Athlete of the Month - June 2016
On her way to her second Olympic Games, Kirsten McCann of South Africa went to her first, Beijing 2008, as a wide-eyed 20-year-old. Eight years later McCann is off to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as a medal prospect in the lightweight women's double sculls. McCann first competed for the South African team as a junior and she has successfully mixed elite rowing with studying by working out what best to focus on. World Rowing is proud to present Kirsten McCann as our June Athlete of the Month.
World Rowing: Tell us a bit about your rowing background.
Kirsten McCann: I have three older brothers who rowed at senior school and I used to go along to regattas to watch them. My mum used to go on their camps to help with the running of the camps and I would go with. I learnt to row on these camps and when I went to senior school I started rowing. From the first time I rowed I absolutely loved being in the boat. I love water sports so rowing was and still is something so special.
WR: Did you come to rowing from another sport?
KM: Coming from a very sporty family, I was involved with many sports when I was younger. I loved swimming, ballet, netball and athletics and did these sports from the age of four. I had done ballet for ten years and was getting serious with my swimming when I chose to start rowing. I carried on with athletics, indoor netball, hockey and swimming through the first three years of senior school but then I slowly chose to concentrate on my rowing as I got older and realised I could be good.
WR: If it wasn't rowing what sport do you think you would be doing?
KM: I would have been a swimmer.
WR: You have been competing internationally since your junior years. Was there a point in your early rowing when you thought 'I want to continue with this and become an elite rower'?
KM: Yes there was. I loved rowing from the time I started, and as I realised there was a possibility of competing at the worlds highest level at a world rowing championships, I had a strong desire to achieve that. Having grown up, watching all our national sports teams compete around the world against the best I knew I wanted to be a top level sports woman. I wanted to represent South Africa and wear the Green and Gold.
WR: What has been your motivation to keep going in rowing?
KM: I love rowing and that in itself is something special in terms of motivation. I am also very competitive and I love to be the best so I am motivated to be the best athlete I can be. The challenge of training every day to be the best and to keep improving myself physically and technically is very motivating for me. I am a racer so racing is what I love and thrive on. I train to race!
WR: You competed at the 2008 Olympics as a 20-year-old. What was it like being at the Games at a relatively young age?
KM: I looked at the other rowers in the lightweight women's double, especially those competing at the top level/A-final in awe. I watched them race the final and I said to myself that I was going to get to their level one day. Having attended and competed in the Beijing Olympics I was made aware of the standard of senior lightweight rowing early on and it made me realise how much work I still had to do to become a top level athlete. It was an awesome experience as I got to experience sport at the highest level at a very young age and it was hugely motivating in terms of setting goals for myself to achieve in the future.
WR: You then took a gap from international rowing. What was your decision to take time off?
KM: In 2009, I started my degree. I studied a Bachelor of Science and chose to major in Biochemistry and Human Physiology so I was attending lectures all day. In September, when I had settled into the studies I started rowing training again as I had my sights set on competing at u23 world champs in 2010.
In 2011, my studies picked up again. I chose to row for my university and train on my own. I had my sights set on competing at the World University Championships in Kazan in 2012. I wanted to race the lightweight single and win gold, so I trained very hard. I knew that I needed to produce a good result at this championship, as I wanted to get into the senior national team and prove that I was worth being considered for the team. I trained very hard in 2012 and it was in this year that I lost one particular race in the local season that made me change my outlook on many things. It was this particular year that I knew it had to be the start of my journey to be a top lightweight, not only in South Africa but in the world. The time I took off from competing internationally made me realise how much I love rowing and how much I want to be a top international lightweight competing at the highest level.
WR: You did an international comeback in 2013.
KM: In 2013, I had my sights set on making the senior national team and competing and winning the lightweight single at World University Games. I continued to train very hard to keep my momentum from 2012. In the March of 2013 I made the senior national team. The plan was for me to go to World University Games and then possibly go to Senior World Rowing Champs. Ursula (Grobler) had just joined the South African team and it was awesome to train alongside her in the single. Winning gold at World university Games was hugely motivating in my rowing too.
WR: What is your most memorable sporting achievement to date and why?
KM: Qualifying for the Olympic Games last year in the lightweight double with my partner Ursula Grobler as well as winning a medal at the World Champs. Being on the podium as a senior lightweight is very special.
WR: Since 2015 you have medalled at each World Rowing regatta that you competed in. What factors would you say have contributed to your rising success?
KM: Ursula and I train consistently throughout the year. We are very competitive, we train really well together. We are always pushing each other and the consistency of our training is proving to be hugely beneficial. Another important factor is that I absolutely love what I do so when I wake up in the morning I know that there is nothing else I would rather be doing. A happy athlete is a fast athlete.
WR: After Rio, how will you define if it was a successful regatta for you personally?
KM: Ursula and I both feel that if we can accomplish three things at Rio, it will be a successful regatta for us. These three things are to be in the best physical state possible, be rowing the best technical rowing we could possibly row and lastly to be in the best mental state possible we will be able to put ourselves up for a good regatta.
WR: How do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
KM: I see myself to still be in good physical condition (I love healthy and athletic lifestyle) with my own restaurant that serves healthy delicious food. I do see myself living at the coast as I love the beach and sea. I would also like to be making a difference in underprivileged children's lives through education and sport.