Anna Goodale at the Blaine House, in Augusta where she was honored. photo by Ramona du Houx

October/November 2008

Interview by Ramona du Houx

Imagine adrenaline rushing through your veins as your arms and legs move in perfect synchrony with seven other crewmembers, oars from your shell flying into the water, moving faster than you ever thought you could. All eight rowers working as one, focused together on the boat’s every movement. Then, looking up and realizing you’ve crossed the finish line and just won an Olympic gold medal for your country.

“It was a dream come true, a dream that developed only eight years ago,” said Anna Goodale, a member of the U.S. team that won the women’s rowing event at the Summer Olympics in Beijing. “If you had told me when I was in high school, eight years ago, when I graduated, that I would be where I am today, I probably would have laughed. It’s not something that I ever really thought I could ever accomplish. It slowly progressed over time, and then it became something that I could possibly do and turned into a dream which became a reality. Since I’ve been on the National Team, we’ve worked for this moment.”

The 25-year-old Goodale was back in Maine, being honored by Governor Baldacci at the Blaine House, along with families of other Olympic participants from Maine. Elle Logan of Boothbay Harbor was a member of the Goodale team that won gold. Logan had trained for the event since she was very young, but that’s not the case with Goodale.

Her introduction to crew rowing didn’t come until after her Camden Hills high school days, which included time on the school’s girls’ basketball and soccer teams. She was recruited for the sport on her first day at Syracuse University.

“I went to college for illustration. In high school I was a part of everything, really busy all the time. In Syracuse I decided to focus slowly on the art and take it easy. Lo and behold, one day on campus a woman walked up to me and said, ‘You look like you should be a rower. Come and try the sport,’ and I did,” said Goodale. “Before long, the national team coaches were telling me about potentially being a national team member and representing my country.”

Goodale became part of the national rowing team in 2005 and went on to help the United States win gold medals at the 2006 and 2007 world championships, before her historic win this summer. Her team won the 2,000-meter final with a time of 6 minutes, 5.34 seconds, two seconds ahead of the Netherlands in second place.

“I took the opportunity that presented itself,” said the enthusiastic Goodale. “That’s the biggest piece of advice that I would give to young people — to be patient. I did sit on the bench in high school. I played a lot of basketball and soccer with superstars. And the lesson is, if you don’t find a passion right now, its OK, and when you do find it, keep yourself open to opportunities and available to things that come your way. And when something new comes your way — try it, because you never know where that can lead. And when you do find that passion, take it and trust it. It’s not easy, and it takes a lot of work to get there. It’s an amazing feeling when you put that much into something and you end up accomplishing dreams that come true.”

From the beginning to the end of a race, the Olympian said it was an amazing rollercoaster ride of emotions and training.

Photo:   Anna Goodale speaks at a ceremony, at the Blaine House, honoring Maine’s Olympic achievements . Gov. Baldacci said, “Anna is amazing. For the state to have the highest per capita of Olympians of any other state but one is tremendous.”

“It was an amazing feeling to be at that starting line after working so hard to get there. I have complete and utter respect and trust for every single one of the girls I was rowing with, and every single one that I’ve rowed with all year. The team is much bigger than the eight in the boat; it’s my coach, the other girls I trained with, and all the support across the board has been a part of this. It’s pretty spectacular.

Goodale recounted her feelings as she crossed the finish line. “It was a complete elation. Rowing is a funny thing, because you are so exhausted by the end of a race. You’ve got about 20 seconds of complete joy and you’re screaming, ‘Oh my gosh, that just happened!’ Then it clicks in that you just finished a race and you can’t breath or feel your legs. You go back and forth, from pain to being on top of the world. It’s been an amazing ride; I’ve been so fortunate to be a part of it all,” she said.

Goodale attributes her training as an artist as an important way to help her to prepare for her quest to win gold. “I have to say my art has helped me out in the last four years as a balancing tool. Training is so physically demanding all the time. It’s a little bit one sided. Art was a fantastic way for me to balance it. For me to be able to come home and be creative, draw and paint, was a great way to keep myself balanced,” she said.

Goodale is a talented illustrator following in the footsteps of her great-great-grandfather and has finished a book.

“I grew up tapping maple trees, collecting honey, bringing in hay, . . . being outside all the time,” said Goodale whose mother home schooled her until the age of nine, allowing her creativity to flourish.

“When I was growing up, the Olympics were one of my favorite things to watch on TV. I admired the work and dedication it took to get to that point. I held those athletes up on a pedestal. I never imagined I’d be one,” said Goodale. “I attribute a lot of my work ethic and character to growing up in Maine, being outside and taking full advantage of the wonderful surroundings that Maine has to offer. I’ve always loved being outside. When we hiked, I’d always be at the top of the mountain and then wait for everyone else to come. Having the opportunity to be outside and practice that determination is something I’d always look forward to. Here in Maine we have a great opportunity for people being athletic, because we are surrounded by the natural world.”

The athlete’s love of Maine inspires her. “When I’m away from Maine, I loose a bit of how special the state is. Then when I come back I feel the magic here and see how beautiful it is. There’s something in the air here that makes you feel more alive. There are very few places that I’ve been to that touch me the same way Maine does. For me it’s rejuvenating. Just to be able to be outside, to be around the ocean and mountains. And where the mountains meet the sea is where I grew up, in Camden,” said Goodale. “It’s amazing to have all those opportunities here, growing up on the water, sailing, and rowing. My father taught me how to row a dingy; it’s a little different than rowing in the Olympics — it was a great start. For me, growing up on the water, being outside and developing athletics, and then being able to compete in the Olympics, has been just absolutely perfect.”

As for the future, Goodale said, “I’m taking advantage of not training so intensely and going over to Southeast Asia for the next couple of months with my brother to evaluate and see where my heart lies. I would absolutely love to go to the next Olympics and train for the next four years, but I have to make sure that my heart is in it a hundred percent. It’s not worth doing it half way. You have to totally commit yourself. I really hope that’s where it is, I can’t imagine not doing it, so I’m really excited by the future.”