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63: Erin Cafaro – What It Takes to Win Olympic Gold (Twice)

By August 27, 2016Podcasts
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My guest this week is Erin Cafaro Mackenzie. She is a two-time Olympic gold medalist—she was part of the United States women’s eight crew team that won back-to-back gold medals in 2008 and 2012. She’s also won gold at six out of eight World Championships (and bronze at the other two). She is also only 5’9″ and 160lbs—that’s tiny in the world of Olympic rowing. Needless to say, she knows what it takes to win.

From a grittiness that came from growing up with a big brother and a background in basketball, to an accidental “discovery” of rowing as a collegiate sport (Title IX), and parents who were willing to give her the time and space to let her explore and figure things out on her own, Erin’s journey to Olympic gold has been far from usual.

For those of you who haven’t experienced rowing firsthand, I’ve been practicing it on a Concept2 rowing ergometer for about twelve years. The ergometer is, without a doubt, the best piece of cardiovascular equipment in the gym (once you know how to use it). It targets the entire body simultaneously while building strength, endurance, and stamina. But it’s also the piece of equipment I most dread showing up in my workout. Why? Because when done at maximal effort, rowing requires superhuman-like focus, determination, and a willingness to push through incredible discomfort and the desire to quit. That is something Erin, and all Olympic rowers, have mastered. In fact, you could say this is Erin’s specialty. As her coach says about her, “Erin can row through a brick wall.”

I was taken during our conversation by her willingness and courage to share her deepest thoughts and feelings, like what she was thinking as she heard the National Anthem play while standing on the gold medal platform at the Olympics (something she’s never shared before.) Since winning gold, Erin has struggled to figure out life without rowing, as well as what her life is all about. She talked how this struggle is still a big part of her everyday journey.

By the way, if you like this podcast, check out the conversation I had with author Matt Fitzgerald about endurance sports and mastering the psychology of mind over muscle.

Links Mentioned

Paul Chek — Personal blog of Paul Chek.
C.H.E.K. Institute — “Implementing the art and science of performance & wellbeing.”
How Bad Do You Want It? Mastering the Psychology of Mind Over Muscle — by Matt Fitzgerald.
Matt Fitzgerald — Andy’s recent Whole Life podcast with Matt.
Angela Lee Duckworth TED Talk — Recent talk from the author of Grit.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseveranceby Angela Lee Duckworth.
Dave O’Neill — History and career updates on Erin’s rowing coach.
Katherine Grainger — Website for the legendary Olympic rower from the United Kingdom.
MobilityWOD — Daily workout videos geared towards optimum mobility.

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Andy Petranek
Andy is what you’d call a modern day Renaissance Man: a former professional trumpeter who attended the Eastman School of Music; a snowboarder, mountain biker, surfer, kayaker, outrigger paddler, mountaineer, and former Marine (Gulf War veteran); a professionally sponsored adventure racer; and the oldest participant to qualify for and participate in the CrossFit Games at the age of 43.

Andy is a certified CHEK Practitioner and holistic lifestyle coach. He holds a spectrum of certifications from CrossFit and is also a Vivobarefoot certified running coach. He has trained as a Zen buddhist and graduated with a Master’s degree in spiritual psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

Andy founded CrossFit LA one of the first and most successful CrossFit training centers in the world and the first to be featured in national media. He is the co-founder of the Whole Life Challenge, Inc, currently its president, and is also a consultant and life/business coach. Andy lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Julia, and son, Dashel.

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