By Sara Corey
This summer, Madison Mailey and her teammates on the Canadian Senior National Rowing Team had a choice: they could race with a poor mentality and lose, or they could unite and race to win a world championship.
After winning the Under 23 World Championships for the second time, Mailey earned a spot on the Senior team and was selected to compete at the Senior World Championships in the Women’s 8+ in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Mailey transitioned from having college-aged teammates to having teammates in their thirties, some of them Olympians.
“I had to work hard to gain the respect of my teammates,” the 2018 women’s rowing graduate said.
Earning respect was not the only challenge Mailey faced, however. At the world championships, the team was not coming together. It showed in their first race when the Canadian women placed last out of all of the women’s 8+s.
“We were five strokes into the race, and I could see seven seat’s oar next to me. We were multiple seats down, and it was shocking and really discouraging for everyone.”
After the race, Mailey and her teammates had an emotional meeting about what went wrong. The athletes decided to turn their disappointment into determination. The rowers could not afford to be self-serving. The only way to achieve success would be to trust each other and know that each rower was going to push herself to her physical and mental limits. To row well and fast takes courage, focus and commitment. Mailey and her teammates knew they would have to be brave to have a chance at beating the other elite crews.
Going into the final, the Canadians were ready to make a comeback. Mailey said that her coxswain kept them focused and pushed them to compete for second place against Australia.
“I remember she said, ‘You could be a world champion!’ And that pushed everyone to think about all of the miles and hours they had spent on the water, on the erg and in the weight room,” she said, “to make all of that sacrifice worth it.”
While the Canadians did not pass the Americans, they crossed the finish line in second place, keeping Australia at bay.
“It was so exciting,” Mailey said. “People were throwing up water, and the coxswain was hugging the stroke seat. It was amazing and special.”
They didn’t win a gold medal, but judging from their high spirits, they might as well have. Thinking how much they had to overcome was enough to put the team’s overachieving nature to rest.
“This is the real deal,” Mailey said, thinking back to receiving her silver medal. “These girls had been my idols for so many years, and to be able to say that I raced in the world championships with them, and that we won a silver medal together, will be something that I will never forget.”
As a Husky, Mailey’s accomplishments inspired her teammates and her poise served as a role model for many of them.
“Winning gold twice for the Canadian U23 team and then silver for the national team opened a lot of people’s eyes and made some of her fellow teammates at Northeastern realize the possibilities that rowing can provide,” said junior rower Anna Kaplan. “She doesn’t let her failures bring her down and strives for more with each achievement.”
“She was already at a high level when she came here,” head coach Joe Wilhelm described. “She had the technique, the ability to focus, and thought about getting stronger and better each day.”
Her hope is that her example inspires the next generation of high schoolers. To Wilhelm, the pinnacle of success as a coach is to instill in your athletes exactly what Mailey feels: a love of sport so pure that they want to continue for the sheer joy of competing at a high level.
“Madison’s example will show recruits that they can take rowing as far as they want,” Wilhelm said.
Mailey now has her eyes set on continuing her rowing career. While finishing her degree in business administration, she can be found training every day on the Charles River. When she moves back to Canada at the end of 2018, she will again train with the national team.
The goal: the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.