Pursuit of a Dream

Duncan MacLean • Dec 24, 2018 at 12:30 AM

For most high school students, the decision on college destination is a taxing process. For Division I bound athletes, it typically comes with a host of challenges.

For Grand Haven's Olivia McMullen, however, claiming her spot on the University of Michigan rowing team was nothing less than a joy.

McMullen served the Bucs' volleyball and basketball teams faithfully as a key role player, defending the net and paint with her six-foot frame. While her work ethic and dedication to her teams are well documented by her high school coaches, her achievement didn't satisfy her dream of competing for the Wolverines.

"I've always wanted to go to U-M, it has always been a dream of mine and another dream has been to participate in college athletics," McMullen said at her signing ceremony on Dec. 14. "I realized it was probably unrealistic to play basketball or volleyball at Michigan. You have to be a complete star, which I'm not, and I know that, but I still wanted to end up at Michigan."

The application process to U-M was typical for McMullen, fulfilling one half of her college dream. Top-notch performances in the classroom buoyed a strong resume, earning her an acceptance letter. Withstanding volleyball offers elsewhere, sacrificing her athletic career to go to Michigan was a tough sell, but necessary to end up at her dream school. Once settled on heading to Ann Arbor, the question of athletics was still left on the table.

With a little research, McMullen discovered an opportunity.

"I heard that rowing teams recruit out of sport athletes and that they like to recruit tall, athletic volleyball and basketball players and I thought, ‘Hey, I fit the mold'", she said. "I contacted the coach and just said that I was very interested, thinking the worst that could happen was a no."

After sparking her own recruiting process, it played out like most others. An assistant coach visited a volleyball tournament, McMullen paid an unofficial visit to campus and an official visit with the team, which unsurprisingly went well.

"I met the team, it's a pretty big group," she said. "I hung out with the girls, they were so nice. We jumped right in, and they were giving me tips on what to major in and talking about stuff on campus and it just fit really well.

"The second I stepped on campus, it just felt right."

Once the courting process was over, McMullen waited for a call, which finally came by surprise in November of her senior year.

"I got a call from the coach, I had no idea what it was going to be about. He said he just wanted to touch base and catch up," she described. "He said, ‘If you are sure about Michigan, we've got a form we would like you to sign.' It was a no-brainer I was just like ‘Yes!'"

With a spot on the team claimed, the next question was training. Having no rowing experience, McMullen's first thought was to get in a boat and get to it.

The Michigan staff had other ideas.

"I really have no rowing background, I know a couple boat words, that's about it," McMullen said. "I don't know much, but I am willing to learn. My coaches have told me I'm very coachable, so that will help, I'm sure. I asked them if I should join a rowing team and they said no. They don't want me to pick up any bad habits. They just said to be in the best shape you can when you get to campus."

Staying in shape is no problem for McMullen, who treats exercise like a crazed hobby.

"I plan on being in the best shape of my life," she said. "I plan on doing two or three triathlons a month, get a YMCA membership and really hit it. I'm already taking a zero-hour lifting class and another lifting class during the day, so that's a good start. I just work hard. Michigan's coach told me that 80 percent of rowing is just fitness, so I feel like I will fit right in."

For now, McMullen will continue to support a star-studded Bucs basketball team, as they vie for a conference title. Triathlons and further training will follow in the spring and summer. Come fall 2019, her dream of donning Maize and Blue in Big Ten competition will be realized.

"I'm so beyond grateful to have this opportunity," McMullen said. "I've seen all these girls from my teams sign to go places and have been so happy for them but always thought, ‘Ah, will that be me?' Now, I'm going to Michigan and it's really just unbelievable."

Outside of practice, McMullen plans to study kinesiology. Assuming acceptance, she will take on a major of movement science in order to pursue a career as an OB-GYN.

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