My mother tells me that from our hospital room window in Minneapolis, we could look out on to the Mississippi River and see the men’s crew from the University of Minnesota practicing. Earlier that year, the University of Washington women had won their third consecutive National Title and were on their way to winning two more. Just under a year later, the United States Women’s 8+ would capture their first Olympic Gold over Romania at the Games in Los Angeles. I was born during a great time for American women’s rowing, but I didn’t come to realize it until twenty-five years later, following my return from Beijing as a delegate of the 2008 United States Olympic Team.
at the University of Washington. After spending my freshman year being decidedly “inactive” and “unathletic” and partying myself and my waistline into oblivion, I was looking to make a change. The program at Washington has a strong tradition of developing walk-on talent, and so I thought maybe rowing could be the positive change I needed in my life. Just the delicious challenge of having to learn a completely new skill set and being surrounded by talented, fiercely competitive women was enough to get me hooked, and though I don’t remember much of my novice year (except wanting to quit every day during winter training), I do know that there is no other place I would have rather grown up than on Lake Washington. Though I never found much competitive success with the Huskies, I formed some of the most important and lasting friendships of my life out of Conibear, and constantly look to the lessons I learned at Washington to guide my development as a world-class athlete.
I never envisioned a future for myself at the Elite level
of the sport as a collegian. I have always been tough and stubborn and possessed a capacity for leadership–qualities which lent themselves well to progressing through a collegiate rowing program. But I mostly kept quiet at the boathouse as an underclassman, developing “good” ergs and “speed” in the pairs, trying to balance rowing with school work and never thinking much about rowing as a career. However, my performance was strong enough by my junior year to warrant an invitation to the 2005 U-23 camp, where I had the most miserable two months of my life, but was rewarded with a gold medal in the BW4- in Amsterdam. Following that summer, I thought I’d move to Princeton with my “good” ergs and “speedy” pair rowing and give it a go with the National Team. As it turned out, I was not actually good at erging or rowing pairs, and I was also about three inches shorter than most of the other women on the Team. I wasn’t even close to their speed and had to choose quickly whether I wanted to put in the work and make it, or pack it up and do something more comfortable with my life. So I got to work.
I’m now in my fifteenth year training with the Team
in Princeton. I made the switch from sweep to sculling in 2006 and then back again in 2013. I’m always going to be a sculler, but am proud to call myself a utility player, and can row just about any seat, anywhere, any time (except my 1X still needs a little work). My work over the past several years earned me spots on the 2008 Olympic Team, and 2009 World Championship Team in the women’s double sculls as well as the 2014 and 2017 women’s pair and 2010, -11, -13, -15, and -16 women’s quadruple sculls. I experienced some of the most intense, heartbreaking selection of my career to make the 2012 women’s quadruple sculls crew that went on to win the first ever Olympic medal in that event for the US in London. And our underdog 2015 W4X crew raced to the first-ever World Championship title for the US in that event. It hasn’t always been easy on my road, but it has been a huge honor and privilege nonetheless to raise the bar for US women’s sculling over the past decade. I thought during the 2012 season I would be ready to retire after London, but after a few months, I was back training full time and dreaming of Rio. After Rio I was absolutely positive I was ready to retire, until I realized after missing out on a medal, I wasn’t. So I set out into uncharted territory: to become the first ever four time Olympian in the history of American Rowing. After four painful years of outgrowing the Training Center that shaped me as an athlete for three Olympiads, I opted to trial the W2- for the postponed 2020 Games, and won.
There is no point in denying any more that I am truly as old and as salty as it gets when it comes to American female rowers. I have been for a while now. But as I continue to work and train here, I really enjoy seeing so much of my younger self in the new athletes entering the training center with their own dreams of representing the United States. It’s all a cycle – and it will continue on even when it is time for me to leave rowing behind. But for now, I’m hanging on with white knuckles and bright eyes (and probably early onset arthritis).
Long Live the Dream,
Megan E. Kalmoe
United States Women’s Rowing
2015 | World Champion W4X
2015 | USRowing Woman of the Year
2014 & 2015 | USRowing Athlete of the Year
2012 | Olympic Bronze Medalist W4X
4-time Olympian and 8-time National Team W2X, W2-, W4X