Meghan O'Leary makes Olympic training team
London 2012. Six letters and four numbers: a simple but powerful phrase that is on the minds of thousands of elite athletes across the world, including those of my teammates and myself as we enter these next crucial six months. The Summer Olympics are 183 days away.
Last year was a year of big change and new adventures for me. From the humble beginnings of my first (rocky) boat race in April, things have dramatically changed. And all for the better. Over the summer, I made the tough decision to go from full time to part time with my job, putting a career with ESPN on hold to pursue a dream to compete with the United States women's rowing national team. The choice was quickly validated with an invitation in September to live and train at the National Training Center in Princeton, N.J. For three months, I worked every day to be better than the day before, and toward a new goal: getting an invite to San Diego for winter training.
Not every athlete at the Princeton training center is guaranteed the opportunity to spend the winter months (January through March) at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. Especially in an Olympic year, space is limited and the focus is obviously on developing the primary Olympic selection group. As new as I am, I had no expectations, but wanted only to continue to do what had led me to Princeton in the first place: work hard and learn as much as I could as quickly as possible. And being surrounded by some of the best athletes and top rowers in the country, it wasn't hard to find those learning opportunities.
The Tuesday morning after our Thanksgiving break, I was told I would be making the trip to San Diego! Needless to say, this made the top of my list for what I was most thankful for. The rest of December was spent cutting my teeth in the quad (quadruple sculls -- four rowers each with two sculling oars) alongside some of our top elite scullers, including 2008 Olympians Megan Kalmoe and Ellen Tomek, as well as multiyear national team member Kate Bertko. It was sink or swim, literally. There were good days and bad days, but I managed to stay afloat and learn an incredible amount. Being surrounded by such talent forced me to push my limits physically and mentally.
While sitting in the same boat with Olympians is intimidating, I was surprised at how quickly I began to feel a sense of belonging. We all work hard, and with sharing that daily torture comes a sense of respect for one another and a collective confidence in our own abilities and the greater whole.
Now we have arrived in San Diego, hungry and eager to work harder than ever, knowing that every little thing we do today will add up to the great things we plan to do six months from now. The U.S. Olympic Training Center has been the perfect retreat. Training in the warm Southern California climate, surrounded by other top-notch athletes in sports like track and field, rugby, archery, field hockey, canoe and kayak, BMX, triathlon and cycling, you can't help but feel a part of something special.
I'm living with three field hockey players (Torrie Albini, Caroline Nichols and Lauren Pfeiffer) for my three-month stint here. The friendships I've already formed with them are a daily reminder of one of the greatest takeaways I'm gaining from this experience: It truly is about the journey, made up of the people you meet along the way, and the moments that dare to break you but only make you stronger. It's about the laughter and tears you share with new friends, and the days when you realize you can get more out of yourself than you ever imagined. But most of all, it's about the dreams we're all brave and lucky enough to be living. These next six months should be an amazing journey, to say the least.
Meghan will be blogging for espnW throughout her training leading up to the Olympics in London this summer. Check out her previous blog here.