Megan Kalmoe competes at the elite level in rowing and does everything she can in order to prepare for her racing opportunities. Athletes like Megan have to ask themselves questions about how well they are fueling their bodies or if they are working harder than their competitors each and every day. But, once Megan Kalmoe is on the starting line, there are no more questions. During a recent interview, I asked Megan about getting in her zone during races. She said that it’s difficult to articulate because going fast is something that doesn’t require much thinking; it just happens. For her, what happens after the start is simple: she just goes. She trusts in her physiology and in all of the intense training that has allowed her lungs and body to function so efficiently during races. However, the preparation that enables her success amongst the best athletes in the world does not only require tremendous physical training. Megan Kalmoe also uses mental preparation in order to be entirely equipped on the starting line.
Megan uses her brain as a muscle and makes sure that she is mentally strong in order to coordinate her arms and legs during races. This combination contributes to her speed and dominance. Her brain is especially involved in her race preparation in different ways during visualization and imagery. When Megan is racing with one other person, her pair partner, they walk through the race out loud together and discuss their plan of action. They decide on which key words they will use (such as “commit”, or “together”) and they know that these specific cues will allow them to focus on the same thing. With this, they accomplish fluency and power together in order to pass competitors or get even further ahead. They also involve multiple senses while practicing imagery. Being able to actually see the course going by, and walking through the same race several times allows them to be mentally prepared and confident that their plan and focus cues will fuel them to success.
In the recent World Cup Championships, Megan Kalmoe raced in a larger boat – the eight – allowing her to experience a different type of visualization with more of her teammates. Her coxswain talked the eight rowers through the entire length of the race, simulating the intensity and feelings that the boat would experience on the water in France. Megan and her teammates trusted in each other’s ability to take the lead together, and ultimately prevailed during this race. Their race execution and victory over the other countries shows the strength of their physical fitness and psychological mindset. Kalmoe and her teammates raced in the pair event only a few hours before, where she also medaled. Her focus allowed her to be successful in both of these races because she was able to transition between the two events and stay in the present moment. She maintained concentration on the things that she was able to control and stayed motivated and confident; she gave everything she had in both of her races.
I am thankful that I had the chance to talk to Megan about these races and what it takes not only to be an Olympian, but a world-class rower. Megan Kalmoe’s incredible physical strength is admirable, and her confidence, motivation, and drive are techniques that I want to use in my own races at the collegiate level. Sport Psychology has been beneficial to me as an athlete by allowing me to strengthen the mental skills that are involved with techniques such as maintaining focus and visualization. Strengthening these mental skills is useful to Olympians like Megan Kalmoe, and can be used at any sport or performance level to give athletes a mental edge and competitive advantage.
Sara Scarbro, University of Minnesota Rower