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Megan Kalmoe went from Walk-on to Olympian

By Doug Williams | April 17, 2012, 12:55 p.m. (ET)

Megan Kamloe

In high school, Megan Kalmoe played basketball, softball and ran cross country.

She never rowed, and didn’t really know an oar from a paddle.

But as a sophomore at the University at Washington, Kalmoe walked on to the Huskies’ strong rowing program and instantly became smitten.

Eventually she became a captain, and then graduated to the U.S. national team where she finished fifth in the double sculls with teammate Ellen Tomek at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and earned a silver medal in quad sculls at the 2011 World Rowing Championships.

Today she is in Chula Vista, Calif., competing in the National Selection Regatta II. The winning crew will get the opportunity to go to Europe for the first two world cup stops. If that crew finishes in the top four, it will be named to the team. If it does not, the boat class will be included in the 2012 Olympic Trials – Rowing scheduled for June 11-14 in West Windsor, N.J.

In the final event of the morning, the women’s double sculls, the two USRowing Training Center-Princeton entries posted the fastest times of the two heats with Kalmoe and Tomek posting a 7:18.542 followed by Stesha Carle and Kate Bertko in 7:25.259.

But even as Kalmoe works to the make the U.S. team that will compete this summer at the London 2012 Olympic Games, she is looking at the big picture of her sport. Kalmoe, 28, says there’s more to rowing than just the strength and endurance required to go fast, or the teamwork and techniques that separate the best from the rest.

For her, the sport’s traditions and long history are special.

So, she strives to share her passion for rowing with others and is eager to play her part —along with other current and former national team members — in USRowing’s just-launched Row to London fundraising and awareness campaign.

“For me, getting into it, I was actually very attracted to the legacy aspect (of the sport),” said Kalmoe, who grew up in Minneapolis. “There’s a huge rowing tradition at Washington, and to walk on to the team when it was the centennial of the rowing program there was like completely over the top, a celebration of 100 years of rowing, and that was really amazing. It really hit home to me how far back the sport actually goes.

“Then you take it to the next level and you learn about the Olympic history and the national teams that have come for a very long time before I ever started rowing, and it’s unique that we have a sport that has such a rich history and especially a rich Olympic history.”

The Row to London campaign kicked off the last weekend of March at the San Diego Crew Classic, which Kalmoe was able to attend because she was training at the nearby Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.

At the Crew Classic, USRowing had an information tent set up to connect to rowers and fans about the campaign that will consist of:

  • A grassroots fundraising challenge among rowing clubs, organizations, collegiate teams and rowing regattas in which those groups will raise money to support the national team. The group that raises the most will play host to a group of 2012 Olympians this fall for an event of its choosing, such as a clinic, fantasy camp or welcome-home reception.

Check out: http://natrowing.donorpages.com/RowtoLondon/

  • A marketing and information drive to raise awareness about USRowing and the upcoming Olympic Games, using former Olympic and national team standouts as spokespersons, such as Pete Cipollone, coxswain of the 2004 men’s eight, which won the gold medal in Athens. Cipollone, president of USRowing’s board of directors, said in a news release that, “Our mission is to support our team in any way we can.”
  • Events to be held across the nation, including 100-day out celebrations in San Francisco and New York (April 18), rowing days with Olympians and national team members and NBC Viewing parties at rowing clubs in all markets, a Golf Outing and Run for Gold 5k and a special event to announce the team on or around June 24.
  • Online marketing to include the sale of Row to London clothing and gear to benefit the U.S. team, along with interactive social-media components for fans.

The Row to London campaign, said Glenn Merry, USRowing’s chief executive officer, is crucial for the organization during an Olympic year.

“Being a non-profit membership organization, we are constantly looking for ways to engage our members, grow our fan base and increase our support,” Merry said in a news release.

Kalmoe is well positioned to get the word out as a dedicated blogger and social-media communicator. She’s blogged about Row to London on her website (megankalmoe.com) and talked about it on her Facebook page and Twitter account.

“I have a lot of junior rowers that follow me in those social mediums, and a lot of active rowers as well,” Kalmoe said. “So I thought if I could contribute by spreading the word and letting them know that I’m excited about it and that I think it could be really good for the Olympic team, I figured I would help.”

Kalmoe’s impact on the sport will be that much greater if she makes her second Olympic Games. She said her best bet is to land a spot on the quad scull, but the level of competition is higher this year than at any time since she’s been on the national team, she said.

“As much as I would love to tell you, ‘Oh my chances are great, and I’m feeling really awesome,’ I’m going to have to fight really, really hard to get onto this team because there are just so many strong, talented women,” she said. “I can tell you that whoever does make the team is going to be a force for London, because this group is very strong. I’m excited to be a part of it.”

The perfect scenario for her would be to make the team, then take part in the Row to London celebration with the winning fundraising organization this fall after her second Olympic Games.

To her, the national competition between boathouses is the biggest part of Row to London. After all, it was at the University of Washington where she first fell in love with rowing, and she knows college and amateur programs are the foundation of the sport. This is their chance to help out the Olympic team while getting the word out about rowing and hooking future athletes.

Just the way Kalmoe was hooked.

“So in the event that I do end up making the team and that works out, the ability to come back and give back in that way and take part in that event, whatever it ends up being and wherever it ends up being, that would be really cool,” she said.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Doug Williams is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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Megan Kalmoe