Marnie McBean, O.C., BA’97, LLD’03, knows what it takes to turn potential into performance. Since rowing her way to three Olympic gold medals, she continues to shine as a respected mentor, author and sought-after speaker. And her path to the podium began at Western.
For a good part of her life, Marnie McBean has been a competitor.
In fact, the three-time Olympic gold medalist captured her first award when she was eight years old. She won a chess trophy.
At high school, she played for almost every sports team – basketball, volleyball, cross-country, soccer and track and field. “While I could make all the school teams, I wasn’t great at any of them,” said McBean, BA’97, LLD’03.
But thanks to a 1980s movie and a chocolate bar TV ad, she discovered a sport unknown to her. “I saw [people] rowing in the movie, Oxford Blues, and in a TV commercial for Coffee Crisp, I found myself asking a lot of questions about [the sport],” she said.
Not knowing what to do to start rowing, she looked up the number of the local rowing club in the phone book. McBean joined the Argonaut Rowing Club in 1986, and quickly learned the technique of competitive rowing.
By 1991, McBean and her rowing partner Kathleen Heddle were headed to a World Cup in Switzerland. “We had our first big win there,” said McBean. “We knew we could win and I was scared.
“I told [her] how I felt and she said ‘me too.’ From that moment on I knew we’d be fine. We won the next day, and on many other occasions after that.”
That win set in motion McBean’s extraordinary athletic career. While completing a degree in kinesiology at Western, she won four Olympic medals at two Games (three gold, one bronze). She also captured three World Cup, eight U.S. and two Canadian titles. McBean and Heddle share the honour of being Canada’s only athletes to win triple Olympic gold at the Summer Games.
After her competitive rowing career, McBean joined the Canadian Olympic Committee, to mentor and prepare Canada’s athletes to be emotionally and psychologically ready to compete. She has worked closely with the last five Olympic teams, including London 2012 and Sochi 2014, helping to turn their potential into the highest performance possible.
A member of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, McBean has received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and has been appointed as an Officer to the Order of Canada. She has written her first book, The Power of More: How Small Steps Can Help You Achieve Big Goals.
After much success on the water, she has hung up her oars and retired from competitive rowing—but there’s one thing she won’t miss. “I’m not so good at waking up in the morning anymore,” she admits, recalling the dreaded 4:30 a.m. wake-ups to train for Western’s rowing team.
As a Western student, McBean pulled double duty – studying kinesiology and training for rowing competitions. How did she fit it all in?
“When I got back to residence [after a morning training], I always got the muffins when they were warm,” she said. “And my classmates were all great and pretty forgiving for lending me notes as I usually fell asleep for my afternoon classes.”
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