For many Harvard athletes, their college careers mark the end of the road. Seldom does a Crimson player leave the ivy gates bound for the NFL, the NBA, or the MLB. But for many on Radcliffe crew, their feathering of the Charles River is just one step in an ongoing process to the top of their sport.
Take junior Olivia Coffey, for example. The Watkins Glen, N.Y. native spent this summer training with the United States Under-23 national team, culminating with a silver-medal finish at the World Championships in Racice, Czech Republic.
Of course, for Coffey, rowing runs through her blood.
“I met my wife [Margaret] at a rowing regatta,” says Calvin Coffey, Olivia’s father. “All my daughters row...But I never really pushed them to row. You can never make someone row, they either want to or not.”
Calvin was on the 1976 Olympic men’s pair that took home silver, and has spent most of his life building racing shells.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of rowing careers,” Calvin says of his Olympic showing. “It was my last competitive year rowing. That year, we were the only U.S. team to win a medal. The East German teams were all on steroids. Of the eight Olympic events, the East Germans I think won six gold medals.”
A graduate of Northeastern, it took some self-convincing to let his daughter attend cross-town rival Harvard.
“My dad wrote me a letter last year that said, ‘I never thought I’d say this, but Go Harvard, beat Northeastern.’” Olivia jokes. “It was probably pretty hard for him to say, but we keep [the trash talking] to a minimum in the house.”
Olivia, the youngest of the four Coffey girls, is the only one to row on the port side, a move that set her up to be the natural choice for the first-varsity stroke.
When considering Harvard, Coffey had to make a decision between playing hockey or rowing, two activities she excelled at in high school at Phillips Andover Academy. Ultimately, she opted for crew.
“I’m glad she did,” her father admits.
And while Olivia continues to pursue her national aspirations, she can rest assured that she’s not doing so alone. Many from the Black and White have blazed the trail before her, and Radcliffe boasts some new names with high expectations.
Now competing on the senior national squad, Esther Lofgren ’07-’09 served a vital role in shaping Coffey’s early career with the Black and White crew.
“I was really lucky to be able to train next to Esther because she’s done so many great things on the national level,” Olivia says. “And it’s nice to be able to see how you match up against someone who’s been there and has experienced everything. And there are a lot of things that she does differently that I wouldn’t have thought of, just rowing with Radcliffe. She had different training techniques, and it was nice to see someone work as hard as she did. So it gave me an idea of how hard you have to push yourself if you want to go to the next level.”
Lofgren took a year off during Coffey’s freshman year to train for the Beijing Olympic Games, and although she did not ultimately represent the United States in China, she appreciated the experience it gave her.