At 6 feet tall with legs that could make a supermodel jealous, McKayla Taaffe is easy to spot anywhere. Her black spandex shorts and sleeveless jersey are a dead giveaway that she came directly from a workout, but still she pulls off the appearance of a beauty queen with brunette locks spilling over her shoulders and sunkissed skin.
Since the fifth grade, Taaffe, now a junior at Pine View School, has watched her brothers win numerous medals as they competed in more than 40 world, national, regional and state competitions and championships. This summer, it was finally her time to shine as she claimed a gold medal of her own at the 2010 USRowing Club National Championship, in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
“The regatta was awesome!” Taaffe said. “Racing for the United States is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It was the best feeling when we were waiting at the starting line and they announced us as a junior national team.”
It was her hardest yet most gratifying race by far. Taaffe’s boat won by only .414 of a second.
“We knew it was going to be really hard if we wanted to win,” Taaffe said. “Right from the start, we knew we had to kill it. We were down the first quarter of the race, and halfway though, they (team Essex) were a full boat-length ahead of us. The last 500 meters, something just clicked, and we had a crazy sprint at the end and ended up winning.”
To prep for the championship, she endured grueling six to 8-hour workouts for five weeks at development camp in Milford, Conn. Along with about 20 other girls, Taaffe woke up at 6:30 a.m. every morning, walked a mile down to the boathouse and rowed for hours, often adding in core workouts, pushups, weightlifting and other exercises.
“I really want to go to the Olympics when I’m older,” Taaffe said. “Each regatta is additional training. The feeling of accomplishment you get when you finish the race — it’s nice to have all your time and energy pay off into something.
REACH TO ROW
McKayla Taaffe and Sarah Benderson are spearheading an after-school rowing program called “Reach to Row,” which they hope will enable other students to have a similar experience to theirs. Taaffe has produced a video for the program, and Benderson has designed a PowerPoint presentation. The girls hope to partner with the Boys and Girls Club and transport students to Benderson Park, where they will learn the basic parts of the sport.
“Rowing has opened up so many doors for both of us,” Taaffe said. “It’s a way to learn respect and teamwork and it helps with all sorts of mental capacity. It changes your life.”