Athlete for Yoga: Michaela Copenhaver

Meet Michaela Copenhaver, a lightweight rower with her sights on the 2020 USA Olympic Team! Michaela has been rowing since she was 13 years old and now trains out of GMS Rowing Center in Connecticut. Get to know our newest Athlete for Yoga in our exclusive interview and help us welcome her to the team!


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Hi Michaela! First of all, where are you training at the moment?
I’m training in New Milford, Connecticut, a small town in the northwest corner. I train with the GMS Rowing Center.

Rowing isn’t the most common sport to pick up, mainly due to accessibility I’m sure. How did you get introduced? How did you get hooked?
My public high school had a rowing team, and my older sister found the sport at an activities fair for 8th graders. She encouraged me to join. I think two things drew me to the sport. The first was a moment: morning practice, under a supermoon, paddling around the lake with four other girls and for a fleeting second, everything came together perfectly. I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since. The second was a love of hard work. School wasn’t challenging to me, so rowing was where I got to really work.

From high school you went on to row in college and now you’re a pro. Are you rowing exclusively?
I work part-time as a private tutor. It’s an awesome job: super flexible, challenging and rewarding, great pay and with a really well run company. The cerebral work balances the physicality of rowing.

What does it mean to be a "Lightweight Rower"?
In rowing, size is a huge advantage. Taller, more muscular athletes tend to be faster. To allow a broad range of athletes to compete, there’s a lightweight category that restricts the size of the athletes competing. In international competition, the rules are as follows:

  • A lightweight women’s crew shall have an average weight not exceeding 57 kg. No individual lightweight female rower may weigh more than 59 kg.
  • A female lightweight single sculler may not weigh more than 59 kg.
  • Lightweight rowers will be weighed wearing only their racing uniform on calibrated scales not less than one hour and not more than two hours before their first race of each lightweight event in which they are competing, each day of the competition.

It adds a really challenging element to the sport, and it has taken me a lot of work to maintain a healthy relationship with food while still being able to weigh-in within 0.1kg of a goal weight at a specified time before every race.

What does a rower’s year look like? 
The year starts in the fall, with a series of longer races, like the Head of the Charles in Boston. These races are pretty fun, because there are no ranking or selection implications and it’s one of the few times we race alongside junior and master athletes. Once the water freezes, we head indoors to train on rowing machines. The spring/summer racing season starts in April and culminates in either trials or the World Championships in August/September. There are very few racing opportunities in the U.S. (last summer I only raced twice!), so most of our time is spent training. 

What does a typical training day look like for you?
I wake up at 7 to get ready for a first practice at 8am. I train in the mornings with two masters athletes. In the winter, this is my easier session of the day and will be somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes of easy rowing. I get home around 10am and eat, shower, do my scheduled Jasyoga video, eat again, and lie down for a nap. When I get up, I’ll eat (again!) and have about an hour for chores before afternoon practice from 3:30-5:30. I join our junior team for this session and it’s so fun to work off their energy. This session is much harder: usually a very long lift or hard pieces like 2 x 6km or 4 x 10 minutes. Once I get home, I shower and eat dinner. My husband makes dinner most nights, so it’s ready when I walk in the door. If I have work in the evenings, I’ll head off to that, usually for about two hours. When I’m done, I do another Jasyoga video, meditate and fall asleep as soon as possible! I try to be asleep around 9pm, but definitely no later than 10.

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What are the unique demands? How is the recovery different from other sports you’ve done?
Much like dancing, rowing requires strength and flexibility. A proper stroke takes your body through a huge range of motion and requires strength in full compression and nearly full extension. A lot of the recovery work is about maintaining flexibility. Rowing also uses almost every single muscle group, which means that recovery work needs to target the whole body.

How do you use yoga in your training and competing?
Yoga plays two roles for me: mobility and recovery. I love that a single Jasyoga video can do both! After every session, I use yoga to retain mobility in key areas and to help increase blood flow to my tired muscles. During competition, I mostly take advantage of the recovery benefits of yoga. Rowing races often involve 3-4 rounds of racing, and videos like Recovery Boost and How to Kickstart Recovery help my body with the short turnarounds between efforts.

What is your go-to Jasyoga video when you need to #hitreset?
I really love the Long Ride Reset. Cycling has a lot of muscular similarities to rowing!

What imbalances do you deal with? What is your go-to routine to encourage them back to balance?
My upper body, especially across my chest, gets really tight and causes a lot of upper back soreness and pain. I love the Upper Body Reset video for this! I try to do it once a week. Rowing also requires a lot of hip and hamstring mobility; the Hip Mobility Maintenance and Comprehensive Hip and Hamstring Reset videos have helped me regain mobility and improve my rowing technique significantly.

What role does meditation, visualization, mantras… play in your training and racing?
A lot of training and racing in middle distance and endurance sports involves sitting in a semi-uncomfortable place — not bad enough that you need to actively deal with it, and yet just bad enough that you’d rather not be there. Meditation has helped me handle that space much more gracefully. 

It has also helped me create some space between training and my life. It’s really easy to let rowing take over every aspect of my day; clearing my mind at the end of a hard session lets me become the person instead of the athlete.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the years of competition?
To guarantee the best possible outcome, get your boat from the start line to the finish line as fast as you can on that day. That may not be faster than your competitors, but if you can optimize your own speed, you will have done the best you can with the preparation you have. This idea helps calm me down and internalize my efforts.

Your big goal is snagging one of two spots on the 2020 Olympic Team for lightweight women, what does that look like? When are the Trials? What are the steps between?
The first step in that process is qualifying the boat class for the Olympics, which is done through placement at the 2019 World Championships. Olympic Trials will be held in the spring of 2020; I will be responsible for finding my own partner to race with. Assuming the boat class is qualified, the winner of the Trials will earn a spot on the Olympic team. If it isn’t qualified, there will be a final chance to qualify the boat before the Games. Between now and the Trials, there will be two opportunities to make Team USA for World Championships, with nine spots for lightweight women each year. Getting that racing experience will be crucial and making Team USA in any boat is the current focus!


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!