The Olympic torch was lit in late March and began its journey throughout Greece en route to Athens for the 2004 Summer Olympics. But for Homer native Stacey Borgman, like many Olympic hopefuls training throughout the world, the dream of competition began many years before.
Borgman is currently training to compete in the 2004 Summer Olympics as a member of the U.S. women's rowing team. She is hoping she can row her way to a medal.
A competitive swimmer since she was 8, Borgman swam for the Mariners until her graduation in 1993. Then, at the prodding of her mother, Diane, Borgman picked up rowing at Barnard College at Columbia University during her sophomore year.
"My mom wanted me to do it. But I was resistant to it," Borgman said. "I was 21 or 22 and I thought, 'I'm not going to pick up a new sport.'"
After eventually responding to a barrage of "join crew" flyers that were posted around campus, Borgman found that she had a knack for the sport.
During college, Borgman has won nine national titles at the U.S. Rowing National Championships, including first-place finishes in the lightweight quadruple sculls and the quadruple sculls in 2003.
Her success didn't surprise John Bittner, who was Borgman's high school swimming coach at Homer.
"She was a really outstanding athlete, had all the physical tools," he said. "She was quite an excellent swimmer."
Bittner said he has been following Borgman's progress.
"I was happy to see she was able to go on beyond high school and find rowing later in life," he said. "She wanted to achieve something good in athletics and found a home in crew."
Today, Borgman and her fianc and fellow rower David Friedricks are training in San Diego.
The couple plans to marry in Homer next summer, after Borgman makes a strong run at the Olympics this year.
"The ultimate goal is to compete at the Olympics and win a medal," Borgman said. "But there are a lot of steps between now and then."
Step No. 1 is making the Olympic team.
Borgman is training to compete in the lightweight double event. One boat consisting of two rowers will make the Olympic squad. And four women, who train together daily, are competing for those two seats.
"It's a weird dynamic," Borgman said. "All of these people you consider as your teammates, but not everyone can go.
"We're friends, but we're very guarded," she said.
A typical day for Borgman begins at 6:15 a.m. She gets her boat in the water by 7 a.m. for a one-hour morning row. She then takes a short break, followed by a longer row at about 10:30 a.m. that lasts for a couple of hours. She has lunch at around 12:30 p.m. and then either gets back in the water at 4 p.m. for an afternoon row or lifts weights.
She adheres to this schedule six days a week, bringing the total time on her boat to 20 to 25 hours each week.
"But sometimes it feels like 40," she said.
With so much time wrapped up in training, Borgman said it is often difficult to find enough flexible work to pay the bills.
"It's definitely a full-time job," she said. "For the last two years I've had a hard time finding a job. I've done baby-sitting, odd jobs here and there."
Borgman is also working toward an advanced degree from Lewis and Clark Law School in Oregon, where she is currently on a leave of absence.
Juggling school, work and training is a difficult task for many athletes, Borgman said. Borgman's recent acceptance into the Olympic Job Opportunities Program at Home Depot has helped her compete and pay the bills. Friedricks also was accepted into the program.
The program pays Borgman a full-time salary and benefits for a flexible, 20-hour workweek at the San Diego store.
Home Depot plans to boost the total number of U.S. athletes it employs from 102 to 204 leading into the 2004 games. Home Depot has sponsored more than 192 athletes who have earned a total of 100 medals to date.
"It's a very flexible schedule," said Borgman, who works in the paint department. She said she doesn't have a strict schedule and works her 20 hours whenever she can find the time.
"You also get time off for competition," she said. "It's a pretty amazing opportunity. Most of us have a hard time finding employment."
Borgman said that rowing is an intense, full-body workout, and a lot of her time out of the water is spent recovering.
On her day off, Sunday, she and Friedricks work at Home Depot, relax and spend time with their two dogs. Borgman said the dogs are "absolute mutts," but they provide a much-needed break from the rigors of training.
During the week, Borgman said many of the 26 women at the San Diego training facility read, listen to music, or do anything that keeps them productive while keeping them off their feet, giving their legs a rest. She said an old hobby also has re-emerged for the athletes.
"A lot of the women get into knitting," she said. "It's kind of funny seeing these buff women sitting around knitting hats, gloves and scarves."
Borgman said she is currently working on a scarf and has noticed a "big knitting surge" as the Olympic games near.
In three weeks, Borgman hopes to compete in the National Selection regatta in Princeton, N.J. If she qualifies, she will then travel to Munich for the World Cup. A third place at the Cup or better would give Borgman an automatic bid into the Olympics.
"Whoever wins (a medal in Munich) has the best chance for selection on the boat," she said.
If not, they have to go back through qualifying and beat several challengers.
The rowing competition in the Olympics begins in mid-August. If past performance is any indication, Borgman has a good shot at being on a boat and fulfilling her Olympic dream.
Although Borgman wasn't exposed to the sport until college, Borgman said there are growing opportunities for Alaskans to get involved.
"Now I see rowing programs sprout all over, it's really exciting," she said. "Some day it would be nice to come back and row in Alaska."
Ben Stuart is a reporter at the Homer News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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