Cambridge University Boat Club athlete Megan Lee hoping to land Boat Race role following switch from swimming pool
For as long as she can remember, Megan Lee has dreamed of representing the United States of America at an Olympic Games.
But while she now hopes to realise that ambition on top of the water in a rowing boat, once upon a time she harboured hopes of glory in the pool.
For a decade, Lee had designs on following the path of her hero Katie Ledecky. She identified with the 26-year-old, who won seven swimming gold medals across three Olympics in London, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.
“My older brother was a big swimmer and when I was little, I’d sit in the car while he was driven to practice and then go back to pick him up,” said Lee, who was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts.
“Finally, I said to my mum ‘I don’t want to sit in the car any more, I actually want to do it’. They signed me up and I loved it straight away.
“I was so into it. I loved being in the water and loved competing. It really worked for me.
“Katie Ledecky is still my favourite professional athlete of all time. She went to a Sacred Heart Network school and so did I. We had a similar background and she’s someone I really feel that I can connect with.”
But aged 16, Lee opted to head down another sporting avenue, one that has guided her to the Cambridge University Boat Club’s Goldie Boathouse on the bank of the River Cam.
Encouraged to take up rowing by coach Kate Spelman at Newton Country Day School, Lee has not looked back from that moment. With her self-confessed competitive itch scratched, she continued to row at Duke University in North Carolina, where her performances helped to earn a call-up to the USA squad for last summer’s World Championships in Bulgaria.
In the build up to that event Lee had a sticky note on one of the walls at home that read ‘win gold in the eight’ – and she did just that, stroking the team to victory in the final at Germany’s expense.
“That was the best day of my life so far. It was a long summer leading up to it,” she added.
“I got invited to a selection camp in Oklahoma and it was so hot that summer.
“We trained twice a day, every day. We did a lot of speed racing and I got so close with all of the girls because we’d all gone through this really hard training together.
“When we finally got to Bulgaria, we were just having so much fun. All the girls in the boat, we were really, really good friends and our coach was amazing.
“She gave us this great pump up speech before the race and we went from there.”
And it is that experience in eastern Europe that helped to change the 22-year-old’s mentality. While featuring in a Gemini Boat Race is a nerve-wracking experience for even the coolest of customers, Lee believes that should she secure a place the Blue boat, being part of a victorious American squad will help to ease the tension.
“Last summer I definitely learned how to control my nerves. I was stroking, it was the biggest race I’d been a part of,” said Lee, who is studying for a MPhil in management at Lucy Cavendish.
“My coach said something really interesting to me and the whole boat, that we do the same thing every day. We put our blade in the water, you pull as hard as you can and you just have to do that on race day as well.
“Nobody was expecting us to do anything differently on that day then we do any other day and that really calmed my nerves.
“I know that every single day in practice, I try my very hardest. There’s nothing else I have to do on race day because every day I show up to practise like it is a race. I just have a lot more people watching.”