Maggie Hogan, 37, started training in a "K1" sprint kayak boat — one of the most unstable boats in the world — in order to improve her balance and get better at other sports, like surfski.
But she got sidetracked when she qualified for the USA World Championship sprint kayak team in 2005. More than a decade later, the Huntington Beach resident is competing in the canoe sprint event at the Olympics in Rio.
Here's what she told mbg about preparing for races, her must-have travel gear, and just how kick-ass kayakers really are.
She pictures herself winning … and sometimes losing.
"Visualization has really helped me prep for races and work through high-pressure situations. My race visualization routine includes variations of racing conditions and scenarios. I'll visualize racing from behind, racing from the lead, in different weather conditions, and against different competitors. I try to feel the stress of race day so that I can get used to the jitters.
"I also think it's important to visualize how good it feels to win or meet my goal."
Her pre-race weapon? Laughter.
"Mentally, my prep depends on how nervous I am. I use music to get me up and calm down. I use belly breathing and relaxation techniques to help me conserve energy between races or get to sleep faster during training. And I like to watch funny movies the night before; laughter is the best weapon to fight the pre-race jitters!"
Nope, she isn't stuffing her face with ice cream and cookies. But her dessert of choice does sound pretty delicious.
"I try to stay away from sugar as much as possible, but I do enjoy dark chocolate every once in a while. I try to make simple substitutes in my diet. For example, I'll eat kale instead of Romaine lettuce, sweet potatoes instead of white rice. And I like to stuff almonds in dates; that's a great snack."
Her days off sound pretty awesome.
"Kayakers include quite a bit of cross-training throughout our year of race prep. We swim, run, do yoga, and lift weights, among other things. My coach, Michele Eray, is a world champ in surfski, so we do some downwind ocean paddling when the conditions allow. We surf and stand-up paddle as well.
"I like to jump in the ocean on Sundays (our only day off) if time allows and the surf is good. We have mobility sessions planned throughout the week, so I usually try to stay away from sport (mentally) on off-days."
There are three things she won't leave home without.
"I try to stay away from superstition or good luck charms; I don't want my performance to rely on something I might forget. However, I won't leave home without my AeroPress handheld espresso machine — because good coffee is hard to come by sometimes! And I have a Tempur-Pedic eye mask and ear plugs that are a must. Good sleep equals good racing."
She's all about celebrating the successes and learning from the disappointments.
"I decided I wanted to change coaches and race one more season; I wanted to end my sprint career on my terms, knowing that I had left everything on the table. I started working with my coach Michele Eray, and two years later we won a medal at the Sprint Canoe World Championships, and we've qualified for Rio! Sport is full of disappointments and celebrations. I think you have to learn from the disappointments and celebrate the successes, even the small ones."