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Row to London: Esther Lofgren

March 21, 2012

Coffee, Rowing, Blogging, Economics and Watching Questionable Reality Television: All Part of Esther Lofgren’s World.

Most high school athletes on an official recruiting visit to a large and storied university like, say, Harvard University would be so nervous that sitting still in the presence of their potential new head coach could be an issue.

That was not the case when it came to Esther Lofgren. The high school senior from Newport Beach, Calif., flew overnight to Boston and headed over to Cambridge and the Weld Boathouse, where women’s head crew coach Liz O’Leary was waiting for her to arrive.

“They gave me this giant cup of coffee and a survival suit and put me in the launch with Liz at 7 a.m., or something like that, and I just completely fell asleep sitting next to Liz,” Lofgren said. “She woke me up as we were coming back into the boathouse and said, ‘you looked so peaceful. I just wanted to let you sleep.’”

Now, some coaches might have used a big red pen to draw a line through the name Lofgren, but not in this case.

O’Leary knew both of Lofgren’s parents. They both spent time in Boston and were rowers and O’Leary had spent time in Long Beach rowing with Lofgren’s mother, Christine. She was a family friend.

So, no harm, no foul.

Lofgren was invited to apply to Harvard, was accepted and rowed for O’Leary, taking silver in the Eastern Sprints her senior year. Today, Lofgren still drinks a lot of coffee, mostly between practices at the USRowing Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and Princeton, N.J., and is managing to stay awake to train for the 2012 Olympic Games in London this summer.

The six-time member of the U.S. women’s national team has won two gold medals and two silver medals in competition at the senior world championships. Last summer, Lofgren was in the eight that won a sixth consecutive world championship and she is hoping to be back in the boat in London.

Born in Long Beach, Calif, Lofgren grew up the daughter of rowers. Her mother, a professor at the University of California, Irvine and father, Carl, a retired engineer, were both accomplished rowers and continued to row through Esther’s childhood.

They even took young Esther out in a coxed pair they had converted into a double, and had Esther sit in the coxswain’s seat. She wasn’t convinced. “I just thought, oh yeah, rowing is nice, but volleyball was much cooler than what my dorky parents did.”

So, she played volleyball.

And that’s understandable. Lofgren is 6’2” and her high school, Newport Harbor High School, had a good volleyball team with a few good players that came through the program, like two-time beach volleyball Olympic gold medalist Misty May-Treanor.

Alas, it was not meant to be. She was being recruited by colleges for volleyball, but as she put it, “when I realized that I was never going to have more than a six or eight inch vertical jump, I started looking into other stuff.

“One of my best friends started rowing and said ‘the people are really awesome and I know you’re doing volleyball all the time, but you should come down and check it out.’ So I did and the people were just so welcoming. I just ended up rowing and playing volleyball for a year and then switching over to rowing full time.”

It seems to have been the right choice. Lofgren made her first national team in 2006, taking gold in the eight at the World Rowing Under 23 Championships and silver that same summer in the four at the senior world championships. She won gold again the next year in the quadruple sculls at the 2007 World Rowing Under 23 Championships and has been a member of the senior team since 2008, when she took silver in the four at the 2008 World Rowing Senior and Junior Championships.

Like most of her teammates training for the 2012 Olympics, she is focused on what she is doing right now, and hasn’t been fixated on what will come next. She loves what she does, loves learning how to go faster through training and technical changes, but she also knows that there is no money in a lifetime of rowing and will have to consider a career making money at some point. But not right now.

“Rowing is something that is so exciting to me,” she said. “I had dinner with one of my very good friends from high school who I hadn’t seen in a while and he was asking me about rowing. He said it was interesting to him because he didn’t play any sports super competitively. He asked me, ‘Do you think it’s something you are doing at this level because you are good at it, and maybe since you invested enough in it that you’re better at it than anything else in your life that you keep doing it’?

“And I answered, ‘Sometimes I wonder that too, if it’s not going well.’ We all have ups and downs, but then I think about something that happened a couple of weeks ago. I made a change, a technical change, and all of a sudden the boat was moving so well and it felt so good and we started performing better. And the joy that I got from how good the boat felt, that’s not just something that you do because you’re good at it, or that you’re strong, or you’re getting feedback.

“I really get so much joy out of moving a boat well and racing hard and pushing myself to my limit. And that’s something I continue to find joy in.”
 
SHORT STROKES

Lofgren graduated from Harvard in 2009 with a degree in Economics, and is interested in the idea of pursuing a career in international microfinance and economic development, something she explains as “giving small loans to people to whom it would make a huge difference,” like “lending a farmer enough money to buy enough goats so he can make cheese and sell it” . . . Esther writes a blog for USRowing and for her personal website called “Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.” and she has been chronically her experiences on the national team and in training for the Olympics . . . She says she thinks only her mother reads it, but admits that she has seen as many as 6,000 hits per blog . . . Besides biking, baking, running and reading, she has a slight addiction to reality television and is currently enthralled with a show about kid models called “Toddlers and Tiaras” . . .  “I’m not the only person on the team that enjoys reality TV, but I’m drawn to the really crazy shows. It’s really, really creepy and funny. I’m way above Jersey Shore. I really enjoy the dark humor. But I love comedy. I like “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report,” things like that.

Ed Moran

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