For 2016 Olympian, Maggie Hogan, variety is the spice of life. Though Hogan will be representing the US in her first Olympics during the women’s K-1 500 meter sprint, the collegiate-swimmer-turned-paddler has participated in 21 world championship events across five disciplines of racing – dragon boat, surf lifesaving, surfski, canoe marathon, and of course canoe sprint. Hogan seeks to be an all-around waterman, as its known in Polynesian cultures – enjoying and excelling at just about any human-powered watercraft you float her way.
Competitive paddlesports found the sprinter later in life than most of the athletes she will be lined up against in the Summer Olympic Games. A few years after completing a degree in bio-psychology and a Division I swimming career at the University of California in Santa Barbara, Hogan, at the age of 26, was attending the San Diego Regional Lifeguard Academy. There she met another student in her class who happened to coach canoe sprint. Six months later she was racing in the 2005 world championships.
Even with her natural ability, Hogan grew unsatisfied with her results during nearly a decade in the sport and almost called it quits for sprint. That was until two years ago, when she teamed up with her current coach, 2013 surfski world champion, Michele Eray. Together with Eray, Hogan is on the path to success she has been seeking. Including a 2015 world championship bronze medal in the k-1 1000 meter, which according to Hogan is the first sprint medal won by a US citizen in two decades. Though she has finally stepped up to the next level by qualifying for her first games, Hogan also believes this Olympics will be her last. With no funding available to canoe sprint athletes, the financial burden falls squarely on Hogan to complete her Olympic quest. Even with the help of fundraisers, a job, and the supportive atmosphere many have provided along the way, the hurdle is not something Hogan plans to repeat. Despite this hardship, she continues to focus at the task at hand and make the most of her Olympic opportunity, “I worked ten years to make an Olympic team and we finally did it. But my goal is not just to make the Olympics; I want to do well once I’m there.”
C&K recently caught up with Maggie Hogan to learn more about life as a competitor, the challenges she faced while taking the sport to its highest level, and what it means to be a waterman:
Canoe & Kayak: You have been competing in sprint since 2005, how does it feel to qualify for the Olympic Games?
Maggie Hogan: I started very late in life in this sport. I was 26 and now I’m 37. The world championships in 2005 was my third race. So I have really grown up on this national team platform. Most people who get into this sport, a lot of them start when they are ten or eleven. Fast forward ten years they are 21, and that’s pretty young to crack an Olympic team. So I think I might be a little older age wise, but as far as paddling goes, it takes about eight to ten years to develop an athlete to this level. So I know it looks weird on paper but if you understood my story it’s pretty much right on target. My first Olympic try was in 2008. It was heart breaking. My first race in 2005 I did a 2:07 for the 500 and in three-and-a-half years I’d gone from a 2:07 to a 1:53. I made a huge jump very early. I came within two feet of making an Olympic team in three-and-a-half years. So I knew I could do it, I knew it was there. Switching coaches to Michele gave me the confidence and the individual attention in the program that I needed to make this next jump.
C&K: What are you most looking forward to about Rio?
Hogan: I’m really stoked they’re in Brazil. I’ve never been to South America. My family surprised me. They are all going down. So I’m just excited to share this with them because, they were thinking, ‘Really you’re not going to get a job? You’re going to kayak?’ They’ve really put up with me a lot. Michele has been named Olympic team coach so I’m really excited to share this with her as well. Without her I wouldn’t have made it this far. I’m just looking to enjoy every day of it.
C&K: Do you plan to continue pursuing the Olympics after this year?
Hogan: Honestly, no. For me I’d love to stay involved in the other disciplines at the world championship level. I’d love to be a world champion at something. I’ve been close. I’ve won medals, but I’ve never cracked that–‘best on the planet.’ But to be totally honest it is too expense to do this sport. We have zero funding and we are doing all kinds of campaigns and fundraisers to raise money for Michele and I. She took a huge risk. She was a high performance director for sprint at USA Canoe and Kayak. She left that position in order to coach me full time. I have a job. I work with General Electric. It’s part time. It’s hourly. It’s not enough to live in Southern California, where we train. So this year especially has been a huge financial hardship.
C&K: General Electric must be very supportive and flexible for you to work for them, as well as train and compete at such a high level?
Hogan: When we were in Chula Vista, California, I had a full time job working cancer research for pharmaceuticals for seven years. Then we were based in Oklahoma City all of a sudden, and then I had to go to Florida and California – all over the country to train. Work became very difficult. I actually reached out to a company called Addeco which is a USOC sponsor and they gave me this job with GE and I work remotely. So that’s the best thing ever. GE is a huge Olympic sponsor, and they have a couple athletes who work for them. I work in GE transportation. I’m a coordinator in their wreck repair department. So anytime a locomotive around the world gets in a wreck, we put in a bid for its total repair. My boss is awesome, and the job is great because I can do it anywhere in the world. It’s really been a savior for me. Knowing that I can get a regular paycheck has really helped me out a lot.
C&K: Have you spent anytime at the course in Rio?
Hogan: No, I haven’t seen the course yet, but I do know it’s wavy and windy so it’s an open course. We usually race in places that look like big canals and this one is a lake, and lakes can get a little bumpy. That’s perfect because that’s exactly where we are training right now. It can be a little bumpy and wavy. I think we are in a great place to prepare for it.
C&K: Your surfski experience should be helpful on the windy course?
Hogan: It’s hilarious. I’ve had some races in my career where you can tell who the flatwater paddlers are and the folks who have ocean experience. I look forward to that. The bigger the better.
C&K: You mentioned you have been to 21 worlds in five different disciplines. Where was your favorite?
Hogan: Tahiti. Michele and I raced surfski world champs there last year and it was awesome. It’s the first time in my life I finished a race and someone handed me a coconut to drink. I think that should happen at all races. The weekend after the world champs, Tahiti hosted a world cup that crossed 46 kilometers of open ocean. We raced from the island of Tahaa to Bora Bora and then they had a little party for us on a private island overlooking Bora Bora. We swam with eagle rays. I would go back tomorrow if I could!
C&K: So you really enjoy being a jack of all trades when it comes to paddling disciplines?
Hogan: Each one has such a challenging skill set. I’ve really been humbled, especially in this last two years that I’ve been giving the downwind surfski a crack. I remember my first race, in San Francisco, with some really amazing world-class surfskiers. My plan was to follow their line. Five minutes in I couldn’t see them anymore. And on flat-water I can beat them. The skill level in surfing these runs is incredible. It’s always exciting to be developing and learning skills in a new way.
C&K: Is the variety refreshing? Would you say it provides a boost in canoe sprint and help you stay engaged in the sport?
Hogan: In California, in Hawaii, and in a lot of Polynesian cultures, to be a waterman is a big thing. That doesn’t just mean you can surf, or swim, or paddle board. It means you’re a jack of all trades, and it’s a real challenging thing. It does keep it fresh, and our community is really a paddling community across all disciplines. I’m really fortunate that I’m involved with a bunch of different communities and bunch of different classes of racing. It’s been a lot of fun.
C&K: Putting aside the fact you are going to the Olympics for sprint, which is your favorite, whether it’s competitive or recreational?
Hogan: I love the ocean, I always have. I enjoy surfing. If I’m letting my hair down and just going to have fun, I’ll just grab a board and go catch some waves.
Visit Maggie’s fundraiser page for the 2016 Olympics.
Stay tuned to C&K for ongoing coverage of the Road to Rio
More from C&K:
Road to Rio: Sprint Is In