Athlete of the Month - November 2012
On 2 August 2012 Meghan Musnicki joined the elite group of people who can claim to be Olympic Champions after she crossed the line in the United States women’s eight. This result is nothing short of a fairytale ending for the woman from the small town of Naples, New York who continued to challenge every setback she faced. Her strength of character brought her to the start line at Eton Dorney for the London Olympics as an integral part of one of the most successful American boats in the history of United States rowing.
Meghan is our Athlete of the Month for November because we love her persistence in a sport that she initially knew nothing about and is now in the top 10 list of female rowers for 2012.
World Rowing: Fill me in on your introduction to rowing.
Meghan Musnicki: I was always active at high school. My main sports were basketball and soccer. My parents both played sport and my sister also played basketball and soccer.
WR: Does your sister row?
MM: No, I’m the only one.
WR: You came to rowing knowing very little about the sport. How did you first get introduced to rowing?
MM: The rowing coach came after me and tried to convince me not to play basketball. I was a freshman (first year) at college, St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. It’s a small Division III school (no athletics scholarships offered) so sport in general is not a big deal. I thought it was time to try something new.
WR: Do you remember your first impression of rowing?
MM: It was in an eight. I was like a fish out of water. I was totally lost, I didn’t know what to do with my body. But I was intrigued. I was like an old person trying to learn a new thing.
WR: So how did you end up taking rowing to the elite level?
MM: I didn’t even know there was rowing at an elite level. I’d never watched it at the Olympics. I’d never followed results. I didn’t know it existed big time. In 2005 I got invited to go to a development camp in sculling, but I didn’t think much of it and didn’t really like it. Then in 2006 I got invited to the Worlds training camp in Princeton (US women’s national training centre). Compared to the other women I wasn’t good enough and I was cut (asked to leave the camp).
But this camp gave me a taste for what it was like, seeing how all of these women trained. One time I got to row in an eight in the bow seat with Mary Whipple coxing. I had to be told who she was and I was shell-shocked! I think Susan Francia was in the boat too! It gave me a taste of rowing at the elite level. It opened my eyes to what I could do.
After being cut I moved to Boston to train with the Riverside Boat Club with their elite group. Then at CRASH B’s (indoor rowing championships) in 2008, there was a turning point. Laurel (Korholz, national team coach) was there and she invited me to the non-Olympic camp in Virginia with Kevin Sauer (University of Virginia coach). I moved there and made the four, but in trials we lost to a Princeton boat so I didn’t make the team.
Then Tom (Terhaar, US head women’s coach) invited me to come to Princeton after the 2008 Olympics. I moved there in September 2008.
In 2009 I was sculling and didn’t make the team. I was devastated. It was the third time for me not making the team. Tom asked me to come back after the 2009 Worlds and said this would be my last chance.
Over that summer I trained my face off, all on my own because everyone had left for Worlds. I went back to Boston and ran and went to the gym. Even on my vacation I ran and would go to the gym. I would sit on the one erg in the gym and work out. I had a training plan to follow and had been given an aim for a 6km erg test.
At the end of the summer I went back to Princeton and did the 6k erg test. I did really well. I beat the target by about 10 seconds. I remember part way through thinking, ‘can this be right?’ It showed that the hard work had paid off.
WR: What kept you going after not making the team three times?
MM: I really wanted to succeed at it. I loved the sport, I loved competing and I didn’t know how hard I could push myself. It feels great when you reach a new level, it’s just such a good feeling. There definitely were hard moments, but they made the good moments better.
WR: Are you now a full time athlete?
MM: Yes, now full time. I do walk-a-dog on the side to make some extra cash.
WR: I understand your father died quite young (aged 49 from a heart attack). Do you think it changed your approach to sport?
MM: It more changed my life in general because it’s not a finite period of time that you’re given. You don’t know what’s going to happen. After being cut I really wanted to succeed and my Dad had taught me to pursue a goal.
WR: What do you think he’d say to you after winning Olympic gold?
MM: I think he would be very proud, he was always a huge supporter. I definitely think part of him is why I was able to do it. Both of my parents raised me not to quit.
WR: Do you remember how you felt on the morning of your Olympic final?
MM: I was nervous, but it was nervous excitement. I was ready and I know the other women I was racing with were ready. I was excited, ready to go.
WR: How did you enjoy the rest of the Games?
MM: We all moved to the main Olympic village and we went and watched other sports – beach volleyball, soccer, weight lifting…
WR: What was the reception like when you came back to the States?
MM: There was a lot of fanfare. I was on the Today Show and had media appearances. There was a parade in my hometown, Naples, (NY).
WR: Where are you now?
MM: In New Jersey (Princeton). I do plan to carry on with training. I love it and want to continue. I’m training on my own at the moment and have to report back in December. I’m doing trail running, CrossFit and rowing in the single.
World Rowing: In the previous interview you were getting back into training. Are you following your own programme or one that’s been defined for you? What has been your main focus?
Meghan Musnicki: I’m doing a bit of both. I’m doing a lot of cross-training and some standard rowing training because it’s getting closer to the start of the rowing training again.
My main focus has been to build back up my aerobic base and gain some more power. I’ve been working on some different muscle groups and I want to push my fitness level. I’m doing Crossfit weights and some standard weights. For cross-training I’m mainly running and cycling. I just did my first trail running race - it was just over 15km.
WR: Where did you finish in the race?
MM: I came first of the women.
WR: You mentioned that you were one of the first back in Princeton (at the training centre). Have other athletes now returned?
MM: It’s still relatively quiet. Some of the athletes who didn’t go to the Olympics are here and training and some who did go are starting to come back. It’s informal at the moment - we work out with whoever is around. There are some coaches around but for the most part the athletes that went to the Olympics are not here.
WR: You’ve been doing some training in the single, have you ever considered racing in this boat class?
MM: It’s not something that I would rule out, but I really enjoy racing in a team. It’s what I prefer, so the single is not my favourite boat. The single isn’t up there on my list of dying-to-do, but I think it’s an excellent training tool for boat feel.
WR: What was it like to win the US Rowing Award?
MM: The Ernestine Bayer Award (recognition of outstanding contributions to women’s rowing) was such a huge honour for our boat (the women’s eight) to receive. It was a great feeling and Ernestine Bayer was an amazing woman and she did so much for women’s rowing.
WR: If you weren’t rowing what do you imagine you would be doing?
MM: I imagine I’d probably be a nurse. I was going to go to nursing school. It’s funny to think how different my life is. I’d definitely be leading a totally different life. But I’m very happy with the path I chose.
WR: Do you think winning Olympic gold is a motivator for you to continue rowing or do you think you’d be more motivated if you didn’t win gold?
MM: I’m not sure. I don’t really look at it that way. I didn’t base my decision on the colour of the medal. Prior to the Olympics I already knew that I wanted to continue. I love competing and I love rowing and I’m not ready to give it up.
I made my decision to continue before the Games. It’s something that I’ve felt strongly about. I love the process of making myself get better and it’s something that I won’t always be able to do.
WR: Are you taking one year at a time or aiming for Rio?
MM: I always think one year at a time because you don’t know what’s going to happen - like an injury for example. If your only goal is four years away it would be hard, so I have multiple goals on a yearly basis.
My next goal is a personal goal, to improve my erg. This is to help put me in the best position when we start back up. I just want to be ready when we start training again and be able to perform at my best when I need to.
WR: What is your next big race?
MM: I don’t know yet but there’s a national selection regatta in March, I think, and I may be racing in it but I don’t yet know what boat I may be racing in.
WR: What do you like to do outside of rowing?
MM: I enjoy running and I like to cook and I love shopping – I love shoes. I have a large number of shoes, it’s a bit of a joke with my team. I enjoy reading and spending time with my friends.
WR: Have you got any classic quotes of what people say to you when you tell them that you’re a rower?
MM: The funniest thing I’ve heard was when I was wearing some of my gear from the Olympics and someone asked me what I did and I said, ‘I rowed’. They said, ‘and what did you ride?’ I said again, ‘I rowed’. Finally I said, ‘I rowed a boat’.