US rower Olivia Coffey flourishes at Cambridge University ahead of Boat Race challenge
World champion relishes Goldie Boathouse environment
The last two years in the life of Olivia Coffey have gone from one extreme to the other.
A decorated oarswoman with the US national team with two gold medals at the world rowing championships who went to the Rio Olympics in 2016, after five years as a professional sportswoman, the 29-year-old jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Entering the world of work for the first time, Coffey found herself at the bottom of the ladder – as a novice in the workplace.
Yet, there had always burned an ambition to study for a Masters, and now she is combining the two roles by furthering her professional ambitions by doing an MBA and rowing for Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club.
“When you finish an Olympic cycle, you don’t know what to do exactly so if there was a time to try jumping in the workforce it was immediately after 2016,” said Coffey, who was a spare for the US in Brazil.
“It’s hard because you go from being really good at something to basically a novice in a whole new aspect of life.
“I wanted to develop myself professionally. You row for so long and are focused on this one goal that when it finally ends you look back and say ‘wow a significant amount of time has passed where I have really been developing my athletic skills but I haven’t been advancing professionally’.
“I knew that I couldn’t continue on for another four years without taking a break and going into the professional world.
“I always wanted my MBA and I always knew I would do it at some point.”
The adjustment from rowing to work to studying and sport has been a seamless transition for Coffey though, and she feels CUWBC is as close to a national team programme as it is possible to get.
The environment has helped her excel, with the achievements surpassing expectations.
“The way the training works fits in with my physiology so I’m getting personal bests,” she said. “I’m going faster than ever, I feel like I have made technical changes that I have been working on for years and years so it’s all coming together in a nice way.
“The daily stress is not there. When you’re training on the national team, it’s always what’s my next big workout.
“Every weekend we had a huge erg test so in the lead-up to the weekend you would think ‘I have weights on a Wednesday, do I want to push them hard because I know I have to perform every day’; so you find yourself holding back.
“Whereas here, I can just go as hard as I want every day because it doesn’t matter if I put myself in a hole, so in that sense there is less stress.
“I see the stress in the younger athletes because it gets more competitive for them but I can step back because I have been doing it for so long and enjoy the process and go on in every practice.”
Coffey may be excelling in rowing, but it was not always her sporting passion and that adjustment took time.
“I have always rowed, but in high school I played ice hockey, that was my true love,” she said. “If I were better at ice hockey I would have stuck with it.
“I rowed in high school, but I had been playing ice hockey a lot longer. I think there is an equal amount of intensity, but they ask for totally different physiologies.
“Ice hockey is short and quick, rowing is the long grind. When I first got into rowing I was really good at the short power stuff but I was absolutely terrible at 5km and 6kms – anybody will tell you that; I’ve gotten better!”
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