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The Journey of an Olympian

Updated: Nov 14, 2020

Megan McCourt is a native of San Jose, California, alternatively known as the Bay Area. Throughout her life, she’s grown and developed as an athlete and person. As an athlete, she was introduced to rowing in high school, and eventually rowed for the University of California Berkeley, made the US National Team six times and was even a member of the 2004 United States Olympic Team that earned a silver medal. Her career as a rower was recently capped in 2016 with her receiving the high honor of being chosen to be a member of the PAC-12’s All-Century Team. In terms of her professional life she has worked in the Dean of the Faculty's Office at Princeton University, and she now works as a Human Resource Specialist in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Question 1: What was it like where you grew up?

I loved growing up in the Bay Area. We were 30 minutes from the Santa Cruz beach and 3 hours from Yosemite. I would spend my summers camping and water skiing at Lake Tahoe and my winters snow skiing in Utah's Wasatch Mountains.

The weather was great, the people were friendly and I felt like a had a great education and lots of amazing role models. Now CA is crazy, overcrowded and too expensive. I can't see myself ever moving back there.

Question 2: What people have played the biggest role in your life and influenced your development as a person and or athlete?

My parents have played the biggest role in my life. They have always encouraged me to do my best, helped show me how to conquer my hurdles and have sacrificed so much to give me every possible opportunity for growth and success.

My grandma also played a huge role in my life. She was my spiritual foundation and the person I could turn to if I ever just needed someone to talk to. In fact, we talked or would Facetime almost everyday up until the day she passed away.

My high school rowing coach, Skip Braatz, played a huge part in who and where I am today. He's from Upstate New York and had his motorcycle stolen by the Hell's Angels. With the insurance money he collected, Skip bought a small car and drove to California where he started the Los Gatos Rowing Club. He later bought a house down the street from me and through him I discovered rowing. The rest is history!! Sean and I joke that if it wasn't for the Hells' Angels we would have never met and be where we are today.

As far as influencing my athletic development and helping me to achieve my goals, I would have to say Kris Korzenowski (National Team coach), Fred Honebein (Novice coach at Cal) and Dave O'Neill (Varsity coach at Cal) all played huge roles.

Fred made me fall in love with the sport and always believed in me. He was a former Olympian and always pushed me to reach for the stars. He was the first coach that really made me think the Olympics could be a possibility.

Dave developed me as a rower. He helped me build a great technical foundation, increased my endurance and strength and pushed me to become even more mentally tough.

Finally, Kris was my biggest cheerleader. It didn't matter how much I would get degraded, told I wasn't strong enough, fast enough, skinny enough... Kris would always be there to encourage me. He said he could see my talent and knew what I was capable of. He would say that no matter what Tom (the Women's Head National Team coach) would say to me, I always needed to remember who I am that I can do anything I'm willing to put the work in for.

An example is that I naturally have a really low heart rate and lactate levels. No matter how hard I pulled during an erg test or piece on the water my numbers would come in really low. Tom interpreted that as me not trying hard enough and would get frustrated with me. Kris, who has been doing this for about 30 years longer than Tom, said this is a genetic gift and I'm blessed to be able to have such low numbers. Don't let that frustrate me and just keep going out there and winning pieces. I still keep in contact with Skip, Fred, and Kris to this day. In fact, Skip came to my wedding and Kris I caught up for dinner in California last summer.

Question 3: Are there any defining events in your life that have made you the person you are today?

Deciding to try something out of the box, that no one else I knew was doing or had ever done, was scary and intimidating, but changed my life big time. Making the decision to row when I was 16 years old has basically written my life's journey so far.

I rowed in high school and made some of my best friends, had an amazing experience and was able to earn college scholarships to pay for a majority of my undergraduate education.

I chose to attend Cal Berkeley so I could row while getting a fantastic education. Rowing for Cal allowed me to be noticed by the National Team coaches and was asked to try out for the Senior National Team.

After college, I moved to Princeton, NJ to row full-time on the National Team. While training on the National Team I met Sean, who I ended up marrying and have 3 kids with, and who got a job at McCallie, relocating us to Tennessee.

While still up north, a friend on the National Team recruited me to work in the Dean of the Faculty's Office at Princeton University where I gained invaluable experience dealing with HR issues, especially pertaining to faculty matters. Dean Sholl saw my experience and education and offered me my current position at McCallie in HR and as a rowing coach.

Megan McCourt pictured (Second from right)

Because of a National Team connection, I found an amazing Sport's Management graduate program at the University of Washington. I was accepted into the program and earned a Master's Degree in Education - Sports Management. With the money I won at various elite regattas I was able to pay for my entire graduate education and buy a new car.

The number of people I have been able to meet and build lifelong connections with is innumerable. Rowing has made my life full and has sent me on so many amazing, tough and wonderful adventures.

Question 4: What’s your greatest accomplishment and or memory in your eyes?

My family is by far my greatest accomplishment. Although I might want to hang them by their toenails from a tree at times, I am so glad to be part of their team. Life can be tough, but knowing I've always got them in my corner makes those tough times possible.

My second greatest accomplishment is probably medalling at the Olympics. As elite athletes, we train 8-12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week for years and years. When the fateful naming day arrives there is a good chance you could not make the team. For the 2004 Olympics, there were 5 port seats available and about 20 of us trying to earn one of those coveted spots. I am so grateful not only for the opportunity to be part of the team, but to win our heat (setting a new World Record) and place second in the finals. Being able to stand on the medal stand with some of my closest friends and teammates and receive a silver medal will always be an accomplishment I am proud of and grateful to have had the chance to experience.

Question 5: What brought you to McCallie & Chattanooga?

Sean was offered a job as a faculty member and head rowing coach for McCallie. Over the course of a couple of weeks we decided to pack up our life and head South. We are so glad we did. We absolutely love it here and can see ourselves staying for a long time to come.

Question 6: What teams did you row for? What was it like rowing for those teams? Did you have a favorite?

In high school, I rowed for the Los Gatos Rowing Club. It was a fun team and a great introduction to rowing. My senior year we won everything except the 4+ at youth nationals, but we did make the A final.

In college, I rowed for UC Berkeley (Cal). This team became an instant family. We did everything together. We transitioned through a few coaches in the beginning so it was a bit of a rebuilding experience, but once we got our ducks in a row, the team took off.

After college, I rowed on the National Team. This was more of a job rather than a team. Every day would consist of row, eat, sleep, repeat. My teammates were my biggest enemies when we were on the water and my whole world off the water.

Team USA in 2004 Olympics

As far as the most fun team, I would have to say my time at Cal. Rowing was more of a hobby/activity rather than a job, which made it so much fun. My teammates and coaches were great and the experience as a whole was something I will always be grateful for.

Question 7: What is like being on the PAC-12 All-Century team?

Being part of the PAC-12 All-Century Team is definitely cool. It was something I never expected or saw coming!

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