By making it to the Olympics, there comes the realization that you are one of a special few.
It was at the Closing Ceremony, among thousands of her fellow athletes and cheering spectators inside Maracanã Stadium, when the realization of her achievement after years of rigorous practice hit Lisa Roman ’12.
“When you’re there with all the athletes, you realize, ‘Wow, I am an Olympian.’”
Roman, who rowed for Washington State from 2010 to 2012, was a member of Team Canada’s women’s eight boat that finished fifth at the Olympics in Rio.
Speaking from London, Ontario, the site of the Canadian National Training Centres, just a day after she returned from Rio, Roman described the Closing Ceremony as “surreal.”
“When you don’t get a medal, you get caught up in, ‘Well, I didn’t win a medal, what am I?’ It made me realize it was amazing. There’s not very many of us.”
A hemisphere away, WSU senior Nicole Hare was watching the Closing Ceremony from her hotel room in Belgium.
“It was weird watching the Olympics” from a distance, she says.
Like Roman, Hare is a fellow Cougar rower and raced for Canada at the Olympics, finishing 14th in pairs.
But unlike her Canadian teammate, Hare did not stay in Rio for the Closing Ceremony, leaving the city for the World Rowing Under 23 Championships in the Netherlands.
It was there Hare captured gold in the women’s pair. “It feels great to be a world champion,” she says. However, it was in the Netherlands when she also realized how special it was to compete in Rio.
“My teammates on the Worlds team were congratulating me and I view myself as the same level as them,” explains Hare. “They are rowing equals to me. Then it hit me, ‘Hey, I went to the Olympics.’ If I put myself in their shoes, that’s pretty cool.”
Back in Pullman, Hare finally has a chance to sit down and reflect on her whirlwind month of travel and competition.
Just two days earlier she attended her first class in 15 months. A native of Calgary, Hare would have graduated last spring but instead is in her senior year.
She received her invitation to train with the Canadian team in August 2015, which is “a big deal in itself,” says Hare.
However, an invitation was no guarantee she would make it to Rio.
To pursue her Olympics dreams, Hare decided to take a year off from school. She says the decision was worth the risk of possibly not making the Canadian Olympic team.
“If you do your best every day, people will feed off that and they’ll get faster,” says Hare. “I don’t think it was risky because I love rowing so much. My goal was team; it wasn’t about me as an individual.”
Hare found out she was going to Rio in June.
For Roman, who also captured gold at the 2011 U23 World Championships, the commitment to the Olympics dated back much longer.
Roman, whose hometown is Langley, British Columbia, was invited to join the Canadian team and moved to London to train in January 2013.
Training is year round, she explains, Monday to Sunday, with sessions that Roman describes as heavy and medium days.
“A heavy day would be two rowing sessions and another session of some sort: core, weights, or something along those lines,” Roman explains. “A medium day would be two rowing workouts. A medium day would be four hours of training and a heavy day would be five to six hours.”
And hours, Hare explains, is calculated by moving time.
“How our coaches measure time is when you’re actually moving,” Hare explains. “If you row 20 minutes, stop, take a drink of water, time stops. When you are taking that sip of water that’s not practice time.”
The commitment to training is all-encompassing.
“You give up a lot,” Roman admits. “You put your life on hold to do this.”
In September 2013, Roman was able to take a respite from training and return to WSU. She joined the team for a ceremony at the team’s practice facility at Wawawai Landing along the Snake River, for the dedication of a boat in her name.
Roman credits her experience at WSU as a reason why she can call herself an Olympian.
“I truly believe if I didn’t go to Washington State I wouldn’t be here. Washington State is everything for my career and where I’ve gone,” Roman says.
Roman and Hare joined Klay Thompson x’11 (gold medal, USA, basketball), Aron Baynes ’09 and Brock Motum ’15 (Australia, 4th, basketball), and Bernard Lagat ’01 (USA, 5th, 5,000m) as fellow Cougars who competed in Rio.
While her fellow Olympian Cougs have all completed their WSU careers, Hare returns to a Cougar rowing team that has advanced to the NCAA Championships four consecutive years, six times in the past seven years, and ten times overall.
“When you have your maple leaf on the uniform you have the Cougs in your heart,” Hare says. “You are always representing the programs you’ve been a part of. The Cougars have been a huge part of my development going into my senior year.
“I was proud to be a Coug at the Olympics.”