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A Special Season Rewarded – Megan Kalmoe is the 2015 USRowing Female Athlete of the Year

by Ed Moran, ed@usrowing.org | Sep 29, 2015
There is a superstition that circulates quietly among the athletes at the USRowing training center in Princeton, N.J. and it sounds like any other sports curse or superstition – an improbable link of one event to an unhappy ending in another.
k3There is a superstition that circulates quietly among the athletes at the USRowing training center in Princeton, N.J. and it sounds like any other sports curse or superstition – an improbable link of one event to an unhappy ending in another.

Like the one that foretold the Boston Red Sox would never again win a championship after being cursed for selling Babe Ruth’s contract to the Yankees in 1920. The superstition among the athletes who row on the U.S. team implies that being named either male or female Athlete of the Year will be followed by a bad season.

“It’s one of those things,” said Megan Kalmoe. “There is kind of an ongoing joke that if you win Athlete of the Year, your next season is not good. There are many examples of people who won and didn’t make the team the next year.”

Well, the Red Sox won in 2003 despite the Babe and an 83-year drought and Kalmoe – she was Female Athlete of the Year in 2014 after winning a silver medal in the women’s pair at the World Rowing Championships and this year ended her season as a world champion in the women’s quad in Aiguebelette, France.

And she has again been named the 2015 Female Athlete of the Year by a vote of her teammates and coaches. Since the inception of the award in 1985, three other athletes have won twice. Kalmoe is the first to have been selected in consecutive years.

Not only that, Kalmoe was also named the 2015 USRowing Ernestine Bayer Award recipient. Formerly known as the Woman of the Year, the award recognizes outstanding contributions to women’s rowing, or an outstanding woman in rowing.

So much for curses!

Kalmoe will be presented with the Female Athlete of the Year award at the 2015 Golden Oars Awards Dinner at the New York Athletic Club in New York City on Nov.  19. She will be presented with the Ernestine Bayer Award at the 2015 USRowing Annual Convention, which takes place in Philadelphia, December 3-6.

“It all sounds like someone is painting a big target on my back, a little bit,” said Kalmoe in reaction to receiving the two awards.

Kalmoe said she does not see these awards as something she has done on her own. From top to bottom, in every boat class selected from the Princeton training center, the women believe they succeed or fail together, she said.

“There are so many special things and so many memorable things, that went into this year,” she said. “The women’s team, just overall, had such an awesome season. I don’t feel like I stood out more than anyone else.

“Everyone else did their jobs and did a lot of great things all season long, especially at the world championships, so to have these things all piling up on me is a little embarrassing and a little humbling because, if anything, I would like to share all the credit with everybody. We did everything together, and there were a lot of special things that happened this year that had nothing to do with me.

“This is one hundred percent about the team,” she said adding that there is no single athlete that stands alone.

“There just isn’t room for you to bring your personal baggage on board, there just isn’t,” she said. “There is not ever going to be a day where you’re not looking at the erg screen next to you to see if you’re going fast enough, or looking across to see how far ahead the other boat is, to make sure that you’re keeping up and making yourself better.

“And the other people who show up do the same because they know they are going to get the same thing from you. They’re going to keep their eye on you to make sure they’re staying ahead or doing whatever they have to do to catch up. It’s just a whole cyclical, symbiotic relationship. Everybody who comes to the training center gets something from somebody else. There isn’t really a way to do what we do by yourself,” she said.

“Me, personally, I am terrible at training when I’m alone. Awful. If you gave me the choice between going to do an erg or sitting on the couch watching Netflix, I’ll chose Netflix every single time. I would not have done anything that I’ve done with the national team without the national team.”

This has been a very special year for Kalmoe, who is entering what she intends to be her final year competing on the international level. She has her sights set on the 2016 Rio Olympics, her third Games, and then plans on retiring after.

Like many seasons, there were up and down points this year. Disappointment came early when she and pair partner Kerry Simmonds finished second at the first National Selection Regatta in April to Eleanor Logan and Felice Mueller and lost the opportunity to chose to compete in the pair again in 2015. They did race the pair at the second world cup, where they won a silver medal, but Logan and Mueller had won the right to race the pair with the NSR win and did, winning a bronze medal at worlds.

While losing at the first NSR in the pair meant that Kalmoe would move from the pair to the quad and Simmonds to the eight, the transition was both easy and hard, Kalmoe said. 
k1Kalmoe spent most of her USRowing career sculling and racing in the quad, a boat class she is very familiar with. She won a bronze medal in the event at the 2012 London Olympics and silver medal at the 2011 world championships. She concluded her final world championships in the quad with a gold medal this year, her first world title.

But it was also hard because she and Simmonds were given the chance to train exclusively in the pair this spring by head coach Tom Terhaar to see if they could build off of the silver medal performance at the 2014 world championships.

And easy because Kalmoe has spent the majority of her USRowing career sculling in the quad. “We were absolutely disappointed,” Kalmoe said of the NSR performance. “We felt like we had wasted that opportunity,” she said.

“Going into the quad, that part was not hard. That’s a boat I’m very comfortable in. I love that boat. I love the event and I was lucky I was able to row with some pretty special women in that particular lineup as well,” she said.

“Megan had a good year,” said Terhaar. “She was second at the NSR in the pair and second at the world cup in Varese (Italy). Then she made a great team decision to go for the quad because we knew it was going to be tough to qualify. She was a great teammate and I am glad she is being recognized for her effort and selflessness this year.”

The quad’s performance at the world championships was a highlight for the women’s team. But it did not begin that way for Kalmoe and her boat mates, Olivia Coffey, Tracy Eisser and Amanda Elmore.

They lost in the heat and had to go to the repechage to advance to the final, finishing second. While the results were not what they had hoped for, the crew felt they were close and had to only make one change to be in the medal hunt.

“We needed to get off the line quicker,” Kalmoe said. They talked about it, knew it would be a challenge, but were confident that if they could be with the leading boats halfway through the course, they could rely on their base training and fitness to push through and challenge.

“Everyone was really psyched to put it into the first two-fifty and the second two-fifty and be more with the group,” she said. “We knew base fitness, that with the kind of stuff in the middle of the race, that toughness and fitness that comes in halfway, we were very confident we could push there if we needed to.

“We knew we could push the pace and make other people uncomfortable and if we could put ourselves in that position that we could do whatever we wanted at that point. We could fight for it. And that was what we did.”

They crossed the first five hundred in second and then took the lead in the second five hundred and never let it go.

k2“Before we launched, we felt like this is what it feels like to commit to what you say you’re going to do and then just go out and do it,” she said. “It was awesome.

“I think everyone could just feel it. Every other person in the boat wanted to do exactly what we were doing, which was just keep going. Keep winning. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, my God. We’re in front, what do we do now.’ It was, ‘Yep. This is exactly what we want. Let’s keep going. And we’re going to take it, right now.

“It’s still surreal,” she said. “I keep thinking, ‘Did we actually do that?’ Everyone keeps saying, ‘Congratulations. Awesome race.’ But it still hasn’t fully sunk in yet. It was really, really special. We did surprise ourselves a little bit. But once we got into our grove, we really owned it, which was awesome.”

And now, with the time off following worlds over, and the group gathering back in Princeton to begin training for the 2016 Olympics, Kalmoe is gearing up for the challenge.

“I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. I try not to get too ahead of myself. With the team, and in this sport, if you look too far ahead, you’re going to trip where you are. I think it’s going to be a great year.

“There are a lot of challenges ahead for everybody, including myself. We went through a lot of pretty hard stuff as a group last year, as a team. Training last year was very, very intense, very, very difficult. There were a lot of hard decisions that were made when came it to selection at the end of the summer. All that stuff is just going to be magnified next year and then some.

“I’ve very aware of that because I’ve been through that process a couple of times now. I think about it a lot and I think about how it’s going to be interesting to see some of my teammates go through it for the first time, being there as a resource for them, and figuring out how to get through it all together so we can have the most successful next year that we can.”

And when it ends, when that final season is over, however it finishes, Kalmoe said what she will take with her from rowing, what she learned through all these years, is that when a person is determined enough, anything can happen.

“One of the biggest things that I’ve taken away from rowing is that if you’re going to go after something, if there is something you want to do, to accomplish that there is no reason that you should put limits on yourself.

“It’s one of those things I would say where you just have to be willing to do it for as long as it takes, to see that you are making progress and that you are with the right group of people to help you get there,” she said.

“And then if you can do that, you can be successful outside of rowing with whatever you want to do next.”
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