Bellevue’s Olympic rower Cummins is as good as gold

Anna Cummins gold-medal road to Beijing had many turns and detours, but it all began here in Bellevue.

Anna Cummins' gold-medal road to Beijing had many turns and detours, but it all began here in Bellevue.

An accomplished three-sport athlete at Newport High School, Cummins (formerly Mickelson) left her mark on Knights athletics, earning 12 varsity letters before heading to the University of Washington. But it wasn’t in cross country, basketball or track where she would make her mark.

It was in rowing.

Recruited to UW crew because of her athleticism and height (she is 6-feet tall), Cummins quickly found she had lots of potential in the sport, as an 18-year-old freshman.

“We would row on rowing machines and do these tests, odometer tests,” Cummins, now 28, recalled last week. “My scores on that test were very competitive on the national level. That was my first indicator that I had the baseline talent...to maybe make an Olympic team.

“That’s what the last 10 years have been about.”

Early success

Rowing, Cummins says, is based largely on simple physics.

“Your body is a lever to row the boat forward,” she said. “Any sport background can prepare you to row both physically and mentally. You just have to learn to put the oar in the water.”

Cummins learned quickly.

In 1999, Cummins helped the Huskies win the national title in the varsity four at the NCAA Championships. The next year, UW finished second in the varsity eight at the event. In 2001 and 2002, Cummins led UW to national titles in the varsity eight. During the same time, she also won the eight at the USRowing National Championships.

The early success led to a spot on the U.S. national team, and as a result, a shot at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Practice went from being a seasonal effort, to twice-to-three times a day. The grind had begun.

“It becomes a four-year goal,” Cummins said. “It’s interesting, because as you prepare, most of the really hard work is a year or two ahead of time.”

While on the Olympic team, Cummins spent her time between training in Princeton, N.J., out of the Princeton University boat house and training during winter time in Chula Vista, Calif., at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. While the training was often tough, the thought of a medal was more than enough motivation.

“Rowing, like with anything, has it’s good and bad days,” Cummins said. “That long-term goal of winning a gold medal...well that helped me push through the hard times.”

And before Cummins even knew it, it was summer 2004.

The first Olympics

“The first Olympics are magical,” Cummins said.

While they were magical, unfortunately, they weren’t golden.

“We were definitely prepared,” Cummins said. “But something I took away is that race day itself was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my entire life. The jitter-ness usually moves away...but this time it didn’t.”

The U.S. was beaten by arch-rival Romania in the women’s eights medal race, but a silver medal wasn’t a disappointment to anyone on the U.S. team.

“That silver medal for me was huge,” Cummins said. “We crossed the line and we looked over and saw that we had gotten the silver. I felt really good about it, and very happy with it, not bitter at all about not getting a gold.”

But upon arriving home, a look at the silver medal gave Cummins one question.

“I was thinking, what if I trained for four more years?,” she said. “Could we beat Romania? It was then that I decided to keep going. Four more years of commitment.”

A second shot

After four more years of training, Cummins and the U.S. rowing team arrived in Beijing two weeks before the games began. Arriving not only with four years of hard work in her pocket, she also arrived with a ring on her finger, having married her husband, Bob, a former rower on the men’s national team, in December of 2007.

Despite arriving so early, the team did not attend the massive opening ceremonies that millions worldwide tuned in to. Instead, the team declined on attending since their first race was the afternoon following the ceremony.

Before Cummins even knew it, the medal race was upon her and her teammates in the women’s eights were ready to face Romania, the three-time defending Olympic champions, again.

“I remember at the start, we all look right and left and straight ahead, and take a deep breath,” Cummins said. “You could just feel the excitement on the line and that’s what we work for, that moment right there. I had no regrets. I was ready for it to be my last race and my best race.

“I knew it would be a good one.”

The U.S. team hit its stride in the first 25 strokes, Cummins recalls, and she felt at that moment that they would win.

“We raced the perfect race,” Cummins said. “As we came into the last 500 meters you could hear the crowd, feel the energy, feel the strength in our boat and the connection between all nine women.”

Anna Cummins had her gold medal and the U.S. women had won in the eights for the first time since 1984, and the first time ever for a race of 2,000 meters.

“It was definitely a ‘oh my god, thank you Jesus moment,” Cummins recalled. “There was a real sense of joy and satisfaction.”

After the gold

After winning gold in her final race ever, Cummins retired and returned to Princeton, N.J., where she and her husband packed up their belongings and moved back to Bellevue, where they plan to open up a chiropractic and wellness office next spring. Her husband, a doctor of chiropractic, will head up that aspect of the business, while Cummins herself will serve as the health and wellness coordinator.

Since returning home from the Olympics, things have been a media whirlwind, Cummins said. There was the many stops along the way home, countless interviews, and even an appearance on the Oprah show. All the while, she was with her teammates, who have become a second family to her.

“Rowing definitely becomes a family sport,” Cummins said. “I have eight sisters from Beijing and eight sisters from Athens. Winning an Olympic medal definitely holds you together for life.”

Cummins says she owes much of her success to her husband, who was on the cusp of participating in the 2000 Olympics before an illness that came with a collapsed lung ended his career.

“Whenever I had something I struggled with...he was there to support me throughout the entire journey,” Cummins said. “It was awesome to have him there to share it with me.”

In addition to coordinating the wellness portion of their office, Cummins also has begun a career as a public speaker. But no matter what she pursues, she says she’ll always have her Olympic memories.

“It was like a big world party, there is so much life in everybody,” she said. “Those are experiences that can last a lifetime.”

The Anna Cummins file

Born: March 21, 1980 in Bellevue, Wash.

High School: Newport High School

College: University of Washington

Quotable: Out of all the places I’ve been, I think I enjoyed Lucerne, Switzerland the most. It reminded me of the Northwest, with the mountains all over.

Quotable: “My last competitive race was the Olympic race. I’ve been getting back to the things I grew up doing, learning to swim again and running all the parks I used to.

Career Highlights

2008 Olympic gold medalist (women’s eight)

2007 World Champion (women’s eight)

2006 World Champion (women’s eight)

2006 FISA World Championships gold medalist (women’s eight)

2006 Lucerne World Cup gold medalist (women’s pair)

2004 Olympic silver medalist (women’s eight)

2002 World Champion (women’s eight)

2002 NCAA National Champion (varsity eight)

2002 USRowing National Champion (women’s eight)

2001 USRowing National Champion (women’s eight)

2001 NCAA National Champion (varsity eight)

2000 NCAA runner-up (varsity eight)

2000 Nation’s Cup gold medalist (women’s four)

1999 NCAA National Champion (varsity four)