She went from Alaska to Manhattan to attend Columbia and became an Olympic rower in the process. And Stacey Borgman has her mother to thank for that.
Stacey Borgman came by rowing at her mother's suggestion. "Mom really didn't know anything about rowing," remembers Borgman, "but she thought it was the perfect sport for me." Her mom was right. "I fell in love with it from the beginning," she says.
Paradoxically, the fact that Columbia is not an Ivy rowing power worked in Borgman's favor. "It was less competitive, so I got more attention," Borgman says. Another plus was her teammate and roommate, Erin Breznikar. "She really challenged and pushed me. We pushed each other to do optional workouts. Erin really inspired me to work harder and go farther than I thought I could."
Rowing led to spending Friday evenings in the library, though. "We had practice on Saturday mornings so I spent Friday night in the library getting my homework done, and then after practice on Saturday I was free for the rest of the weekend," says Borgman. This regimen also "helped my grades improve throughout college."
After graduating from Barnard with a degree in Political Science and Italian Literature/Studies in 1998, Borgman decided to just see how good a rower she could become, noting "the difference between being good at college and as a an elite athlete didn't deter me." It was the non-athletic aspect of becoming an elite athlete that challenged Borgman. "It was a struggle to get a job, pay the rent," says Borgman, "rowers need to train two or three times a day."
Her solution? Work at the Home Depot, which has a program for elite athletes. "I worked in the garden section," she remembers, "they gave us the financial stability of a job, and the flexibility to train. With rowing we moved around a lot [to train], and I worked at stores in San Diego, Princeton, and Portland, [Oregon]."
And Borgman moved up the ranks of elite rowers. In 1999 she won her first national title, then followed that up with silver medals in the 2000 and 2001 FISA World Championships. In 2004 she and teammate Lisa Schlenker won the lightweight women's double sculls at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trial, making Borgman Columbia's first-ever women's Olympic rower. What was it like? "Really isolated," says Borgman. "We were over an hour away from the main stadium, and very focused on our event."
The competition was a frustrating near miss for a medal. In the lightweight double scull semi-finals she finished 0.73 seconds behind Germany, in fourth place, with the first three boats advancing to the finals. Those boats all medaled. "It was hard," says Borgman. It was the best race of my life, and there was nothing more we could have done."
While training for the Olympics Borgman began law school at Lewis and Clark University's Northwestern School of Law, graduating in 2005. She's now a Deputy District Attorney for Clackamas County, Oregon (where the city of Portland is located). "I prosecute criminal misdemeanors, DUIs. I love it. It satisfies the competitive part of my personality," says Borgman.
Is she going to try for the next Olympics? "No, but I go back and forth," says Borgman. "I want to explore the law."
— Stephen Eschenbach