Q&A: Philly Rower Katherine McFetridge Aims for 2016 Olympics

Three-a-day workouts. A 6,000-calories-a-day diet. This is how a future Olympian gears up.

Katherine was all smiles after winning the 2012 club national championship

Six years ago, Katherine McFetridge had never raced a boat in her life. She was a field hockey and basketball star at West Deptford High School in South Jersey. But when she moved to California to attend USC for college, she discovered rowing somewhat serendipitously.

At the school’s club-sports fair, she wandered over to the rowing table to ask if they had a club field hockey team at the school. “We don’t,” the rowing gal told her, “but you should row.” And so, she did.

Fast forward to today, and Katherine is gearing up for the USRowing Club National Championship this weekend in Camden. She’s hoping for a repeat performance of last year—when she won. She’s also building on another big win: placing seventh in the Olympic trials.

Her ultimate goal, of course, is to head to the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016. She’s got a long road ahead but is already going full steam. To wit: The Sporting Club at the Bellevue announced this week that it would sponsor her. That’s a big win for an athlete who trains three times a day and needs some flexibility—financially and time-wise—in her schedule.

Here, Katherine talks about how she’s gearing up to achieve her ultimate athletic goal in three years (can you say, dedication?) and what it would mean to her to represent the U.S. at the Olympic Games.

BWP: What was it like walking on to the rowing team in college? I would have been terrified.

KM: I was the Rudy story on my college team. It was like, “When is this girl going to give it up?” but I never did. I was team captain my junior year. I wanted to lead by example so I put in a lot of extra work. I got on a really fast team of four and that earned me a scholarship my senior year. It gave me a lot of confidence to move the boat and compete. I went to under-23 trials and got second my junior year. That was very shocking, too. After college, I went into a single scull; this is only my second year sculling seriously. So I went from bumping off of buoy lines and coming in dead last to winning a national championship after a year of dedicated attention and focus. I was talking with an advisor at USC and said, “I have this crazy dream of going to the Olympics, but I’m not sure I should go for it. It’s just not financially feasible.” He said, “If you could do it would you?” Without even thinking about it, I was like, “Yes. Absolutely.” And that’s how this all started.

What’s a typical day in workouts like for you? How many hours a day do you row?

I train six days a week. I have morning practice every day at 6 a.m., and then I have a second practice mid-day, which is either lifting or yoga. And then I go for a light steady row in the evening. I probably train about five hours a day. I train on the Schuylkill. I’m a member of the Undine Barge Club. I started sculling there during the summers when I was in school. When I joined the team, I had no idea we had this mecca of rowing so close to home. So it worked out really well that when I graduated I was able to come home and keep doing it. I really think I have the best coaches in the country. Right now, it’s all about physical capacity right, having enough time and hours in the day to put in the work and miles to have my body be at the Olympic level.

How do you fuel up? And do you have any idea how many calories you burn a day?

My diet changes based on the type of food I need for whatever event I have coming up. But I love diner food: veggie omelets, pancakes, hash browns. I eat a ton all the time. Eating, sleeping and rowing—that’s pretty much my life right now. I think I burn and eat between 4,000 and 6,000 calories a day.

What’s the biggest challenge you face mentally when it comes to racing? How do you overcome it?

My biggest challenge is organizing my life to facilitate my being relaxed and focused when I’m racing. I’m constantly working on gaining more sponsorships so I can spend more time training. I was fully funded and sponsored in 2011, and it allowed me to grow at a rate that most people don’t have the opportunity to do. Having the chance to just focus on my sport helped me gain a lot of ground quickly.

What does a sponsorship from Sporting Club mean?

I’m actually sponsored by the Sporting Club and Bikram Yoga of Philadelphia, and while I still have to work it definitely takes off some of the burden, which I’m so, so grateful for. I’m really starting to understand what the “belong” part of the Sporting Club logo means. Everyone has been so excited and supportive. The Bellevue is a powerful entity, and to be backed by them with their tradition of excellence and success sets a great tone for me to follow. I’m excited to rock their colors at my races.

What’s your pre-race routine?

I always get my nails painted red. It’s a power color. I also do a lot of visualization, and I get a massage before my races. I’m a huge believer in how massages allow your body to recover and prepare. Right before a race, I’ll listen to music to help put me in the zone. Eminem’s awesome; Drake is good, too.

How are you feeling about your big race in Camden this weekend?

Pretty good! Last year I won intermediates so this year I advanced to the senior level. This weekend, I’ll race the Women’s Senior 1x at 8:35 a.m. and the Women’s Open 1x Dash at 11:44. My biggest competition is another local rower—and a good friend—named Nicole Ritchie. I’ve come in six seconds behind her for the past three races. So I’m going to have to bring my A-game. My main focus for this summer is Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in August. I haven’t piqued yet; we’re still bringing up my speed. As an athlete, you always love to be challenged. You want to be in the race, and it’s not always about winning. It’s about being neck-and-neck when the wall hits, and being able to push through that wall to perform as well as you possibly can.

What would going to the Olympics mean to you?

It would mean that I’ve chased my passion and actually achieved it. I faced a fair amount of opposition from being being like, “What are you doing? This is crazy. This isn’t a job; it doesn’t make money.” So going to the Olympics would mean that I was able to bring my body to that level and achieve what I always knew I could do.

>> Follow Katherine on Facebook to keep tabs on her progress.