On Thursday, October 27, the Colgate Presidents’ Club opened Family Weekend with “Colgate Leaders,” an annual event that invites distinguished alumni back to campus. This year, Lauren Schmetterling ’10 was interviewed by ESPN anchor and alumnus David Lloyd ’83. Parents, students and members of the Colgate community gathered in the Colgate Memorial Chapel, where they listened to Lloyd ask Schmetterling questions about her time at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Schmetterling is the third Colgate graduate to medal in the Olympics since Frank Castleman won the silver medal in the 200-meter hurdles at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri and Dick McGlynn won a silver medal with the United States Hockey Team at the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. Schmetterling won a gold medal with the United States Women’s Eight.
At the start of the interview, Schmetterling told Lloyd that she never believed she would have the opportunity to compete in the Olympic Games. She attributed her professional success to the time she spent at Colgate.
“When I started rowing, I had no idea that I was ever going to think about going to the Olympics. It was a gradual thing, and the more I rowed, the more I got into it. I think eventually the catalyst was during my senior year at Colgate,” Schmetterling said. “I went to the National Team Camp and they told me that if I matched a certain criterion, I would be able to attend … I made it my goal to get to that number and get that invite to camp,” Schmetterling said.
Gaining a spot in the Olympic games is not an easy process, even for elite athletes. In order to be a national team member, one must first be accepted into the camp. After many years, Schmetterling finally earned her spot in there, thus leading to her eventual participation in the 2016 Olympics.
Throughout the interview, Schmetterling discussed her personal path to the Olympics, and her experiences with failure and success as an elite athlete.
“I was the last person cut from the [Under 23, or U23, World] team … It was simultaneously heartbreaking for me not to be there, but I also felt encouraged that I was the last one not to make it on such a fast team,” Schmetterling said.
Schmetterling was still motivated to row.
“Eventually, I was able to gain my spot in the Olympics. I was very excited and proud to represent our country internationally,” Schmetterling said.
Lloyd then shared a video clip from the final Women’s Eight rowing competition at the Olympics. He asked Schmetterling to provide a play-by-play of what she was thinking about as she and her teammates rowed to victory.
“I still get pretty nervous at races. I like to use that energy to push me into a new zone rather than using it in a paralyzing way. At the starting line, there was a traffic light with the colors red and green. When the race started and the horn blew, I was no longer nervous, and at this point I was just focused on my abilities and strokes,” she said.
After over six minutes of rigorous rowing, Schmetterling and her team claimed first place and won the gold medal.
“Overall, I did not feel confident about our position in the race until we were over the line, because anything can happen in the last second. Once we crossed the line, I felt like everything I had done was validated because it took a lot of work to get to that point,” Schmetterling said.
At the end of her interview with Lloyd, Schmetterling expressed hope that she will return to the Olympics for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
“I feel like I am really healthy, and I love competing. I think there is a lot more to do with this sport,” Schmetterling said.
Schmetterling’s interview resonated with students. First-year Annie Getz discussed why this event meant so much to her.
“I decided to go to the event because I am on the rowing team. I met Lauren Schmetterling before, and after talking with her, I wanted to learn more about her story,” Getz said.
One of Schmetterling’s traits that stood out to Getz was her determination to gain a spot on the national team.
“Even though I recently just started rowing, it was really cool to hear her say that she never gave up, no matter how difficult it got. She mentioned that she was denied by the Under 23 team, yet she still worked by herself for hours on end in order to qualify for the national team,” Getz said. “As a whole, her success through the Colgate rowing program was really encouraging.”
First-year Jessica Hay attended the event with her Colgate softball team. After listening to the interview, Hay reflected on Schmetterling’s passion for rowing.
“Out of all the things Lauren talked about during the event, the dedication to her sport is what inspired me most because I feel like I have a similar passion for softball,” Hay said.
Hay appreciated Schmetterling and Lloyd’s choice to return to Colgate and speak about their career successes.
“It’s so cool to see someone from a school as small as Colgate go and do amazing things internationally. It motivated me to always work hard because anything can happen,” Hay said.
In August, Colgate Vice President and Director of Athletics Victoria Chun ’91 reflected on watching Schmetterling win the gold medal during the Rio Olympics.
“All of Colgate is extremely proud of Lauren for this great accomplishment. Lauren is a great example for our student-athletes. She has put in the time and work necessary to reach her dreams. It has been fun cheering along with the races, and it was truly inspiring to see the nine members of the boat come together and perform so well on their way to victory,” Chun said.