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Mary Whipple Still Leading By Example

By Jon Frank | Feb. 12, 2013, 3:22 p.m. (ET)

Three-time Olympic rower Mary Whipple poses with kids at the
Wenatchee YMCA.

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Mary Whipple stands before a small mass of children and watches a TV replay of her U.S. Olympic rowing team defend its gold medal in London.

The U.S. boat snares an early lead, never relinquishes control of the race and finishes out the 2,000-meter affair with a strong lead and a final time of 6 minutes, 10.59 seconds.

Whipple watches TV personality Michele Tafoya interview the team afterward, which includes an emotional display from Whipple, who fights to hold back tears.

Those days are over now. Whipple retired from rowing after the U.S. women’s rowing team earned its second consecutive gold medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games. In her Olympic career, Whipple has three medals — two gold and one silver — which she brought to share with children recently at the Wenatchee YMCA.

The medals are a nice reminder of the hard work she’s put in during her career, which started when she was 14 in Orangevale, Calif., and ended six months ago. They’re also a great way to capture the children’s attention and proof that hard work can have a big payoff.

Whipple, who relocated to nearby Leavenworth, Wash., recently and purchased a house with her husband, Ryan Murray, hopes her lengthy rowing career can inspire children to make good decisions and help them feel empowered.

“What I would love to see people be is to be accountable for their actions,” the 32-year-old said.

Accountability extends into a number of areas. Whipple stressed the significance of healthy eating and exercise, but also said it’s important to consider daily actions and their effect on long-term goals.

As an athlete ambassador for the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Team for Tomorrow program, Whipple has spent her post-competitive career preaching the importance of accountability and working to inspire people to be active in their community.

Whipple imparts rowing knowledge to kids at the Wenatchee YMCA

Team for Tomorrow is a humanitarian relief fund through which America's Olympic and Paralympic athletes provide support and give back to local communities and people in need throughout the world. Launched in 2008, the fund also serves as a platform for athletes to continue spreading the Olympic Ideals of peace, goodwill, tolerance and harmony.

“I want to make sure people feel empowered, no matter what they do,” she said.

As coxswain on the Olympic rowing team, Whipple was responsible for steering the boat and coordinating the nine-woman team’s movements.

The position made her a designated leader on the team with a unique challenge. Coxswains are considerably smaller than the average rower, so the California native had to learn how to lead effectively. She is about a foot shorter than her teammates. Her time as a coxswain enhanced her leadership skills, which she uses while speaking. Whipple, who stands at 5-foot-3, also speaks at leadership conferences for business people. She has addressed a number of conference rooms since her retirement and has relished the fresh set of challenges that accompany speaking deals.

During her speaking engagements, she encourages her audience to break everything down into small steps and work to gradually accomplish a long-term goal — a proven formula for success. Whipple’s competitive career was a series of day-in, day-out checklists with a greater goal in mind.

When she isn’t speaking, Whipple teaches spin classes in Seattle.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “I get paid to yell at people and exercise once a week.”

The University of Washington alumna, who earned her masters degree in education with a focus in Intercollegiate Athletic Leadership in 2010, also will run the Mary Whipple Coxswain’s Leadership Camp at the University of Washington boathouse this summer. The camp, which will debut this summer, is specifically designed for high school-aged coxswains.

If she were still competing, she would be in New Jersey training for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. Instead, Whipple is enjoying some downtime — something she’s not accustomed to — and doing her best to give back to the community.

“I keep forgetting all my accomplishments because I feel like I’m just a normal person,” she said.

Perhaps more than anything else, Whipple’s hard work and years of sacrifice have shown that effort can lead to great success. Natural ability never won Whipple any medals, but her willpower and leadership have taken her places she never dreamed of.

“It doesn’t matter how tall you are,” she said, addressing the group of children. “It doesn’t matter how strong you are. It’s what you can do and what you can make people believe in. Words are very powerful.”

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

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Mary Whipple