Long-limbed Caryn Davies was 13 years old and tagging along behind her father in a local grocery store when a large, weathered-looking man strode up, pointed at her Uncle Sam-style, and intoned gruffly, ‘I want YOU for rowing!’” With her height, Caryn clearly possessed the physical potential to be a stellar oarswoman, but it was her hard work and unwavering pursuit of excellence that earned her incredible success in the sport.
Beginning at the age of 15, Caryn rowed competitively on the national and international stage, first in Tasmania, Australia, and then in Boston, USA, where she earned a seat on Harvard’s prestigious Radcliffe Varsity Crew. But it wasn’t until years later, while preparing for her second Olympics, that Caryn was faced with what she refers to as “one of the most interesting challenges in sport and in life: leading when you cannot see what’s behind you.” Because in rowing, the person leading the crew, also known as the “stroke seat,” is seated at the stern of the boat and facing backwards.
Despite this challenge, she recognized early on that, “You literally aren’t going anywhere without your team. The day that I went from being a good stroke seat to a great stroke seat was the day I realized my job was not about going fast myself. It was about enabling my teammates to go fast. I realized I can sit in stroke seat and focus on my own efforts, but I’ll just get tired. If I set a rhythm that allows the seven women behind me to perform at their best, then my efforts are multiplied by eight. Then the boat goes that much faster.”
This practice of pushing others forward by leading from the back proved fruitful as she led the women’s eight-oared boat from an Olympic silver medal in 2004 to back-to-back Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012.
If you ask Caryn about that day in the supermarket all those years ago, she’ll tell you she wonders what her life would be like had that coach not approached her all those years ago, and now, after more than 20 years of rowing–more than half of them at the elite level–it would be hard to imagine rowing without Caryn Davies.
After first conquering the world for the second time at the 2012 Olympics in London and then defeating her Cantabrigian opponents in the first-ever women’s Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race on the Thames in 2015, Caryn retired from elite competition. Yet she stays fit and remains involved in the Olympic movement, including serving as Vice President of the U.S. Olympians and Paralympians Association. Most recently, Caryn served in the role of Team USA Athlete Service Coordinator during the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
As one of the most decorated American rowers of all time, Caryn lives her life to the fullest and strives to embody the principles of the Olympic movement: “to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort [and the] educational value of a good example.” As Ms. Davies puts it, “when you love something, you do it whether or not you get paid.”