Minneapolis native Kalmoe makes sacrifices to compete

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 27, 2012 - 6:42 AM

Kalmoe's website displays the writing skills of an English and Latin major, which she was, signing off on every blog post with, "Long Live The Dream."

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Megan Kalmoe, second from right, with other members of the U.S. rowing team, is focused intently on her goal of winning an Olympic gold medal.

Photo: Allison Frederick , USRowing

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When Megan Kalmoe was born in Minneapolis, her mother held her to a hospital window so she could see the rowers gliding on the Mississippi.

When Kalmoe was 9, she looked out the car window on a family trip, pointed at the University of Washington, and said, "that's where I want to go to school.''

Kalmoe no longer requires windows to see her future. Now she works in an open-top vehicle.

After growing up in St. Croix Falls, Wis., Kalmoe attended Washington, joined the rowing team as a novice after her freshman year, and became an Olympian.

Her double-sculls team finished fifth in Beijing. Her quadruple-sculls team won a silver medal at the 2011 world championships. She'll compete starting Saturday in London to try to win a medal in a sport she barely knew existed when she was young, even if her mother loves telling the story about the hospital window.

"At Washington, they told me that if I joined the team I'd get in great shape and be part of a great legacy," Kalmoe said. "It all sounded great. Then, once you're in the boat, it's one of the most awkward feelings you'll ever have."

Kalmoe, now 28, acclimated quickly. After spending her freshman year "getting good grades, partying, having fun, and getting fat," she began honing the muscles and timing of an elite rower with the outstanding Washington program.

After her third season of college rowing, she was selected for the national under-23 developmental team. Typically modest, she didn't think she'd make the team. She did, and it won the world championship in its category.

"I was like, I didn't know this existed at this level," she said. "I told myself, if I have the opportunity to do this again someday, I'm definitely going to take it. Turns out that meant moving to Princeton and training with the senior national team. One day I graduated, the next I was taking the red-eye to New Jersey."

Her rise to the Olympics and the story and idyllic settings for her workouts obscure the difficulty of her pursuit. Rowing is grueling to begin with, and Olympic rowers find it difficult to support themselves.

Kalmoe works at a local YMCA. She and her teammates hold endless fundraisers. She solicits support through her website (MeganKalmoe.com), where she displays the writing skills of an English and Latin major, which she was.

She's far more excited about her trip to London than what she'll find when she returns.

"I will have a lot of debt waiting for me when I'm done with rowing,'' she said. "I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to continue. The USOC does play a big part in making sure we have the resources that we need in order to travel and compete. But our budget is tiny, and I don't know if it's even a small fraction of what other teams are working with, the teams we consider successful -- Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Germany, the powerhouses."

The National Rowing Foundation, which is affiliated with the national team, tries to help. The rowers hold jobs even while training fulltime. And they hold fundraisers to help pay for health care, groceries and vehicles that can carry sculls to the practice facility.

"I live month-to-month,'' she said. "I don't have any money to set aside, for savings or for when I'm done with rowing. The first couple of years here I was training but wasn't receiving a stipend from the USOC, so I accrued a lot of debt. I don't ever tell people that with the intent of complaining or making people feel bad for me. This is the lifestyle I chose. We go into this knowing we'll never make a bunch of money by rowing, so you just try to make it a day at a time, a month at a time, a year at a time.''

Her mother, Mary Martin, watched her daughter participate in just about everything available to her while growing up. Megan played three sports, played alto sax in the band, painted, wrote and became student body president at St. Croix Falls.

"The thought certainly had never crossed my mind, that she would become an Olympic rower," Martin said. "As a family, we didn't really know what rowing was. What I can say about Megan is she's very determined and if she decides she's going to do something, she will do it."

As she prepares to compete in London, Kalmoe yearns for a medal and scrambles for financial support, signing off on every blog post with, "Long Live The Dream."

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