One second can make a world of difference. In the blink of an eye, you can become an Olympian—or not.
Rower Andrew Campbell Jr. understands the fickleness of time all too well. Four years ago, it landed the 19-year-old national champion and his then-lightweight double sculls partner, William Daly, in third place at the FISA Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland. Countries, like the U.S., that hadn’t secured their Olympic bid at the World Championships the previous year had one final chance to punch one of two coveted tickets to the 2012 London Summer Games. Finishing third meant it wasn’t Campbell’s time.
Fast-forward to the fall of 2015, and Campbell (above right), now a Harvard grad working in finance in Boston, finishes eighth with new partner Josh Konieczny (above left) at the World Rowing Championships, earning America’s spot—along with 10 other countries—in the 2016 Rio Olympics. The following May, the duo locked in their Olympic berth, winning the U.S. Trials.
We recently caught up with Campbell to talk about his journey to Rio and what it takes, particularly in terms of time and money (also known as “bones,” according to my editor), to become an Olympian…
“I know a number of people who have been in Rio for rowing reasons in the last year or two who say that it’s totally fine. I’m not terribly worried about all the reports coming back. I’m focusing more on the racing.”
Congrats on making your first-ever Olympic Team! How did it feel punching your ticket to Rio?
When I decided to make a run for London in 2011, I withdrew from Harvard to spend a year training with a great partner twice a day, every day. We moved to New Zealand to train during the winter while the Charles River was frozen. We came back to win the U.S. Olympic Trials, and then headed to Lucerne to compete for one of two spots for the 2012 London Olympics. We sat in second place for most of that race and then got nipped by the Australians at the end. Leaving school and my friends, traveling all over, training more than I ever had before to come up one second short was totally devastating. This time around, I had the ultimate feeling of relief knowing that I had come so close four years ago. It was just incredible.
What makes you and Josh a winning combo?
We get along really well. We’re both levelheaded guys who never let the training get too emotional or let egos come into play. That’s been tremendously helpful. We’re both willing to put in the work. It’s not a given that two guys are going to end up being that willing and hungry to take all the steps that are needed to get it across the line first.
How do you juggle a full-time job and training?
I knew coming out of college that I both wanted and needed to work, partially to support myself and be independent. Also, I knew I was not going to be happy as a full-time rower. I need mental stimulation to keep me going. I think I’m a better rower having something distract me during the day. I work as a data scientist at a financial technology startup called Quantopian in downtown Boston. We’re trying to crowd-source a hedge fund.
It’s remarkable how flexible they’ve been with my schedule. Sometimes I have to leave for extended periods to go to training camps or competition. They have it set up that I can be a contributor without being at my desk 9-to-5 every day. Part of it is the nature of the work. I spend most of my time writing code, so I can work pretty independently and come up with analyses to keep the hedge fund going.
How many hours are you at your desk versus on the water on a typical day?
Practice starts at 7 a.m., so I get up around 6:30. I live in Cambridge—intentionally really close to the Harvard Boathouse to make my commute as short as possible. We warm up on land, then get on the water for about an hour and a half. We come back in and do some agility drills on land. I get to my desk around 10 a.m. and will work till 3 to 4 p.m. Then I’ll head back to the boathouse for a second session on the water. We’ll go for another hour and a half, followed by land drills and weight training. After lifting, we’ll go for a short row on the water, wrapping up around 5:30 or 6 p.m. I go home, eat dinner, maybe do a little more work, relax for a bit and go to bed around 9:30 p.m.
“You learn how to get things done very efficiently. I think in five hours of work, I could get a full day’s work in. It’s very focused. I take 15 minutes to eat lunch. I’m just going, going, going for the whole time I’m in the office.”
So your employer is cool with you working five hours a day?
Yeah, they’re cool with it. I work on the weekends, too. Also, we row Tuesday through Sunday with Monday being a day off. So on Mondays, I work really long hours. That’s my big catch-up day. It can get frustrating always feeling like there’s a time pressure, but that’s something I learned how to deal with as a student athlete. You get used to it, and learn how to get things done very efficiently. I think in five hours of work, I could get a full day’s work in. It’s very focused. I take 15 minutes to eat lunch. I’m just going, going, going for the whole time I’m in the office.
Given your financial background, it would be awesome to have you break down what it costs to be an Olympian: why you need sponsors, flexible jobs and the support of your community…
It varies a lot sport to sport and athlete to athlete. In my case, I had the background and the drive to get a job that paid well and allowed me to support myself on a limited schedule. It’s really helpful having a community and sponsors to raise money and resources to help us travel to training camps and competitions, rent boats overseas and fund bigger expenses. We’re supported by a network called the Boston Rowing Federation.
I’m also lucky enough to have worked out a great relationship with Red Bull. They’ve been super helpful and supportive—not just financially, but also in terms of networking. I’ve met so many interesting people through the Red Bull network. They’re always trying to push athletics forward in a bunch of different sports and thinking about new ways to appeal to a wider audience.
Can you tell me what an Olympic year looks like by the numbers?
This year, we traveled to Sarasota, Florida for 10 weeks to prepare for the Olympic Trials. That probably cost us (myself, Josh and our coach, Scott Roop) $3,000 to $4,000. Our biggest expense is going overseas to compete. Most international competitions happen in Europe. A round trip plane ticket to Europe is about $1,000 each person. While there, it’s got to be about $2,000 per guy to pay for transportation, food, accommodations, etc. All in all, it’s probably close to $15,000 per person for one year of training and racing.
So you need about $60,000 for four years of training?
Yeah, that sounds right.
It’s not something you can do on your own unless you’re independently wealthy.
A lot people aren’t looking forward to going to Rio given all the headlines about Zika, the water crisis, crime, and whatnot. Do you have any concerns?
I think Rio is going to be better than how the mainstream American media is presenting it. I think there’s a little bit of alarmism going on. I know a number of people who have been in Rio for rowing reasons in the last year or two who say that it’s totally fine. I’m not terribly worried about all the reports coming back. I’m focusing more on the racing. Rowing is the first week. This is my moment to shine. I’m looking forward it as well as the second week when rowing is over. I can’t wait to check out the other competitions.
Are you going to sign up for Tinder or Bumble while down there?
Ha! I have a girlfriend—she is coming to Rio. So I will not be engaging in such activities. But I will be in the Olympic Village.
What about Snapchat or Twitter?
I’ve really tried to step up my social game in the last year or so. It’s good for the sport for me to try to broadcast what’s going on, so I’ll definitely be on Instagram and Twitter. I’m hoping to write a blog post or two. I haven’t gotten into Snapchat yet, but maybe.
What are your plans for post-Rio? Will you stick around to explore?
I’m actually coming back right after for a rowing event in Boston called the Red Bull High Stakes. It’s a really cool format—it’s head-to-head team racing around a stake-turn. You go out and do a 180 and then head back to the finish line. Each boat category races against one another. The team with the combined fastest time moves to the next round. I will be racing on August 27th.
Lead photo: Igor Belakovskiy/Red Bull Content Pool
Bottom photo: Brian Nevins/Red Bull Content Pool