Stroke, stroke: Micah rows the boat ashore

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Area residents have an extra reason for Olympic fever when the world’s premier athletic competition begins next month in Beijing.

His name is Micah Boyd.

Boyd, a 26-year-old native of St. Anthony Park, is a member of the U.S. men’s rowing team. Rowers compete by “sculling” with two oars or, as in Boyd’s event, by “sweeping” an oar on one side of the boat. Boyd’s race, known as “the Eight” after its eight-man crew (plus coxswain) is considered one of the team’s strongest prospects for a medal. Four years ago, the men’s Eight brought home the gold medal from the 2004 Athens Games.

Boyd isn’t making any predictions, but he says he’ll be “disappointed but not devastated” if the team fails to win a medal. “The Canadians, the British and the Chinese are fast,” he says, “but we have a decent chance.”

At 6’ 3” and 215 lbs., Boyd says he is “one of the shorter guys on the team” in a sport that favors the tall, the lanky and the incredibly well-conditioned. To hear Boyd tell it, a ticket to the Olympics was never for him the kind of personal dream that elite athletes are supposed to nurture from childhood on.

“I happened to find a sport that’s pretty low-key,” he says. “I worked hard at it but I never thought of the Olympics.”

After attending St. Anthony Park Elementary School, he took up rowing in his sophomore year at St. Paul’s Central High, joining the Minnesota Boat Club at the urging of his identical twin, Anders.

“In high school,” says Boyd somewhat unconvincingly, “Anders and I were the fat kids. Before rowing, we weren’t living healthy lives.”

The Boyd twins rowed throughout high school and college at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the only school in the Big Ten with a varsity rowing program. Boyd credits his brother’s influence.

“It helped to have a brother in the sport,” he says. “Both strive to make sure that neither quits. It’s a motivational thing.” Still, after graduation, Anders retired from the sport in order to pursue a doctorate in epidemiology.

Micah, on the other hand, describes himself as being somewhat at loose ends after college. “I wasn’t really doing anything,” he says. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do.” When the opportunity to continue rowing at the national level arose, he says, “I just kept going.”

Not that rowing is a sport for the uncommitted. For the last year, Boyd has been training full-time to earn a spot on the Olympic team. Team practices are grueling, lasting two or three hours at a time, and there are two or three practices a day.

“Rowing is not a fun sport,” he says. “But when you’re done, it’s a satisfying sport. You know you have certain benchmarks you’ll make, and you look forward to the next time you’re not rowing.”

Boyd describes his best moments in rowing as “the races that are incredibly tense, but then you win.” One such memory dates from the 2002 Eastern Sprints — the collegiate rowing equivalent of a conference championship. Boyd’s Madison team won the men’s Eight for the first time in 50 years.

Boyd remains relatively unaffected by the challenges of Olympic competition. “It’s going to be hot in Beijing,” he says, and he’s heard about the infamous air quality of the industrialized city. Still, he says, “I’ll figure it out when I get there.”

One thing Boyd won’t lack is a personal rooting section. His parents, Paul Boyd and Laura Matthiesen, of St Anthony Park, along with his twin, Anders, and his aunt are all going to be in the stands when he competes. It’s a first trip to China for the entire Boyd/Matthiesen clan.

Exciting as the next month is going to be for Boyd, there will inevitably be life after the Olympics. He says he really doesn’t know what comes next. He plans to “hang out in St. Paul for two or three weeks and figure things out from there.” Meanwhile, he notes, “I’ve got a lot of weddings to go to.”