Imagine being so passionate about something that you enthusiastically get out of bed for it well before dawn five days a week year-round. Michelle Harvey has been doing just that since December 2021 when she walked into the RowAmerica Rye facility on Milton Road. Little did she know that her dedication and discipline would result in her becoming one of the best women rowers in the country.
In late July, Michelle won the gold medal in the women’s masters single scull race at the US Rowing National Championships at Eagle Creek State Park in Indiana. She also won gold in the single scull in the three qualifying regattas leading up to Nationals, as well as gold in the double scull event in two of those regattas.
Before joining RowAmerica Rye (RAR), Michelle hadn’t rowed since college, 25 years earlier. Michelle grew up in a rural area in Maryland and went to Towson University. She said, “I had always thought it would be cool to row, but never imagined I’d be able to. Then, serendipitously, as a freshman, I saw a guy wearing a Towson Crew hat. I asked him how someone gets on the team. He answered, ‘Show up!’ So, I did.”
The rowing club was small and shared a boathouse with Johns Hopkins and Loyola. She loved everything about it from the start. “I had amazing coaches who believed in me.” Before long, Michelle was named team captain.
After hanging up her oars for the last time in college, she dreamed of going back to rowing at some point. Marriage, children, and work put that plan on the back burner, until the pandemic hit. She was working from home, lived less than a mile from RowAmerica, and her teen-age children, Hayden and Savanna, now 17 and 19, were old enough to get to school and activities on their own.
“I was so excited to be able to get back to the thing I loved so much,” she recalled.” She joined the racing team because she loves competing, but said she had no expectations.
In college, Michelle rowed sweep (one oar per person), in boats of four to eight. Last spring, she took up sculling (two oars) for the first time. Although her original goal was “not to embarrass myself,” she did so well in her single and double races this summer that a few “well-established people” in the rowing world encouraged her to aim for Nationals.
Her path to medaling hit a few big waves. Before her first race, her coach had to leave because of a family emergency. Due to poor weather, Michelle had to race three times in one day. When her double-scull partner, Elise Napack, fell ill, they almost dropped out of the race. But they decided to race and won bronze.
In the single-scull race at Nationals, Michelle pulled ahead early and maintained a solid lead. She outraced Melissa Hilton, president of the renowned Vesper Boat Club in Philadelphia, who won silver, as well as former Olympian Sally Scovel, who took bronze.
“Michelle inspires me to be a better rower,” said Elise. “She is kind, caring and generous, but she is also focused and fiercely competitive. Her race at Nationals was sensational to watch and we are all so proud of her.”
Coach Greg King explains why Michelle has been so successful in such a short amount of time. “She strives for improvement while accepting her shortcomings.” He continues. “Rowing is a labor of process and delayed gratification. Michelle sought improvement for two hours every morning for a year to try to win four, 4-minute races this summer. She embraces that rowing is an infinite game.” He added. “She rows the single, which means no one is cheering her on other than herself. The single teaches you that the work comes before the belief. Through hard work and belief, Michelle prevailed against the most competitive field in the country.”
What does Michelle Harvey love about rowing? “It is a technical and mental sport. It takes a lot of focus, which results in a lot of rewards. You are fully present and surrounded by nature and the elements. When everything comes together perfectly, it feels like you’re flying.” She added, “I also love that I get in a tough workout before most people are out of bed!”
Michelle attributes her success to Coach King, fellow master rowers at RAR, and family. “I’m only successful because of the group and their dedication. It’s very hard to get out of bed so early without a team of people showing up with you. Coach King pushes us hard every day. He uses our performance data to guide us through adjustments in our technique to improve our efficiency. At the same time, he creates a fitness plan to increase strength for speed and endurance. And my family is super-supportive. My husband Gabe is my biggest cheerleader.”
Her long-range plan is two-fold: “I hope to be among the 80-plus-year-olds who still race and want to make rowing accessible to everyone. It might not be for everyone, but I think it should be available to all.”