Sydney Michalak ’18 describes getting there as “absolutely unreal”

Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Sydney Michalak '18 and her rowing partner Ashley Johnson competing in Poland.

Sydney Michalak '18 and her rowing partner Ashley Johnson competing in Poland. (Photo: USRowing) Michalak has a strong track record of success on the water. As a member of the UNH women’s crew team, she was part of the varsity 4+ boat that earned gold at the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta in October 2017.

After a qualifying race in New Jersey, mechanical engineering graduate Sydney Michalak ‘18 and her rowing partner Ashley Johnson competed with Team USA in the 2018 World Rowing Under 23 Championships held July 25 – 29 in Poznan, Poland. UNH Today talked with Michalak about her experience shortly after her return to the U.S.

UNH Today: What was it like winning at New Jersey and realizing you would be going to the world championship? 

Sydney Michalak: Winning in New Jersey was an absolutely unreal moment for me. In the back of my head, I knew that if we had the race of our lives, winning and qualifying for Team USA was a possibility, but I almost didn’t want to jinx it or get my hopes up by thinking about it too much.

However, the moment our bow ball crossed the finish line first, and my dream actually became a reality, I felt like I was momentarily suspended in a fairy tale. I would describe it as pure elation. In an instant, everything seemed possible. All of my childhood dreams of competing for Team USA had just become real, and knowing my hard work had paid off was rewarding to say the least.

UNH Today: Tell me about your experience in Poland.

"It opened my eyes to the next level of speed within the rowing world and has inspired me in so many ways to get even faster, fitter and stronger."

Michalak: Poland was crazy. In a way, it was just another body of water, another race, another day, but really it was so much more. I wasn’t just competing for my school or club but the entire United States of America. That made it seem a little bit intimidating. And it was awesome being called “U-S-A” when they announced the names of all the crews in the race right before it started.

And although we didn’t have the greatest outcome result-wise, getting the opportunity to be there in the first place was an invaluable experience and offered many learning lessons. It opened my eyes to the next level of speed within the rowing world and has inspired me in so many ways to get even faster, fitter and stronger.

UNH Today: There wasn’t much time between qualifying and attending the world championships. Did you feel prepared?

Michalak: Yes, at least as prepared as I could have been at this point in my life. The reality is that even though there were only two weeks between qualifying and competing, this is something I spent years training for. Mentally it was slightly overwhelming, but there is no way to prepare yourself for the nerves other than just going and competing.

UNH Today: Did your rowing career at UNH help get you where you are?

Michalak: Absolutely. UNH rowing not only taught me how to row, but they instilled in me all of the characteristic traits, such as hard work, perseverance, self-sufficiency and passion, that have led me to where I am today. Thank you to everyone involved in the program (athletes, coaches, parents and alumni alike) who shaped me into who I am today. Although UNH rowing is a club program, and you don’t necessarily receive the same support as a Division I program, it teaches you how to accomplish things without the extra support and come together as a group of individuals to accomplish something greater.

UNH Today: What advice would you give a UNH freshman?

Michalak: Definitely put yourself out there, get involved, and if possible, find a group of individuals passionate about the same things you are. Even if it is not rowing, the people in these communities or clubs or sports become your family. They become the people you can trust to help you through any rough patch and celebrate with you through every accomplishment.

UNH Today: You graduated in May. What will you miss most about UNH?

Michalak: Definitely the people and the connections I have made. The people I met gave every day meaning and purpose. For example, you didn’t always show up to practice or class for self-improvement reasons, rather, to see what you could create and accomplish together as a team. 

UNH Today: What's next?

Michalak: This upcoming year I will be attending Syracuse University for graduate school. I will be getting my master’s in mechanical/aerospace engineering, and of course, competing for "the Orange" as part of the Syracuse rowing program.