Athlete Spotlight: Meghan O’Leary and Ellen Tomek

01.02.2014 BY: National Rowing Foundation

The two newest additions to the Oklahoma High Performance Training Center are Meghan O’Leary and Ellen Tomek.  These two competed in the US Women’s Double at the 2013 Chung Ju World Championships in South Korea finishing 7th.  I sat down with them and asked about their move to OKC and what it’s like training with a bunch of lightweight men versus the women’s team in Princeton.

W2X - 2013

Meghan O’Leary and Ellen Tomek of the 2013 W2X

1. You guys have been here for a few months now, how are you finding it?  Is it what you expected? Have there been any surprises?

E:  The weather has been unexpected.  We thought we were moving to a warmer climate than Princeton and this has not been the case.

M: In our first few weeks we had an earthquake and an ice storm. It was a little bit of a shock.  Besides that we have really enjoyed everything we have encountered so far. 

E: I am used to sharing training facilities with others and have always felt like a guest in the boathouse.  Here I feel likes its our boathouse which is a nice change. 

M: The facilities here are amazing, you really feel like you’re at an elite training center.

2. I know you looked at possibly training in a few locations, what made you choose Oklahoma?

E: We really liked that OKC was a training center and has a more professional approach.  It is a little more laid back than Princeton, but it is definitely still a training center.  The fact that the women’s double is no longer on guaranteed funding played a role in our decision too.  Oklahoma has a lower cost of living and the boathouse foundation has resources they are willing to use to back us.  We are also comfortable with and confident in the coaches here.  OKC is the complete package for us.

3. Ellen, you have been rowing for quite a while now, what’s it like rowing with someone who is relatively new to the sport?  Do you find that the things Meg has to think about are things you have made routine?

E: When you row for a while many things become routine, some of the excitement is lost.  Meg has really brought a lot of the excitement back to the sport for me.   I know that I shouldn’t get frustrated with rough water or let the excitement of a good piece get the better of me.  In a way I have been too level and it is refreshing and exciting to have more emotion brought back into it.  It has also been great having someone who is so competitive and physiologically talented to really push me.  It has helped me work harder in other areas and get better all around.

4. Meg, you have had a remarkable rise in your few short years of rowing, what are the biggest hints Ellen has given you that have helped you progress?

M: My answer is really the other side of Ellen’s answer.  Coming from sports that have so much emotion moment to moment to a sport that requires a much more even keel is hard.  Its not just about pulling hard, having a technical approach is much more effective, but Ellen has really helped with that.  Learning to relax, how to let the boat do the work, having the confidence to take the good days with the bad are all things Ellen has impressed upon me.  We are a very good fit and are able to balance our strengths and weaknesses; we are definitely greater than the sum of our parts.

5. What is it like training with the lightweight team versus the women’s team?  Is there a different attitude?  Different mind set?  How’s the music?

M: It is very refreshing training with a different group, the guys are very high energy.  Even though we don’t compete for the same spots on the team we are still competitive with them, but not being in selection with them creates a very different dynamic.  We are always trying to keep up so it pushes us in other ways.  In some ways it is more enjoyable, there isn’t a constant pressure to perform and yet it’s still competitive.

E: There is the same amount of pressure in having to perform in the long run, but there is an element of relaxation to the training.  The guys are serious about their training, but approach it with a very low stress attitude.

M: Instead of always competing against our teammates, now we can just try to be the best we can be, it gives us the freedom to be our best selves, not just the best in the group.  Not having to worry about being at the bottom of a list let’s me have a more nothing to lose attitude, which has allowed for big gains on and off the water.

6. You are training to be the double again this year, do you feel like you have a clear sense of what you need to do to be successful?  What lessons have you learned from last year?

E: Its been really nice getting to focus on rowing with the same person, not worrying about having to adapt to a new partner every couple of weeks.  It has allowed us to have greater individual focus and has allowed us to work on things that there just wasn’t time to work on in the past.

M:  We have already learned what doesn’t work and now we can build on what was working.  We know our needs and now we have the ability to voice that because we are part of a smaller group.  We have one focus and one goal.

E: In this small group setting it is really nice that we can have more input in our training and our health and these things should really help our success