Madison Mailey, an All-American rower at Northeastern who graduated in 2018, will be competing in the women’s eight for Canada at the Olympic Games. She has been training with her teammates for two weeks in Sagamihara, Japan, about one hour west of Tokyo.
The Tokyo Olympics will open July 23 amid controversy. There will be no spectators at the competitions. Eighty percent of people in Japan say that the Games should be postponed or canceled as the country deals with an extended surge of COVID-19. Mailey’s job, as she approaches the biggest race of her life, is to focus on what she can control.
Because of COVID-19, we’ve been spending all of our time in Japan either in our hotel or at the training course. There’s no interaction with anyone except the kitchen staff at the hotel, and the bus driver, who is behind a plastic sheet. But the people who have been helping us have been so nice, and we’ve done a few Sagamihara school visits virtually. The kids made posters and signs for us, and it was so cute. So, we are feeling the Olympic sprinkle of joy and happiness, and it’s getting to be pretty exciting.
I had an afternoon off two days ago, and I was thinking, ‘What should I do?’ You have to sign out of the hotel just to walk around the buildings, so that’s what I did. But I think it reinforces your focus. A big part of the Olympics is making your communication circle really small. And the protocols are kind of allowing those distractions to not be there.
I’m pretty good at staying present in the moment and not getting ahead of myself. But I do find when I’m in the boat, I’ll think of a different country and how much I want to beat them—and show our speed on the world stage.
At night I’ve had both bad and good dreams. I’ve had one where we’re standing in the middle of the podium and we’ve had the race of our lifetime, which I know we’re capable of doing. I’ve also had dreams where you’re down off the start, and then you look over and you’re like, ‘Wow, in a six-minute race, do I have time to get it back?’ And then you wake up not knowing what happened.
We’ve been here for 14 days now. It’s about 85 percent humidity, which has been quite an adjustment. Normally, your sweat evaporates and that gives you a perceived cooling effect. That’s not happening here, which makes it hard for the body to stay cool, so we’ve been practicing all of our heat protocols to make sure that we’re not overheating.
The time difference created another issue. For the first six days, we were kind of struggling, especially in the afternoon sessions when you felt that you should be asleep while you were trying to make your body perform. But we’re fully acclimated now.
I’ve had the most fun doing this exciting workout where we go 250 meters rowing as hard as we can, and then 250 meters at a really light paddle—we’ll do that typically over 2k runs. You push hard, and then recover, and then push even harder; your body doesn’t really have the chance to fatigue throughout the short pieces. You’re going so fast, and it’s a big confidence-boosting workout where you really feel your speed. Our eights saying is that we want to ‘Redefine excellence’. We’re redefining speed every day, and we’re seeing numbers we’ve never seen before.
The hardest thing is making sure I’m being the best teammate I can be, and focusing on giving myself to those eight other women. My coxswain said it best the other day: ‘There wouldn’t be harmony if we were all singing the same note.’ Everyone is so different in my boat—there are quiet people, loud people, blunt people, and it’s about knowing how to navigate each person amid high stress.
I’ve never known a group of people in and out like I know these women. I know how they’re going to react in each situation because we’ve done it, we’ve been there.
Tomorrow we’ll be moving to the Olympic Village in Tokyo. It’s right on the edge of Tokyo Bay, and the pictures I’ve seen look beautiful. We have everything we need—physiotherapists, massage therapists, doctors—which makes me feel very privileged to be competing for Canada.
We receive very little financial support as rowers in Canada and we do not have the opportunity to get a second job with our training schedule. It is hard to make ends meet sometimes, but I still feel so lucky to be supported by the Canadian Olympic Committee and I know other countries do not even have the financial support we do.
Another thing tomorrow is that we’ll be getting our swag—a suitcase with something like 40 pieces of clothing. Whenever you’re not in your room at the Olympics, you have to be in a Team Canada kit. So it’s going to be fun. I’m excited for that little Olympic sparkle.