Now that the last medal has been won and the Spice Girls have zig-a-zig-ah'd their way through the Closing Ceremony, some of us have fallen into a bit of a post-Olympics depression. And by "some of us," I mean me. So when we got the opportunity to have some of the gold medal-winning women's 8 rowing team visit us, some of us (me again) started freaking out.
But when Mary Whipple, Esther Lofgren, Erin Cafaro, and Meghan Musnicki arrived at our office (decked out in their sweet Team USA gear), I wasn't the only member of the Whole Living crew who was giddy and brimming with questions about the team's workouts, nutrition, and how the U.S. women totally dominated this year. Oh, and don't think I didn't ask about those awesome Nike Flyknit Trainers from the medal stand uniform...
Mary, how do you motivate the team during a race?
Mary: At this level, I think everyone expects that I’m saying something super inspirational, but in reality it’s not reassurance, but I make sure that everyone knows that what we’re doing at this exact time is what we need to be doing. Especially at the Olympic final. I tell them to breathe, let it happen, enjoy the moment.
Trust and believability is huge, so that’s what I try to communicate to everybody. Trust in each other, trust in our plan. Stick to our plan and enjoy it, because it’s working.
Erin: So obviously she’s our brain, and we’re the body!
How do you learn to work together?
Megan: Well, it’s practice. We train together for years, and we just learn to move together as a unit and predict each other’s movements.
Esther: It’s a very zen experience when you’re doing it well. This race is 6 minutes long, but you almost remember every single stroke. It’s neat to be in a boat and, you know, if I’m feeling like my legs are dying, I know that others are going really hard and, I’m like, OK, I can’t let them down. That’s why you can go so much faster in this boat, because you’re with all these other people and you want them to succeed and you know they’re pulling for you. It’s good trust.
Did you hear that if the U.S. women were a country, you'd place fifth in the medal count?
Erin: Dang it! I thought we were third! [Everyone laughs]
Mary: I’m proud. I love the acceptance, I love the almost equality. I think monetarily speaking it’s lagging in terms of compensation. But now we’re showing that we’re here regardless of whether we’re getting paid enough, we’re enjoying our sport and this is the avenue that we can take and we’re grabbing hold of it.
Erin: It’s very interesting, though. A friend is doing a master’s program at Berkeley and she’s doing a paper on Title IX as we’re nearing its anniversary. Pierre de Coubertin, who’s the founder of the modern Olympics, basically said that women would not be successful, or nobody would come to watch them in the modern Olympics. And so they should just be there to cheer on the men. He didn’t have a vision for women in the modern Olympics. So, to come all this way…
Esther: It’s really neat to have Olympics with women be something that little girls to aspire to now. And it’s there—it’s not something parents have to seek out. It’s on the news. Even if it’s not as big as the men’s stuff, I think it’s great. It’s exciting for us.
What other workouts do you do besides rowing?
Esther: Leading up to the Olympics, our team does a fair amount of cross training, so running, biking. We do weight training. A bunch of us do yoga because we’re a very injury-prone sport. Everybody kind of finds what works for them.
Megan: Everyone kind of does their own thing and knows what works best for their body. You learn, because your body’s your tool, so whatever you do, you want to make sure you’re maximizing its capabilities. It’s all about maximizing what your body can do.
Erin: For me, I’m a little bit of a special case because I’m undersized [she’s 5’9”]. In 2007, the year before the Beijing Olympics, I found CrossFit, which is an international community of gyms for strength and conditioning. Basically it’s finding your weakness and finding your potential in strength and conditioning in sport. It’s also nutrition. Under their motto it’s paleo eating, which is cleaning eating--fruit, nuts, seeds, meat and vegetables. I stuck with it and made the team in 2008. I honestly believe that that was the difference.
What’s the worst part of training?
Megan: My least favorite part of training is tapering off of training. You have ridiculous amounts of energy, and I love to work out. I enjoy it. Some of the girls enjoy the training aspect of it and some train because they love to race. I’m lucky that I love training and racing. So to taper off training always kills me. That’s my least favorite part of it – to sit and do nothing. And not push my body.
Erin: Well, you’re so dependent on the endorphins your body produces. So when they cut that off, you almost go into a little mini depression because you don’t have those endorphins depending on throughout the past four years.
Beyond winning the gold medal, what was the most exciting part of your Olympic experience?
Esther: I love watching the Olympics. Growing up, I was in a very special family – we didn’t have TV, except we got to watch the State of the Union address and the Olympics. And so, I always loved watching the Olympics. It was so neat to go. I actually played volleyball in high school with April Ross, and Misty May went to my high school, so I got to go to both of their semis and watch their final in person. It was just so incredible to be there.
For me, just walking around and being the dining hall and being with all these people who are my heroes, and just being filled with USA pride and Olympic spirit, and not in a cheesy way, it was just so contagious.
Stay tuned for the lowdown on how these champion rowers protect their skin from the elements during brutal training sessions.