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Long-Time Partners Go Head-to-Head

By Alejandro Serrano
Posted on October 20, 2017
Long-Time Partners Go Head-to-Head

It’s been a season of firsts for rowers Meghan O’Leary and Ellen Tomek.

Earlier this month, their sculling double was the first American women’s double to win a silver medal at the World Rowing Championships, O’Leary said. Better yet, it was on home soil in Sarasota, Fla.

This weekend, when they compete against each other in the women’s championship singles, it will be the first time either of them steer the Charles River’s snake-like course alone.

“It’s really just about going out, relaxing, enjoying the experience and going as hard for as long as you can,” Tomek said.

The duo has been rowing together in a double for five years. They try to row together at least once a day. When they aren’t rowing, they lift or cross-train together.

Despite spending the better part of the last five years together, O’Leary started rowing seven years ago. She had just moved to Connecticut when she decided she wanted to try something new, late in the summer of 2010.

“I was looking for a something a little different to do and Googled “rowing lessons,” said the 33-year-old from Baton Rouge, La. “I fell in love with it and obviously threw myself into it.”

After starting with a rowing club in on the Connecticut River in Harford, O’Leary moved to Princeton, the national team training center, a year later, she said. She was put in a boat with Tomek in 2013.

Tomek has rowed for 15 years, she said. She started as a college freshman at the University of Michigan in 2002 and she made her first national team in 2007.

“I think we’re both just really competitive people and we love rowing,” the 5-foot-9 Flushing, Mich. native said. “We want to see how far we can take it.”

Obviously, Tomek added, they have a an ultimate goal: to become Olympic champions.

“There’s still room to improve and room to grow,” she said. “Because we feel like we are still improving and growing, might as well keep rowing.”

Tomek and O’Leary are competing for more than just a medal this weekend — they are both contenders in the Herb Lotman United States Rowing Challenge, a three-race series to promote single sculling in the country.

The three rowers with the most points after the series win up to $5000 in prize money. Tomek is third and O’Leary fourth out of a dozen rowers participating. The competition continues this week at the Head of the Charles and concludes next week at the Head of the Schuylkill in Philadelphia.

“It should be good competition,” Tomek said.

To win Saturday, Tomek and O’Leary will have to best seven-time champion, and hometown favorite Gevvie Stone. Stone, who began her medical residency this year after winning silver in the single in Rio last summer, has cut back on her training, but still rowed a sub-19-minute time-trial last week, faster than all but a handful than her seven victories.

Stesha Carle, a two-time World Rowing Championship silver medalist, and Olympian Lindsay Meyer are right behind Stone with the second and third bow balls, respectively. Tomek and O’Leary will start sixth and seventh.

As they let their performance from the world championships sink in, O’Leary said this weekend is about having fun. Nonetheless, she said they continue preparing for the Olympics in three years.

“Our event is so competitive,” O’Leary said. “Consistency and being able to just get to a place where you can show up every day and execute is so important…being the crew that we know we are capable of being.”

By Alejandro Serrano
Posted on October 20, 2017