It’s still pretty surreal for Evergreen’s Kendall Chase when she says the words, “I’m going to the Olympics.” The athlete, a 2012 Mullen High School graduate, is part of the U.S. women’s …
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It’s still pretty surreal for Evergreen’s Kendall Chase when she says the words, “I’m going to the Olympics.”
The athlete, a 2012 Mullen High School graduate, is part of the U.S. women’s rowing team that will compete in Tokyo next month. She will be rowing on a four-woman team.
How does a woman who grew up in a land-locked state end up on a rowing team? When she was 14, she took a learn-to-row class and fell in love, starting at a rowing club that practiced at Cherry Creek Reservoir. She continued her rowing career at the University of California, Berkeley, and has spent the last five years at the Princeton Training Center, training nearly every day to prepare for this moment.
Her days start at 5:30 a.m. with practice, a nap, more practice and possibly another practice — six days a week with on-your-own practice on Sundays.
“It’s not an exciting life that I live,” she said. “I do not have a lot of time or energy to do the normal 26-year-old things. Nothing we do here is normal. We’re trying to achieve our dreams and chase gold medals at the Olympics. That can’t be normal.”
The team leaves for training in Hawaii on July 7 before going to Tokyo on July 14. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, athletes only will go between the Olympic Village and the race course, and they will leave Japan 48 hours after their competition ends.
“Our coaches have told us that our Olympic experience will be a bit different than in the past, and I’m totally fine of that,” Chase said. “This is our reality. I’m glad to get to go and compete.”
Trials and tribulations
The Olympic team tryouts were the hardest three weeks of her life, both physically and emotionally. It was so physically challenging that she would take ice baths between the morning and afternoon sessions.
Her hard work paid off when she was given the last seat in the four-woman boat.
“It’s such a weird dynamic,” Chase said. “You’re so happy for yourself, but my heart breaks for my teammates who ended up on the wrong side of things. These are all your friends. I’ve been on the same team with these people for five years. We push each other beyond our limits every single day at practice.”
Now she’s preparing to compete against the best in the world, happy that the games have not been canceled by the International Olympic Committee.
While the U.S. women have been a rowing powerhouse for many years, it’s been difficult to size up the competition because COVID-19 shut down many meets.
“We usually have a sense of how good teams are based off of races and World Cups,” she said. “Who knows what will happen? No one has seen these lineups before.”
She noted that the boat she is competing in has a lot of speed and a lot of potential, and it could do well.
A dream come true
Chase called her 12 years of competitive rowing a long and windy road with the ups, the downs and the injuries, which have made her develop a love/hate relationship for the sport.
“I ask myself so many times: `Why couldn’t I have been better at golf?’ Rowing is an endurance sport. We train in grueling long sessions, but the race lasts about six minutes” to row the 2,000-meter racecourse.
Yet, “when you get into a boat and it’s just gliding on the water and everyone is moving together, it feels effortless, and there’s no feeling like that. It’s the ultimate team sport. I have played every other sport there is, and there is no sport more team-y than rowing.”
She called her teammates gritty with a will to fight to win.
So far she has no plans for after the Olympics, though Chase hopes to take some time off to decide if she wants to return to the sport.
“If I decide that I am OK being done, I will be done,” she said. “If I feel like I have some unfinished business or want to keep going, I will keep going. Right now, I’m trying to focus on the here and now.”
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