The Profiler: Olympian Kristin Hedstrom

The Profiler: Olympian Kristin Hedstrom

Janice Worthen
Kristin Hedstrom

For many, the New Year is about renewing willpower in order to tackle resolutions. But for Olympians, willpower is a necessity year-round. While others are struggling to make it to the gym at least once or twice a week, Olympians like lightweight rower Kristin Hedstrom rarely see a day away from their workout.

Hedstrom’s training is usually well underway before the sun even rises, and her dedication has brought her numerous victories. She was the 2009 U.S. National Champion and took gold at the 2010 U.S. Rowing National Championship in lightweight single and double sculls. In 2013 Hedstrom won the lightweight double sculls at the second National Selection Regatta and took silver in lightweight double sculls at the 2013 World Rowing Championship.

Hedstrom is a member of Team USA and has been on the National Team for seven years. She competed as a lightweight rower in the 2012 Olympics.

When Hedstrom isn’t training, she works as a personal trainer at Alameda’s Total Woman Gym + Spa, motivating women to achieve their fitness goals, whether those goals are small or require significant life changes.

Hedstrom also works with In the Arena, a nonprofit organization that gets athletes involved in communities to serve as positive role models for youth. Hedstrom enjoys doing photography in her free time.

I asked Hedstrom what it’s like to be an Olympian, how she motivates women to achieve their fitness goals, and what goals she herself is working toward. You can visit Hedstrom’s website to read more about her journey, access her blog, and view a collection of her photographs.

How did it feel to compete in the 2012 Olympics?
The Olympic Games were simultaneously similar and different than other races I've competed in. The World Championships is the biggest, most important regatta of each summer in non-Olympic years, and they're set up just like the Olympics with how the races are structured and run. You train the same way, travel with many of the same Team USA rowers, and see the same competitors as you do at the Olympics.

But the Olympics is on a whole different level. At the World Championships, only the rowing world is paying attention. At the Olympics, the entire world is paying attention. The crowds were huge, people were taking pictures of us all the time, and all of a sudden everyone wanted to interview us. Usually we're in our own rowing spotlight instead of the world spotlight. Friends I hadn't seen since elementary school were e-mailing saying they saw me race on NBC Primetime. It’s pretty surreal.

Being an Olympian is unbelievable. You work toward a goal so hard for so long when no one is watching and suddenly you achieve it. It took me about a year after the Olympics to get used to people referring to me as an Olympian. It still sometimes sounds weird.

What do you enjoy most about rowing? What is hardest thing about rowing?
I love that I’m still surprising myself with this sport. When I first started, I was a chubby high schooler who hated sports. Had someone told me I’d be an Olympian one day, I would’ve laughed; I wasn’t a standout athlete by any stretch of the imagination. Rowing gave me an outlet to challenge myself and see how far I could go. Even now, in my 14th year in this sport, I’m surprising myself with what I’m achieving in practice and races. The feeling of achieving something you didn’t think you could do never gets old.

Rowing is an extremely tough sport. Some sports require more technique, others require more endurance. In rowing, you need to be excellent at both. Every day is a challenge and an opportunity to improve. Getting up in the dark isn’t ever easy, but there are some mornings that I’m out on the Oakland Estuary when the water is perfectly flat and the sun is cresting over the hills, and I just think, there can’t be anyone happier on this earth.

What is your favorite thing about competing? Your least favorite?
Competing is an absolute thrill. It makes me feel alive. It’s a chance to put together everything that you’ve been working on: strength, technique, teamwork, strategy, and mental toughness. I always get nervous to race, no matter how important or unimportant the race is. Dealing with the nerves is one of my least favorite parts, but the moment the race starts, they disappear, and I get to do what I love most.

What is it like to be a part of Team USA?
Being part of Team USA is really special, especially at the Olympics. You’d see athletes in other sports walking around the Olympic village wearing their Team USA gear and smile at them, knowing they worked just as hard as you did to be there.

What is your normal training schedule like? How many hours do you devote to training in an average week?
A typical day at California Rowing Club involves four to five hours of working out, split into either two or three practices. That’s just the actual working out time, not including the cool down/stretching/showering time at the end of every practice. We work out six to seven days a week, so it’s a full-time job. In the mornings, we’ll row on the Oakland Estuary and work on endurance. Afternoons are geared towards power, either through lifting or doing hard sprints on the rowing machine. Or sometimes afternoons will be a couple more hours of long, steady cardio.

To manage this workload, we consume a lot of calories. That's why you can usually find members of California Rowing Club downing super burritos at Island Taqueria by the time Friday or Saturday rolls around.

Your partner for the double is Kate Bertko. Do you usually compete with a partner or do you prefer single rowing?
As lightweight rowers, Kate Bertko and I only have one boat option for the Olympics: the double. So if we want to compete in the Olympics, we have to row the double. It’s a good thing because I love rowing it. In the boat, each of us has our roles: Kate sets the rhythm and decides our pace, and I try to match perfectly, strategize in a race, and steer.

We spend so much time training together that we have to get along really well both on and off the water and build enough trust that when we’re in the middle of a big race, she knows I have her back and vice versa.

We train almost exclusively in the double during the spring and summer racing season, but in the fall, we’ll spend a lot of time in singles (one person boats). It gives us a chance to work on our own technical improvements and we can also race each other in practice.

How did you become involved with In the Arena? What type of activities do you do for this organization?
In the Arena is an organization that connects elite athletes with underserved youth in the community and provides me an opportunity to give back. I’ve been involved with it for four years. Since the 2012 Olympics, my project has been coaching at a youth outreach rowing club in Oakland called Artemis. Each ITA athlete writes a blog as part of the program so that the kids we mentor can follow us when we’re traveling or competing.

Why did you choose to become a personal trainer? What do you tell your clients who don't like to exercise? How do you motivate women to achieve their fitness goals?
I became a personal trainer because I knew if I used to be unmotivated to work out (and also really disliked it) and was able to find reasons to love it, I could help others realize the same thing. My journey has taught me that you’re way more powerful and capable than you think you are; you just have to take a risk and see what happens if you fully commit to something. Usually, you can take it further than you thought possible.

A lot of times I meet women who think they're going to be permanently overweight and who dislike or are intimidated by the gym. Seeing those same women take their lives back and find strength that they didn't know they had - both physical and mental - is so common with my clients and simply incredible for me to be part of. Plus, personal training allows me the flexible schedule I need to train and travel as much as I do.

What would you tell others who want to become active in a sport but have little time or are intimidated by learning a new sport?
You’ll never know what you’re good at until you give it a try. More times than not, people are surprised by what they can achieve. That’s such a powerful motivator.

Your photography is amazing! How did you become interested in photography, and do you have any plans for turning it into a professional venture instead of a hobby?
Thanks! Photography has always been something I’ve loved. One of the coolest parts of my “job” is that I get to travel the world, which means I get to take photos in all sorts of interesting places. It’s very possible it’ll eventually be more than a hobby, but for now I’m just going to keep snapping away and documenting this amazing journey I’m on.

What are your future rowing and Olympic goals?
My goal is to win a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Each summer between now and then, it’s to qualify for the World Championships and do as well as possible there. I’m lucky that I have California Rowing Club and the community of Alameda to help me achieve these goals.


Submitted by PJ (not verified) on Tue, Jan 14, 2014

Nice article on the dedication it takes to be a world class rowing and the fine people involved.

Submitted by Heidi (not verified) on Sun, Jan 19, 2014

You are an incredible athlete and a wise woman Kristin. Alameda and the Total Woman Gym + Spa community is so lucky to have you as an inspiring coach and role model. Thanks for always reminding us that we are all so much stronger and more capable than we realize.