Kirsten McCann is known for her rowing. In 2016, her performance in the Rio Olympics rowing final with partner Ursula Grobler, put her on the map of South African athletes to watch.
After placing third in their semi-final (3 seconds ahead of the first place time in the second semi-final) their 5th place finish in the final was shocking and heart crushing. In the months that have followed Kirsten McCann has brushed it off and picked herself up and it is clear that her story has only just begun.
“Last year when we raced in the Olympics, there was no doubt that I felt we under performed in our final. It was heart-breaking. It’s the first time in my life that I felt my heart had shattered into a million pieces. It was the worst day of my life and still stands that way. I was devastated. We had trained so hard, and so well for years and months leading up to our final. I felt I was in the best physical condition at that time.”
Kirsten used her off season time from August to December to debrief and recover from the race and the season. She spent her time feeding her body and soul with things she loves and didn’t get the chance to do while training. The time off proved invaluable which she showcased when she took first place in Rock the Boat in February.
“The time I spend clearing my head and healing my soul was why I am able to be on top form now. I kept fit and by the time I came back to full training in January, I was in a very good space mentally and physically. I surprised myself physically, but I do believe it is because I made one session a day count. By allowing myself to focus and work hard once a day for 80-90 minutes helped me, because I also rested when I needed to. When I returned in January, I set myself small goals to get through training. One was to be the best at Rock the boat Regatta. I love to win and be the best, so that’s what I had my heart set on for that particular Regatta.”
As Kirsten McCann continues to strengthen her game and set her sights on the 2020 Olympics and all the milestones that come before it, eyes are certainly on Kirsten now. But, she has been someone to watch since she started rowing at u14 level.
As a young girl growing up in a very active household, sports and active living was ingrained in her DNA. Her father, a great sportsman, participated in Athletics, Hockey and Rugby growing up, and pursued road running (to the tune of 11 Comrades Marathons) and hockey well into his fifty’s. Her mom, also a lover of sports, played hockey well into her thirties and brought a keenness for swimming into the mix.
It’s no surprise that her three older brothers, who combined, have done hockey, water polo, swimming, road running, athletics, rugby, lifesaving and athletics had a profound impact on her desire to try out all sports.
“My brothers would let me join in on the games of sport that we would play in the garden, or in the park, and at the same time they doted on me. I believe I got the right balance of being one of the siblings but my mum always says they treated me as their precious little sister which was very special.”
Kirsten started her love affair with sport at age of two when she learned how to swim. At three she started ballet, which she continued until 13, but at the same time, not to be outdone by her multi-talented family, she tried her hand at open water swimming, netball and athletics too.
Her exposure to rowing came very young.
“I remember going to regattas to watch my brothers row when I was little (in summer) and going to watch them play rugby and do athletics on Saturdays in winter. I always supported them when I was not doing my own sport and in turn, they would watch me swim, play netball, do athletics and even come and watch my ballet shows/ competitions.”
She started rowing while she was still swimming and wasn’t sure which summer sport she would prefer. “I did really well in u14 and I realized how much I loved rowing and how good I could get.” At age 16 (Grade 11) she was selected for SA Junior World Championships and you could say the rest is history.
“There is no doubt that rowing was what I was best at. From the time I started, I was fast. I learnt that the harder I trained the faster I got, and the more I could beat people by. I have always trained hard but [it was] some poor local performances when I was a u23 that caused me to realize that I would need to up my game and train harder than ever to be a World Class rower.”
It’s so easy to assume Kirsten story is all about sports and the incredible athlete that she is, but that couldn’t be further away from the essence that makes Kirsten one that stands out from the crowd. Not only is she a beautiful woman on the outside, who embraces all things girly, but that combined with her easy-going nature and ability to connect and get along with many different people from all walks of life (without judgement) are the reasons she breaks the barriers on misconceptions the world has about woman in sports.
Sportswomen aren’t just only good at sports.
Kirsten trains on average 15 times a week and is clearly competitive, but at the same time she is an intellectual with a well-rounded life. She has a BSc in Biochemisty and Human Physiology (which she earned while training for the U23 world rowing championships!), a loving boyfriend, two precious retrievers, a love for baking and cooking (which she practices at least once a week). As well as an appreciation for what I believe are the things that make being a girl so much fun; make-up and dressing up.
“My mum taught me that you always should take care of yourself. She is definitely the root of my ‘girly-ness’. I am such a girly girl that even some of the rowers used to mock me when I first joined the squad. I wear makeup and insist on looking good all the time.”
Kirsten labelling herself as a girly girl in a time where using the phrase girl can be conceived of as labelling or non-inclusive, is honestly quite refreshing. Kirsten is unabashedly unashamed to be who she is, say who she is and show who she is without any fear of judgement.
She spends her time off during training camp letting her girl flag fly by putting on face masks, painting her nails, doing her hair and putting on makeup. “I find it is so good for my soul.”
“I believe that showing girls that sportswomen can be pretty, feminine and slightly glamorous, as well as fast and world class, can change the outlook on females in sport as well as attract more females to sport.”
Follow Kirsten as she continues to show that sportswomen are more than the sports they play.