can do that, I can do anything.”

    You’re still my hero.

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