Not everyone could embrace the decision of Caryn Davies to step off the Columbia Law School treadmill for a spell and go after something with no assurances, no guarantees, pursuing another trip to the Olympic Games, as a member of the women’s eight rowing team.
Among the most vocal was her mother, Linda.
“She didn’t approve of my decision because she thought I would not be able to get a job after I graduated after going back to school,” Davies said. “I didn’t even bother arguing with her because I was quite sure she was wrong and it was an irrational fear.
“She wants the best for me and she worries as mothers do. I just said, ‘OK, Mom. You don’t have to approve.’ ”
Davies was talking in a lengthy phone interview in the spring shortly after the members of the U.S. rowing team had arrived for a training camp in Germany near the border of France. This was after months at the USOC Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and several weeks before the selection of the Olympic team.
Hello, stress ... an old friend knocking at the door again.
Davies, who had won Olympic gold in 2008 and a silver medal in 2004, wasn’t fully prepared to leave the sport, not even when she started law school after graduating from Harvard.
“I had never really decided to retire. It was always in the back of my mind that I would like to row in 2012,” she said. “From then, it just kind of became whether I thought I still could do it. For one thing, getting a little bit older, everything is getting a little harder. And two, whether I thought that it would harm my career.
“I came to the point where I realized I have the rest of my life to have a career. And pretty much all the attorneys I talked to said, ‘Don’t worry, you have time. We’ll still be here.’ But I had to do a little soul-searching to make sure I could make it happen.”
The Olympic decision day was June 22.
Six members from the crew that won gold in Beijing will return, including Davies. One of the Olympic newcomers is Esther Lofgren of Newport Beach, who was the last cut from the eight in 2008 and survived injury-riddled campaigns the last two years.
Davies, who turned 30 in April, had been feeling fairly positive about her chances, but she did not stray far from her superstitious ways, opting not to make plans for London until she was selected.
This carried over to e-commerce.
“For example, I had a ‘Traveller’s History of London’ book in my Amazon cart for a month but refused to order it until after the naming date,” she said.
The U.S. women’s eight, the six-time defending world champion, won the World Rowing Cup last month in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Still for Davies, it goes beyond pursuit of another gold.
Her former coach and mentor Whitney Post, who remains a close friend, calls Davies “a purist.” They were training partners when Davies went to high school in Ithaca, N.Y., and Davies calls her the most influential person in her sporting career.
“I think rowing is in her soul,” Post said. “We’re in an age where you go to college, you come out and you do your rowing thing for a couple of years and you move on. Stuff that society says you should do.
“She really loves the sport, working hard at her life to come back to this Olympics and to row again where most people would not. It’s really good for the sport.”
Post, an alternate for the Sydney Olympics, is the president and co-founder of Eating for Life Alliance, an organization providing educational resources to colleges on the treatment and prevention of eating disorders. She was once helpful in reshaping training for Davies, showing that more was not always better.
Long before rowing became her life, Davies, who is 6 feet 4, had to convince strangers and other well-meaning individuals that basketball was not destined to be her sport of choice.
Rowing, not rebounding.
Her introduction to rowing was something of a fluke. The 12-year-old Davies was with her dad at a grocery store when a large man approached and pointed at her, saying: “I want you!”
It was for rowing.
“I was terrified,” she said. “The guy was very large and kind of gruff and just sort of weathered-looking.”
That was the beginning of the long-term relationship with rowing.
Perhaps it is fitting that London will be one of the final chapters because Peter Davies, her father and a professor of plant biology at Cornell, was born in England.
Rowing will be a high-profile event at the Olympics and the venue is Eton Dorney, which is near Windsor Castle. Heats for the women’s eight will be held July 29.
Davies has British citizenship but said she never considered making a move.
“They pay their athletes a significant amount more than we get paid,” she said. “So I often get asked why I don’t row for Great Britain.”
“And my answer was, ‘Well, they didn’t win. Not my event and we did. So I’m glad I rowed for the United States even though I am significantly poorer than I would be otherwise.’ ”