CAMDEN — The wind was whipping across Megunticook Lake on a recent afternoon, creating white caps that would make it difficult for anyone to row a boat, let alone for teenagers simply learning how to climb into the boat.
So Anna Goodale, the executive director and head coach of Megunticook Rowing, gathered the dozen or so students at the club’s launch at Barrett’s Cove and taught them how to rig a boat and how to carry the 13-foot oars needed to propel it across the water.
Little things, for sure, but to Goodale, it’s the little things that make for great rowing. And she should know.
Goodale, 38, is one of a handful of Mainers who have won Olympic gold. She and Boothbay Harbor’s Eleanor Logan sat in the third and fourth seats on the U.S. women’s eight rowing crew that won the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
That was the signature moment of a career in which Goodale, a 2001 graduate of Camden Hills Regional High School, earned all-America status at Syracuse after walking onto the rowing team, and then rowed on four world championship U.S. women’s eight crews. Following her retirement in 2011, she coached at the college level – including four years at Ohio State.
Now she’s back home and happy to be living a new life – running a community-based program that shares her love of rowing, and with more time for her two young sons, 8-year-old Avery and 4-year-old Owen.
Make no mistake, Goodale is back in Maine for one reason: family.
She wanted to return to Maine to be close to her mother – who her family lived with for a year before settling in Lincolnville – her siblings and her father. She returned to Maine to be the mother she wants to be.
“My oldest son was going into first grade and I wanted to put down roots and be in a place where my son is going to go to high school and start to build community,” said Goodale. “We had moved a couple of times already and community is important and family is important to us.”
As are her sons. Coaching at the collegiate level, especially a high-level program like Ohio State, was keeping her away from them too much.
“This is the next great adventure,” said Goodale, sitting on a tree stump at Barrett’s Cove and cuddling Owen as she spoke. “Somebody asked me one time about the transition, from working that hard to what I’m doing now. My dad (Nat) may have said it best when he said nothing will ever compare to winning the Olympics. That is a unique experience. But it’s on to the next adventure, the next challenge.
“And for me, that’s the kiddos. It’s even more challenging, in a very different way, but it’s my next great adventure. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
TOOK UP ROWING IN COLLEGE
Anna Goodale never considered herself a gifted athlete. She was just happy to be part of a team when she played soccer and basketball in high school. She was an artist, a musician and an outdoorsperson.
Yes, she once told her mother that she was going to be an Olympic equestrian. But it wasn’t until her very first day at Syracuse, when a member of the women’s crew team invited her to try out that she found her passion.
“My dad had mentioned (rowing) once and I kind of brushed it off,” she said. “Maybe I’ll try it but … When (Syracuse) came up and I said sure, I didn’t know what I was doing. Even when I was invited to the national team, I don’t think I understood what I was getting into or where it would lead.”
Rowing fit Goodale perfectly. But she also knew it wouldn’t last forever. After the U.S. women’s eight won the 2010 world championship, she knew she was ready to move on. Even though the London Olympics were approaching, she retired from competitive rowing.
She spent time in Ecuador with her father, then in 2014 became an assistant coach for the rowing team at Gonzaga in Spokane, Washington. That’s where she met Wes Walker, who was an assistant volleyball coach at Eastern Washington University. Their son, Avery, was born in Spokane.
A year later, she was at Ohio State University, put in charge of the novice program. It was perfect for her because that’s how she began her rowing career. “Being a novice gives you a great appreciation for what they’re going through,” said Goodale.
While she knew plenty about rowing, those four years at Ohio State taught her what it meant to coach, how to translate what she was trying to teach into words and actions.
But it was draining her personal life. Owen was born and Goodale felt the tug to be home with her boys.
“(Coaching) took everything I had,” she said. “Partially, it was my expectations, partially it was what needed to be done to get the job done. But it left very little time for me to be the mom I wanted to be. After four years, it was constantly trying to balance being the mom I expected to be and the coach I expected to be. It was really, really difficult. So Wes and I had a lot of talks and things in our life happened, and we decided to make that shift. And I was OK stepping away from it.”
The hardest part, she said, wasn’t leaving rowing. It was leaving the impact rowing had on people.
“Watching rowing bring out strength and confidence in people is such a cool thing,” she said. “So one of the things I thought about was, how do I make an impact on the world?”
Turns out, her hometown held that answer.
CLUB HAS SURGE IN MEMBERS
Megunticook Rowing was founded in 2008 as a nonprofit designed to promote the life-long benefits of rowing in the Midcoast area. Working with the town of Camden, it established a base on the northeast side of Barrett’s Cove on Megunticook Lake and had a growing enrollment. But its long-time coach, Amy Wilson, decided to leave. And the board of directors sought someone to not only replace her, but to run the club as its first executive director. It would be a part-time position of 20 hours a week.
Goodale said Wilson reached out to her to see if she would be interested. Goodale was, and she was hired in November 2019.
“I thought it was very serendipitous the way it worked out,” said Goodale, who puts in much more than 20 hours a week.
Meg Webb, the vice president of Megunticook Rowing, said it was obvious early on that Goodale was the right choice.
“She is amazingly energetic, she’s lovely to work with, she’s a team player, which is important in our world, and she brings such a depth of knowledge about rowing,” Webb said.
It is because of Goodale, Webb said, that the club is thriving despite the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re a small organization with a shoestring budget,” said Webb, who took up rowing last summer. “We have a number of programs that are thriving incredibly in spite of the pandemic. We could have folded. This is all due to her leadership and energy and ability to engage in people of all levels of rowing.”
Since Goodale was hired, the club has established an indoor rowing space at Midcoast Recreation Center on Route 90, where Goodale ran virtual programs on rowing machines in the winter. Often she was the only person in the room because of COVID-19 restrictions, the others following along at home watching their computers. The club has expanded its on-the-water programs, which run seven days a week in three age classes. The first session begins at 5:30 a.m., when the rowers can watch the sun rising on the lake.
“We’re now a 12-month program,” said Webb. “Last summer, we had more rowers (105) on the water than in any previous year. Usually it’s only our adult rowers on the water, we had lots and lots of kids, rowing in singles because of COVID. It was a magical summer on the water.
“One of the things Anna has brought is a feeling of cooperation and fun. I’ve been on the board for five years now. And I’ve seen us go through some difficult times, the way organizations do when everything feels heavy. Now I feel we’re working really well together.”
Goodale admits she has “a lot to learn” when it comes to running the program. But she relies on a strong group of volunteers. Some help with the business side, some with rowing, some with gathering new sponsorships, some simply help get the boats in the water.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, when the club set up its site on the lake, 45 people showed up to carry the shells from the beach’s parking lot to the docking area, clean and set up the entire area.
“That surprised me,” said Goodale. “But it really shouldn’t have. Mainers, and in particular rowers, are always willing to pitch in.”
Goodale would love to build a boathouse on the site, so the club didn’t have to store its equipment in 13 locations from Freeport to Rockland. She wants anyone who wants to learn to row to join. Right now, she has over a dozen masters rowers (anyone over 21) and around 50 junior rowers (including the varsity and club programs).
“I want everybody to be able to try it,” she said. “On land or on the water, it’s an incredible fitness tool, it’s a great meditative tool. Where you’re out on the water, you have to be fully present. You can’t be thinking about what’s for dinner or what meeting you have to go to or what your homework is. You have to just be there.”
“I don’t have a specific number (of rowers) in mind. I just want everybody to know this is an opportunity and if you want to try rowing, you can do it here.”
Piper Urey, a 13-year-old at Camden-Rockport Middle School, would often be rock climbing last year near Barrett’s Cove and notice her friends trekking through the woods to row with Goodale. She decided this year she wanted to join them.
She said Goodale has inspired her to take a deeper look at rowing.
“Rowing can sometimes come across as a hobby,” said Urey, who also plays soccer and skis. “Having someone who won a gold medal makes it seem more like a sport.
“And she’s such a positive person to be around. That makes rowing even more fun.”
Lydia Myers is a 16-year-old sophomore at Camden Hills High. She doesn’t play any sports in school, but this is her second year with Megunticook Rowing.
“I never considered myself a sports person until I found rowing,” said Myers. “It’s unlike any other sport. It’s something you can enjoy competitively but something you can also just do for fun.”
Goodale, said Myers, “is always pushing us hard. I think a lot of times you don’t realize how capable you are and she’s always willing to show me how to do things. And she’s a lot of fun. She’s always making sure we have a lot of fun.”
With the club not rowing competitively because of the pandemic, Goodale wants everyone to have fun.
“We are not driven by winning right now,” she said. “Our goal is not to be the best in the country. Our goal is to provide an incredibly safe and fun atmosphere for our rowers. That’s what I want to do.”
So far, said Webb, her efforts are being rewarding.
“And we couldn’t have done it with just anyone else,” said Webb. “It had to be Anna.”