For the first time in Machaela Copenhaver’s rowing career, she will be representing the stars and stripes on the world stage.
Copenhaver has tried to make the U.S. National Team since 2012 and finally earned her spot after coming in second or third place at qualifying trials for several years. She will be racing as part of the lightweight women’s quadruple scull at the World Rowing Championship, which takes place Sept. 9 to 16 in Bulgaria.
“It’s the premier race,” said Copenhaver, 28, of New Milford.
This will be her third time competitively racing in this type of boat. The crew is made up of the next four fastest lightweight women’s rowers who didn’t qualify for the singles team this summer. Copenhaver joins Hillary Saeger and Christine Cavallo, both of Massachusetts, as well as Margaret Bertasi, who also trains in Connecticut.
The crew has been training in Boston since the team was formed in July, holding 12 sessions a week. They officially qualified for Worlds on Aug. 8.
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“It’s the fastest lightweight women’s boat that competes at Worlds,” she said, adding the average boat completes the 2,000 meters in about six minutes, 25 seconds.
Copenhaver began rowing with GMS Rowing in New Milford in 2003 at the suggestion of her older sister, who was on the high school’s rowing team.
“It’s really fun to put your mind to something, work really hard and get a result,” she said.
Copenhaver continued the sport at Princeton University. She switched from the openweight to the lightweight class her senior year and her success there inspired the dream of one day representing the U.S. at Worlds, and ultimately the Olympics.
Though she appreciates the sport, she said it’s a lot of hard work. She’s only taken 10 weeks off total in her six years of rowing at this level and has had to train on holidays.
“You always have to be chasing because someone will be chasing harder,” Copenhaver said.
She said it hasn’t fully sunk in that she’s on the national team, but it probably will when she puts on the uniform in Bulgaria.
“Right now, I’m trying to get myself where I feel like I belong on that level and can handle the pressure that comes with an international race at that level,” she said.
The U.S. is sending 27 crews comprised of 72 athletes.
But U.S. Rowing only covers the costs for the crews in Olympic classes. For lightweight women, that means only the double scull team is covered, leaving Copenhaver and the rest of her crew to pay for their way. They must raise about $6,000 each to cover their airfare, entry, boat rental and hotel costs. They have a combined $2,000 to go to hit that amount.
“The communities that we’re part of have stepped up a lot,” Copenhaver said.
Heats for Copenhaver’s group are in the morning of Sept. 10. Teams that don’t qualify for the final by winning their heat will have another shot with the repechage on Sept.12. The final is on Sept. 14.
Copenhaver said she will try to post updates on her Twitter and Instagram accounts, but people can also follow along with U.S. Rowing.
Her cheering squad won’t have to get up in the middle of the night to support her though. Her parents, husband and in-laws are making the trip to cheer her on in person.
Even as she gets ready for Worlds, that Olympic dream is still in the back of her mind. The U.S. will qualify for the 2020 games as a country at next year’s vent with the two athletes selected the following year.
“There are a lot of really fast women competing for these two spots,” Copenhaver said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”
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