AFY Michaela on Rowing + 2018 Goals

Athlete for Yoga Michaela Copenhaver has her sights set on the 2020 USA Olympic Rowing Team. We checked in with her this spring to get schooled in her sport, learn why rowers are some of the toughest athletes around, and talk about her 2018 season and goals.

Michaela races National Selection Regatta II in West Windsor NJ with partner Rosa Kemp this weekend, starting with a Time Trial on May 17 and Finals on Saturday May 19. Results will be updated live at US Rowing

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You kicked off your season on April 17th with Spring Speed Order I in Windsor NJ. How was that series? How do you frame your first race of the season — is it a bit of a rust buster?
It was definitely a strong start to my season: I placed 4th out of 23 entries. The race is kind of the opposite of a rust buster. Rowing times are incredibly condition dependent, so the best way to get a ranking of athletes is to face off. This race was our first and only opportunity of the season to line everybody up. The results have a lot of implications for future racing, where finding a strong partner or partners depends on your ranking.

I’m obviously super excited to be in the mix with that top group, but to get an opportunity to compete for the best boat, I needed to establish myself solidly in the top 4. Between tough conditions, cancelled rounds of racing, a close loss in the heats and my lack of international racing experience, I fell short of that, despite my 4th place finish. It hurt to miss that opportunity, but I’m trying to roll with the punches.

This weekend you have the National Selection Regatta II. Your season is set up a little differently than independent competition. Can you explain it a bit?
In lightweight rowing, there are 4 boat classes (double, single, quad, and pair) that race at the World Championships. Only one of these boats (the double) races at the Olympics, so it’s the priority boat class each year. The National Selection Regatta 2 is the first opportunity to make Team USA in the double. Athletes that qualify in this boat class will race at the World Cup races to secure a spot for the World Championships.

Because I fell a little short of my goals at the Spring Speed Order, I was unable to find a partner that I thought would create a competitive lightweight double and I’ve decided not to pursue that goal. Instead, I’ll be racing the open weight double. This choice gives me some great racing experience, without the pressure of having to make weight. 

The second opportunity to qualify for the World Championship team is in the single in July, which is where I’ll put my focus. This is followed by a third opportunity in the quad and pair in August, where I will race if I fail to qualify in the single. (The August trials may also include an additional selection for the double, depending on World Cup results.) 

Each event is multiday, what does that look like?
For domestic races, we start each regatta off with a time trial for seeding. Then, depending on the event and number of entries, we will progress through heats, semi-finals and/or finals. There is usually one race per day, but weather can compress or cancel rounds of racing. This happened at Spring Speed Order 1: we raced heats on Wednesday, skipped semi-finals, and progressed directly to finals early Thursday morning.

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Annnd to back up even further… can you give us a quick terminology lesson? What do you call a race? Are there sets? 
I’m not sure there is official terminology — I usually just refer to everything as a race! But if we’re getting technical, I think each event would be called a regatta that consists of multiple rounds of racing (heats, semis, finals). We also have a weird “second chance” race called a repechage at some trials events — after heats, some athletes progress directly to the next round while others have to race again in a rep to progress. 

What’s the A goal, big goal of the season? What are your supporting goals?
The big goal this season is to make Team USA. I’ve placed 2nd at trials too many times to count and only the first place in each boat class qualifies. The single and double are my favorite boat classes, and this season, the single appears to be my best shot at making the team. To do that, I will have to win Senior Trials in early July.

Between now and then, I have two supporting goals. The first is to line up against other singles as often as possible. I want to get beaten as many times as possible, so I can figure out how to win on race day. The second is to take my training up a notch. I’ve seen so many athletes do this (myself included) and fail; I’m also taking my commitment to health and recovery up a notch to match.

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What does race week look like for you? Is there a taper as you come into each race, or are you training through any?
There are very few opportunities to race and each one comes with a lot of logistics, so I try to pick races that are important enough to taper for. Even though this race will be relatively low key for me, it is still an opportunity to learn and to show how well I can move boats.

I try to arrive at the venue one or two days before racing begins to get my equipment set up and to settle into my accommodations. In the last few days before competition, I’ll typically do a few recovery paced rows, and one session with a few confidence boosting speed bursts like 4 by 250 meters at race pace. Once racing starts, there is very little time for distraction. Every moment between rounds is spent getting ready for the next one: Jasyoga, meditation, monitoring body weight, sleeping, etc.

What do you have to get ready that week in regards to weigh in, your equipment and such?
I bring my boat with me to competitions, which means I have to drive to the regatta venue with my equipment. Fortunately, I live fairly close to the primary regatta venue, but it’s always stressful to drive through the New York City area with a delicate 25-foot long carbon fiber shell hanging off my car.

I also travel with a scale and some basic kitchen equipment so that I can monitor my weight and fuel myself appropriately during racing. For races with a weigh-in, it’s really important to monitor carb and salt intake as they can greatly affect water retention, so almost all of my meals during race week are made from scratch. Gourmet low-sodium microwave cooking is my hidden talent.

Do you have any race week or race day rituals?
The weigh-in window for lightweights in 1–2 hours before race time, but most of us like to weigh in as early as possible so we can hydrate and fuel before racing. That means I always show up to the venue at least two hours before the race, and then have an hour to eat breakfast and relax before I start my warm ups. I like to use that time to listen to podcasts or meditate: anything to keep the nerves at bay! Even without a weigh-in this week, I’ll stick to that schedule as closely as possible.
 

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How do you use Jasyoga during race week? Race eve?
Recovering between rounds of racing is a huge priority. After cooling down and eating, my next job is to get my body ready to go again. I typically do 2–3 different Jasyoga videos, like the Sunday Reset and the Upper Body Reset, along with at least 15 minutes of one of the meditations from Work IN. That combination helps me recover and improves my sleep, which is a huge part of multi-day racing.

How can we follow along? Who should we be following in the rowing world?
The two best sources of information are US Rowing (@usrowing) and Row2k (row2k.com and @row2k). All of the selection races have entries posted on RegattaCentral and live results at herenow.com. For some of the bigger trials races, US Rowing also provides live video coverage of the finals on their YouTube channel.


You can find Michaela online at lightweighteats.com and learn more about her and her favorite Jasyoga videos on her Athletes for Yoga profile. Be inspired by her training and racing on Instagram @lightweighteats and Twitter @lightweighteats.

And remember, keep sharing your own journey with #athletesforyoga!