- Badgers in the Olympics
Despite her All-America status and championship pedigree -- a couple of Intercollegiate Rowing Association national titles as a member of the Wisconsin lightweight women's varsity eight boat -- Kristin Hedstrom wasn't sure if the Olympics would ever be in her immediate or distant future. "It wasn't something that was always on my radar,'' she confided.
Four years ago, the UW grad went looking for answers.
"I trained really hard that first year just to see where I stacked up against everyone else in the country because I really didn't have a good idea,'' said Hedstrom, who had previously been on a couple of under-23 teams. "After that year, I ended up making the senior team and that's when it started becoming a reality for me. It was like, 'OK, maybe this is a possible, maybe I can do this.'''
Armed with that conviction, Hedstrom began taking all the necessary steps to become an Olympian. Along with her partner in the lightweight double sculls, Julie Nichols, there was an undeniable urgency in late May when they arrived at the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland. The reward for finishing among the top four was a trip to London and the 2012 Summer Games.
"When we crossed the finish line, we didn't actually know what place we had gotten because it was such a close race,'' Hedstrom said. "So we had to wait two or three minutes -- it felt like an eternity -- for the results to come up on this big Jumbotron. When they did finally come up, and we saw that we had gotten fourth by .09 seconds, there was a lot of excitement and a little disbelief.
"We had to keep saying to ourselves, 'Oh, my gosh, we're going to the Olympics, we're going to the Olympics.' We had to remind each other that this was actually happening. It just didn't seem real.''
In becoming the 13th women's rower from Wisconsin to compete in the Olympics -- the first in a lightweight event -- the 26-year-old Hedstrom, who lives and trains out of Oakland, Calif., has heard from a number of former UW athletes. Not only have they offered encouragement to Hedstrom, but they have shared some of their competitive experiences at various levels of rowing.
"There's just so much pride that comes with racing internationally as a Badger,'' said Hedstrom. "You learned how to be tough and how to work hard when you were at the UW and to carry that to the international level is something really special and something that we take a lot of pride in. Knowing that you come from a program like Wisconsin kind of gives you an edge, I want to say.''
After making Team USA, she received an e-mail from a former UW rower who exhorted her "to get your claws out and race like a Badger.'' Others reminded her "to absorb the moment and remember what it's like to take part in the Olympics because it's such a special time.'' Throughout her development as an elite rower, Hedstrom has managed to keep everything in context, including her formative years.
"It takes a lot of perseverance and dedication to make it happen,'' said Hedstrom, a native of Concord, Mass., who spent her freshman year at Georgetown University before transferring to Wisconsin. "I definitely had high expectations when I came here and they were met in every way.''
Reflecting on her first impression of the UW rowing environment, she said, "Everyone worked really hard and they were really smart about how they worked. More than anything else, they were just a really tough team. You kind of need that toughness when you row at Wisconsin.
"There are so many days over the winter when you're training indoors and then in the spring, there are so many days when it's freezing cold outside and you have to get out there and practice, regardless of the weather and how early it is.
"When I arrived here, the girls on the team were ready to do whatever they needed to do to win. That definitely fit in with what I wanted from a team, so it was a great fit from the start.''
At heart, she will be racing as "Badger'' in London accounting for her high expectations. "Our event is so very competitive,'' she said, "but we're right in there with everybody else.''
Medaling is now on her radar.