It's no secret top athletes usually have some stellar DNA in their gene pool. So it should be no surprise siblings may share the same gift of athletic potential within a sport-oriented family.
While some siblings gravitate to the same sport, a lá Venus and Serena Williams, others find their talents in different venues. For sisters Leah and Krista Guloien, chasing their athletic dreams brought the Vancouver, B.C., natives to elite levels of cycling and rowing. Leah, 31, who rides professionally for Team Colavita, and Krista, 32, who recently won a silver medal in the women's eight at the 2012 London Olympics, tell us what it's like to share a talent, dream big and excel on land and in water.
espnW: Tell us a little bit about how each of you came into to your sport, and how long you've been racing.
Krista Guloien: Leah actually started rowing at Simon Fraser University first, and I followed in her footsteps. I took to it very quickly and started planning my future in training, racing and with the National/Olympic team early on. I was dreaming big! In late 2004, I managed to sneak in a meeting with the Canadian national team coach, Al Morrow. He encouraged me, and shortly after that meeting, plans were being put in place for me to make the move [to the national training center in London, Ontario].
Leah Guloien: I have been bike racing approximately nine years now. I got involved in the sport of cycling through my father, who was very successful in mountain bike racing. Unfortunately, my technical skills were not improving at the rate in which I would have liked, so I turned to road cycling in hopes of excelling.
espnW: There is always a debate in sport between hard work/talent and genetic predisposition. What traits do you think you share as sisters that have enabled you to find success in your sports?
KG: I definitely think there are some possible truths to the genetic predisposition. What we share in similarities could also be a result of the way we were raised. My dad started mountain biking when he was in his 30s and I definitely think he set a great example. His personality has the tendency to take things to the extreme, so we always made fun of him. Leah and I also have this tendency! My mom is a major go-getter and doesn't let anything get in her way. Together that makes some killer athletes with a killer instinct and a drive that is unstoppable. My parents truly believe we are capable of doing anything. I think being raised by such supportive parents was key to our success and something we share.
LG: From a genetic perspective, I think we both got the good endurance genes, and physiological testing has shown this. From a work/talent aspect, I think we are both very strong-minded and very driven and also very competitive. Krista is more of the "quiet competitive" one, though. People have always seen my competitive side; it has come out in all areas of my life, whether it be in sport, school or work.
espnW: Since you know how rigorous the demands of rowing and cycling are, I imagine you know what it means to be supportive of each other. In what ways do you show this support?
KG: We have totally been a great sounding board for one another. We get each other as people, but we also get what an athlete goes through and that takes the support to another level. Leah and I didn't talk on the phone every day when I was away training or when she was away, but we didn't need to. We could reconnect at the drop of a dime. One thing we can always do together is laugh. Even in the face of difficulty or challenge, we can find something to make into a silly inside joke.
LG: Over the years, especially this past year leading up to the Olympics, Krista and I communicated a lot via email. We share our struggles in sport and offer advice or reading materials, or even just a funny story to help lighten the mood. We understand each other very well and that is always a good feeling to know someone "gets you" and can relate to what you are experiencing. People outside of sport sometimes have a hard time relating.
espnW: Your sister, Marla Guloien, is a successful singer/songwriter in Canada. Do you listen to her music to get pumped up before your events?
KG: Absolutely. I played "Rock Star Blood" in the ergometer [rowing machine] center during winter training sessions. I also listened to some of her more chill tunes to relax before competitions. Hearing her voice is a comfort for me and made me feel closer to home. I also know sisters and family inspired her when she wrote some of her songs and that makes them special, too.
LG: Marla is on all of my favorite playlists. She inspires me to work harder and to go after what I want. She has really put herself out there and has made herself very vulnerable to criticism in a very competitive industry and I look up to her because of that. It is hard to "sell" yourself and have the confidence that you will succeed, but Marla has a way of believing in her dreams and striving for what makes her happy.
espnW: Krista, your races are often less than 10 minutes. Leah, yours can be multiple-day events of four-plus hours. For readers new to cycling and rowing, can you tell us how your sports are equally taxing, both physically and mentally?
KG: Although the rowing race is only a little more than six minutes long in a women's eight, we train in much more volume than that in a typical week. For example, two rows a day with additional Pilates and weight sessions. The technical side of rowing is extremely physical and mental. The stroke is repeated over and over, much like a pedal stroke, but you can never make it perfect. There is always something you could be doing better with your blade, your hands, your body position. At the end of the day, you have to make it about striving for perfection, but not expecting it to ever be perfect.
I felt like a walking zombie during intense periods of training. The taper or the weeks that we start to decrease volume for racing is like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
LG: Both sports, like most, require focus and strategy/game plan. Training is still intense and needs to be consistent regardless of the length of time of the event. In order to be at the top of your game, you need to be very focused and dedicated to your goals. Every workout should have purpose, whether it is a long, steady distance, or short and hard intervals. Training all of the systems, both aerobic and anaerobic, will help you gain benefits and improve performance.
espnW: Both of you excel in demanding sports, and happen to be over the age of 30. What does this meant to you personally, and what message does this send to the world?
KG: I started rowing at 21, which I think is considered a bit later than most. I think it should send the message that starting out later in sports can be a great thing. Women know their bodies better at our age, and I think my experience and ability to read my body was one of my strengths. No matter what your goals are, it is never too late to try something new, and I think pushing yourself and your limits is a really great exercise. Each person may have a different way they choose to do that.
LG: I am not going to lie, sometimes I question what I am doing now that I am in my 30s. I should be settling down and having kids and doing all of the things most of my friends are doing, but I am still making gains in my training and I still love pushing my body to the limit. It is nice to see women who are excelling in the sport of cycling that have five years on me. I am still motivated, and that is key. I think it takes time to be an athlete, and women seem to peak later in life, so I don't think my age should be a factor at this point in the game. While I would love to help get younger females in the sport of cycling, I don't think older women should be discouraged from getting involved in the sport, either; you never know your potential unless you give it a shot.
espnW: Leah, what's been your highlight of the season racing with Colavita and what goals remain in your racing career?
LG: I think my highlight was meeting the team at camp this year and racing Tour of the Gila together. It was great to meet some new people in the sport and feed off of everyone's enthusiasm. I had just come home from racing in Europe and I was feeling a little defeated and fatigued, and the team picked my spirits up and motivated me to get back on the bike. I suffered from a concussion and severe whiplash after a crash at the Exergy Tour and it took me a long time before I got back on the bike, so my goals shifted. I am focused on having a healthy and consistent season for 2013 and, of course, some team wins would be amazing! There are so many ups and downs in sport and my main goal is to enjoy the process and work hard.
I watched Krista at the Olympics this year, and while she did amazing and brought home silver, there were so many other amazing athletes who got injured, DNF'd or just didn't have it on that particular day. It really made me realize you need to enjoy the journey because sometimes things just don't go as planned.p>espnW: Krista, your boat won the silver in London. How has this impacted your life, both in and out of the boat?
KG: I am now forever an "Olympic silver medalist" and that is pretty darn cool and I am very proud of what [me and my teammates] have accomplished. I don't think I know how it has and will impact me yet. I am still reflecting … emotions are coming to the surface daily. I am so honored to hear how our journey impacted those watching. I meet someone new every day who learns about what I did or knows and tells me where they were when we raced. It is a really neat part of the journey.
espnW: The London Olympics have been called "The Year of the Woman" for the stunning upsets and victories within the female events. In conjunction, the U.S. has been celebrating the 40th anniversary of Title IX. How are women's sports in Canada thriving?
KG: I watched most women compete after finishing my race. I was so inspired to watch Mary Kom from India compete in the women's boxing. Not only was it the first time that women had competed in boxing at the Games, but she also has a great story of overcoming obstacles. It boggles my mind that women haven't always been there competing. It is something that I probably take for granted. Women are so strong. The human spirit is amazing. I think that is what is so great about the Olympic stories, whether they are in upset or glory. I hope young women believe they are capable of anything when they watch other women competing.
LG: I think there is a lot of unrecognized talent in Canada and a lot of potential for growth. There needs to be more support though in order for women to excel in the sport of cycling, specifically. There needs to be more races and higher-caliber races. It would also be cool to have some professional Canadian women's cycling teams. [Most pro teams are based in the U.S. or Europe].
espnW: Many people have the stereotype that professional, Olympic-caliber athletes simply eat, sleep and compete in their sport. Shatter the myth for us.
KG: I would love to shatter the myth, but for me it was kind of true. I was out of my hometown and it was a grueling place out there. We also traveled a lot, so I never found myself doing much other than my sport and such around it. I do want to give back now that I am finished with my competitive rowing career. I still want to race and exercise my competitive spirit for starters. I plan to get out on the bike with Leah. I also would like to mentor some new rowers in the communities where I started. Leah and I are both involved in the "Fast and Female" program, and I hope to get involved with other female athletes in other sports and see where I can help.
LG: Simply eating, sleeping and training sounds ideal, but life happens outside of sport, as well. I have been fortunate to have a supportive family, which has allowed me to focus on sport and not have to have a full-time job; but if that were not the case, I would have been working a lot and wouldn't have been able to race all over the world.
There are the regular daily activities that also need to be taken care of, as well; athletes are not living in a bubble isolated from the world. It is learning to manage your time and take advantage of the down time. This past year I got involved with the "Fast and Female" program and this is their approach:
"We support, motivate, inspire and empower girls ages 9 to 19 to stick to sports and the healthy lifestyle by exposing them to innovative programming led by world-class female athletes who act as ambassadors and positive role models."
I think it is a great program. I am also currently getting involved in a new company called ATPics which is going to be an amazing training facility that will have physiological testing labs, top-of-the-line bike fitting, on-site doctors, pool and gym and also chiropractors, physiologists, naturopaths, etc. I think it is going to be the perfect facility for helping develop junior athletes, master athletes, as well as keeping elite athletes improving. I have wanted a facility like this ever since I started cycling seriously.
espnW: Women's rowing and cycling suffer from a lack of media coverage. What would you like the general public to know about your sport, and why should they be fans?
KG: I think what goes on in the backdrop of rowing can be far more entertaining than the race! I wish sports fans could have gotten to know my entire crew better. I worked with so many amazing women at the center over the years. We are from all over the country with all different backgrounds and demeanors. At one particular dinner party, we were introduced and they listed where we all went to school and where we were from and, wow -- I was reminded of how smart and interesting our backgrounds were. In my opinion, we were a special group of women. That is something I think we could do a better job of celebrating in the media. I think our country should be better introduced to our Canadian athletes and their stories. I think we would get even more support if that were the case.
LG: Women's cycling in North America and Europe is so exciting. There are always so many aggressive teams and interesting team tactics going on, it can be very engaging. The weather can be unpredictable, as most people probably saw at the London Olympics, and that just adds to the excitement. So many things can happen during a race, too; the leader can get a flat or crash and it changes the race strategy. And then there are the women who are not on a professional team and want to get recognized, so they ride with a lot of passion. When I was injured this season, I had the opportunity to watch a couple of races online, and I couldn't put my computer down!