An alumna’s journey to the London Olympics
Nine girls, one boat, and the desire to get the gold. Meghan Musnicki, an Ithaca alumna, was among those nine girls on the United States Olympic crew team.
Musnicki was born in 1983 in Naples, N.Y. In high school her favorite sport was basketball, and she was sure she would continue the sport at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.
As a freshman at St. Laurence University, Musnicki decided to try rowing on a whim, not realizing what was truly in store for her. Off the court and into the current, from shooting to sculling, Musnicki made a decision that would one day get her the gold.
In 2002, the second semester of her freshman year, Musnicki’s father, Bill Musnicki, passed away from a heart attack. The next year she transferred to Ithaca College to be closer to her family.
When Musnicki began her crew career she was a novice rower, meaning she had no previous experience in the sport.
“I picked it up and never looked back,” she said.
Becky Robinson, the IC women’s crew coach, has faith in any athlete.
“If someone chooses a division III school and never had an opportunity to row and is given an opportunity, they have as much chance as making a national team as someone who has been rowing since high school,” Robinson said.
Musnicki’s experience at IC is relatable to many.
“I went to Terrace dining hall a lot because that was the biggest variety of food,” she said. She remembers spending a lot of time at the library. She enjoyed sitting near the windows because she is an avid people-watcher.
At IC, Musnicki competed in the women’s eight, the same race she competed in at the Olympics. In the eight, there are nine people in the boat: eight rowers and one coxswain. “[The eight] is going to favor the athlete that’s really strong and really powerful,” Robinson explains. During her junior and senior year, the women’s eight did very well, winning the individual trophy in 2004 and the team trophy in 2004 and 2005.
Robinson described Musnicki as a confident and competitive member on the team. Although she could sense the side of Musnicki that was still dealing with her father’s death, she was committed.
“She was always someone who wanted to be in the thick of things in terms of training and working out,” Robinson said. During Musnicki’s senior year her mother, Gail Musnicki, donated money to dedicate a boat to her father, Bill Musnicki.
After college Musnicki had plans of attending nursing school. When she moved to Boston to work at Mass General as a secretary in internal medicine, she joined a boat club on the Charles River.
She started competing in the C.R.A.S.H. B’s, an international indoor rowing competition, and she was scouted for a training camp in Virginia. In 2008, she was invited to train with the national team. She didn’t make the team until 2010, and remained there until this year.
Musnicki’s London experience floored her. Besides the thrill of competition, she enjoyed her time abroad shopping, watching the soccer final and getting a private tour of the Windsor Castle.
All of the rowers stayed in a satellite village, a miniature community 90 minutes from the main Olympic village and downtown London.
“It’s basically like college living, except for instead of normal college students it’s all elite athletes that are the best at what they do,” she said.
On Aug. 2, Musnicki and her team members completed the 2,000 meters race in 6:10:59, winning the United States the gold medal. When asked about her emotions Musnicki described pure elation.
“We have worked for four, six or eight years, some of us, to get to this point, to the pinnacle of the sport, which is winning the Olympic gold medal. And we did it! … It’s super satisfying and just so joyous,” she said.
Musnicki has been traveling to various meet and greets and different speaking engagements non-stop. “I want to make sure I do it all… It’s the least I can do with how supportive everyone is of me and my pursuit of this goal that I’ve had, so it’s important to me to show them it means a lot,” Musnicki said.
IC’s women’s crew team decided to carry on the tradition of having Bill Musnicki’s name on the boat.
“To us, being on the team and carrying on Meg’s family name is an honor. We use Meg as an inspiration throughout every practice and race. Knowing she is our number one fan/ supporter makes us want to be better every time we are in the boat…” said senior Regina Wuest, captain of the crew team.
By this act, Musnicki is very touched.
“I think about him before every race and to know that there is a shell that has his name on it is great and very touching. It means a lot to my family and myself. I hope a lot of girls get to go fast in that boat.”
Bethany George is a sophomore journalism major who is going for the gold. Email her at [email protected].