CAMDEN, Maine — So draining was the seven-year rise from rowing novice to Olympic champion that Anna Goodale wasn’t certain she wanted to go through it again in the immediate aftermath of her gold-medal performance at the 2008 Summer Games last August.
But it was nothing a little hard-core rock climbing in a far away place couldn’t resolve.
Goodale, a 26-year-old Camden Hills of Rockport graduate, returned to her training base in Princeton, N.J., this week after a brief stop in the Midcoast region, where she visited family and friends and shared her story with several groups, particularly young students.
“To have people come up to you and say congratulations is such an honor,” said Goodale. “I remember growing up and seeing people who were in the Olympics as unbelievable, but now to have realized my own dream of being in the Olympics and winning the gold medal, it’s neat to be able to go out now and tell my story and tell young people that anything is possible.”
Her homecoming followed a six-month post-Olympic trek with her brother Abe through Southeast Asia, where the two visited Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand.
It was in Thailand where she discovered a vibrant rock-climbing community, and a new-found athletic passion of her own.
“I just fell in love with it,” she said. “And it was great to be around a different group of athletes.”
That trip marked Goodale’s first extended time away from rowing since being encouraged to take up the sport on her first day as a freshman at Syracuse University after a so-so athletic careen in basketball and soccer while at Camden Hills.
“It was the first time in seven years I didn’t feel guilty for not working out,” she said.
And while the journey provided a great respite from the rigors of world-class rowing, the separation from her primary sport proved to be something she didn’t want to make permanent.
“When I left Maine last fall I wasn’t 100 percent sure I wanted to keep rowing,” Goodale said. “But within a month of being away from rowing it became very clear to me that I wanted to continue my career.”
In one sense Goodale is now starting over, as she’ll seek to work herself back into rowing shape this spring in an effort to regain a spot on the U.S. women’s eight squad that will participate in World Cup events in Spain, Germany and Switzerland as well as the 2009 World Championships to be held Aug. 23-29 in Poznan, Po-land.
It’s likely Goodale will remain a fixture on the national team, as she has been since 2005. She and the majority of the gold-medal winning U.S. team, which also won the 2006 and 2007 world championships, are just entering their rowing prime, and the 2012 Summer Games in London are looming on the competitive horizon.
“That is the eventual goal,” she said. “I wouldn’t come back unless I had that goal in mind, but it’s not the foremost goal right now. It’s just about making the team.”