If you told Mary Martin growing up that she would raise an Olympian, she might have laughed at you.
“That was never a goal of mine, or anything that had ever even crossed my mind,” she said.
But this summer, her daughter Megan Kalmoe – a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist in the women’s quadruple sculls – will compete in her fourth Olympic Games, in Tokyo.
Kalmoe, 37, is the first American rower to make four Olympic teams.
“She’s been through all the nerves, and she knows the rigamarole and I think she’s really pumped,” said Martin, who lives in Green Valley.
Since winning the women’s pair final at the qualifying regatta in New Jersey this month, Kalmoe and her teammate, Olympic veteran Tracy Eisser, have been training hard, Martin said.
Martin, meanwhile, is still trying to take it all in.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of athletes over the years and their families, and they all have interesting and varied stories,” she said.
“So this is kind of my last opportunity to be with them and just savor the moment. It’s really been a journey, and it’s been a great ride.”
Before the Games
Though Kalmoe grew up playing sports throughout grade school and high school – cross country, softball, and basketball, to name a few – it wasn’t until her sophomore year at the University of Washington that she decided to try her arm at rowing.
“The way she tells it, she wanted to kind of get into better shape after her ‘Freshman 15,’” Martin said.
“So, next thing she knows, she’s munching on a meatball sub during an interset meeting for women’s rowing and decided then and there that she was just going to do it,” Martin said with a laugh.
Kalmoe joined the women’s team as a walk-on, and her dedication to training made her a standout leader. She was team captain by her senior year, and eventually landed a rowing scholarship.
Following a number of collegiate achievements – including being named All-American and winning gold at the 2005 Under-23 World Championships – Kalmoe accepted an invitation to train at the U.S. Rowing Training Center in Princeton, New Jersey, after graduation in 2006. She has been training and competing as a member of the Senior National Team since 2008, and has won five Olympic and world championships medals.
“It’s really, really a lot of work. It’s hard to explain how much work it is for these athletes. They’re usually training twice a day, six days a week, year-round for this,” Martin said.
“But she really is just one determined woman, you know, and she has just been determined to see this thing through, and has done it and done very well,” Martin said.
Since Kalmoe’s rowing career took off, Martin and her family have embarked on a number of trips to see her compete internationally. A favorite was Kalmoe’s Olympic debut in Beijing in 2008, where she finished fifth in the women’s double sculls.
“It was just a really special thing to be able to do as a family,” Martin said.
Attending in-person, as opposed to watching the highlights on TV, also brought a whole new perspective to the Games, Martin said.
“If you can even get tickets to the events, it’s really hard to go to more than one or two in a day. The venues are really far apart, there’s security at each one and it’s just a lot of effort. So, that was one of those things that really struck me,” Martin said.
Though the family was in Beijing to watch Kalmoe compete, she wasn’t the only star.
“We’re a rather tall family, and to a lot of Chinese people, I think we’re a rarity,” Martin said.
“I’m pretty sure we ended up in some funny home videos because there were a lot of people taking pictures of us wherever we went,” Martin said with a laugh.
Martin’s other memorable moments include her daughter’s gold-medal win at the 2015 World Rowing Championships in France and a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
“It was just very exciting and I know she felt really good about her performances,” Martin said.
The best thing about seeing your child succeed at that level, Martin said, is the sense of pride and accomplishment you know they feel.
“For every Olympic athlete, there are so many who don’t make the team, who they work with every day, and who push them to be better and better,” Martin said.
“To know that they’ve kept pushing up to be at the top of the top, to feel that accomplishment, I would say that’s the best thing,” she said.
And when it comes to raising an Olympian, Martin said there is no secret – for her, it’s always been about supporting and nourishing the passion and interests that are already present.
“There has to be an internal motivation to be successful at sports, and I see so many parents push their kids to excel because it is the parent’s dream they’re living out, not the child’s,” Martin said.
“So, encourage them in what they’re good at and just let them be themselves.”
In Tokyo, Kalmoe will compete in the women’s pair with Eisser. Before the duo sealed their spots on Team USA, Kalmoe posted to her Instagram that this year’s selection regatta, and the subsequent Games, would be her last.
In April, Kalmoe and Eisser removed themselves from the women’s eight- and four-boat races in order to focus on the pair.
“We have been happier the past month than we have been in a long, long time. We have an enormous amount of respect for the level of competition in this event, and all the competitors who have continued to raise the bar over the past five years,” Kalmoe wrote.
“We know we are an outside shot for a medal, and are aware of the speed it will take to get into the hunt. We want to try anyway.”
Because no international spectators will be allowed in the stands this year due to COVID-19 concerns, Martin and her family plan on streaming every race from their living room. Rowing events are set for July 23-30.
“I’m really sad about not being able to go, and that was one of the reasons we went to New Jersey for the trials, because I knew that would be the last time we’d get to see her row in person,” Martin said.
But, in-person or not, Martin will still be watching the way only a parent can: a bundle of nerves, with bated breath, white knuckles and an immense amount of pride for her daughter, no matter the outcome.