For Alie Rusher ’18, Olympic competition runs in her blood. Both of her parents rowed in the Olympics, with her father taking home bronze medals in 1988 and 1992, and her mother taking silver in 1992. Rusher will continue her parents’ legacy when she represents the United States as a member of the national women’s rowing team during this year’s Olympic Games, which began Friday.
Competing in the Olympics is a dream come true for Rusher. But she is heading to an Olympics that will by no means be a normal one. Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s Prime Minister, recently declared a state of emergency due to rising cases of COVID-19, and some athletes who have already arrived in Japan have tested positive for the virus. 106 cases have now been connected to the games, and public discord has grown — some have taken to the streets protesting the event as vaccination rates lag in the island nation.
For the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, no spectators will watch the competition from the stands — a change that hits home for Rusher. A major component of her Olympic dream has always been the image of her parents cheering her on from the stands as she continues their legacy.
“The Olympics bring people together, and it’s so much more than just the athletes in the race,” Rusher said. “The spectators and the supporters are just as big a part of it. In that sense it’s kind of a bummer.”
Rusher’s parents aren’t the only rowers in her family who won’t have the opportunity to watch the Games in person. Her siblings also competed at the collegiate level: she rowed with her sister, Kay, who graduated from Stanford in 2016, and her brother, Nicholas, is a member of the Yale rowing team.
Kay described Rusher’s Olympic qualification as her “proudest moment as a sister,” adding that going to the Olympics has “been a lifelong dream for Alie, and while I couldn’t have been prouder when she actually made the team, I’m equally as proud at her grit throughout the past three years of post-college training.”
“It hasn’t always been smooth-sailing, and Alie handled any setback with grace and determination,” she added.
Despite not having her family there to cheer her on, Rusher is eagerly awaiting the competition — something her time on the Stanford rowing team has prepared her for, both mentally and physically. She explained that Stanford’s training plan was based on the national team’s plan, so she was accustomed to the rigorous workouts when she began Olympic training. She has participated in a variety of training programs across the country, and most recently in preparation for the Olympics, she practiced with a group in Boston. Still, Rusher said the selection period for the Olympics was no easy task — the trials consisted of five weeks of daily racing.
“It really gets to you, because it’s just exhausting to be on that stress. But then, now that we’re through it, I’m like, I could handle that,” Rusher said.
Her biggest obstacle, she said, was getting in her head when moments got tough. When she was training in Boston and lost races, Rusher said she would doubt herself.
“I had this moment where I was like, ‘Do I deserve to be here? Am I going to be good enough?’” she said. But eventually, she said, “I was able to recognize that I really still wanted it, even if I had a huge way to go.”
Visualization, journaling and caring for her body have helped Rusher mentally.
“By the time I get to the race, I’ve worked through all the things I’m worried about — when it comes to the crunch time, I can just fall back on my training and the fact that I really like what I’m doing,” she explained.
Additionally, Rusher said that the combination of hard classes and workouts at Stanford helped her learn how to balance her schedule.
Leigh Warner ’18, a former teammate, praised Rusher’s work ethic, kindness and passion for rowing. “She would show up every day at practice with focus and a clear mind,” Warner said. “Her constant commitment to excellence pushed everyone around her to also bring their best.”
“Outside of rowing, Alie was able to balance her athletic and academic pursuits flawlessly — she was a true model of what it means to be a student-athlete at Stanford,” she added.
Anja Zehfuss ’20, another former teammate, said that she is “so absolutely over the moon” for Rusher, adding that she was always a reliable mentor, friend and advice-giver.
Above all, Rusher said she is honored to have the opportunity to represent both Stanford and the United States at the Olympics.
“There’s a lot of things going on in the U.S. that are not good or that I don’t generally agree with, but there’s also a lot of really amazing people that I’m really proud to represent, and I’m just really proud to represent a country that has given me so many opportunities,” she said.