Maggie Hogan is all about keeping things moving. A Wreck Repair VEOS Coordinator for GE Transportation, she plays a vital role in getting locomotives around the world back on track.
And for the past 11 years, she has also been a world-class competitor in the sport of canoe sprint. At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, she is a first-time Olympian at the age of 37, and the sole competitor from Team USA to qualify for canoe sprint.
“The sport found me,” she says. “I was a swimmer in college and worked as an ocean lifeguard during my summers. I started competing in a sport called Surf Lifesaving – an ocean racing event that included an ocean racing kayak. I was horrible at it!”
She started doing canoe sprint races in those even-harder-to-balance Olympic boats to help her hone her skills in the open water and was soon training at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego. “I was hooked,” she says.
The K2 two-person canoe sprint was her specialty for several years, and Hogan and her partner won numerous national championships and world cup medals, though they never quite made the Olympic Games as competitors.
Two years ago, Hogan was working on her MBA, feeling that their performance as a K2 team had peaked and was on the verge of retiring. Then, deciding that she “didn’t want to leave the sport on a bad note”, she instead made a move that is also favored by GE: the disruptive pivot.
Hogan took on a new coach, 2013 surfski world champion Michele Eray, and switched to K1: solo canoe sprint racing.
The pivot paid off. Maggs, as she’s known, took bronze at the 2015 Canoe Sprint World Championships, the first US citizen to medal since the mid-1990s. She took silver at the World Cup championship, and qualified to represent Team USA at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where she will compete in the K1 women’s 500m canoe sprint on August 17.
Throughout her elite sporting career, and unlike some of her compatriots in swimming and athletics, Hogan has needed to work. “Canoe Sprint is a fringe sport with very little available funding, so most athletes in our sport have jobs,” she explains. “I used to work in cancer research, but that became very difficult as I began to travel more. We travel around the country to train … and most of our races are in Europe. My job with GE Transportation is remote, which is a lifesaver. I have brought it to all corners of the world. It will come with me to Rio too!”
She elaborates on the lengths she’s gone to in order to support both herself and her sporting ambitions: “At one point … I was trying to set myself up as a substitute teacher in three different states, so I could earn no matter where I was training (this didn’t solve the problem of earning while I was overseas, but it was a start!). My first day as a substitute, I had 20 kindergarten and first graders for eight hours. I have so much respect for teachers! Also, it turns out that having 20 4- and 6-year-olds for eight hours is not the best thing for training. We train 25-30 hours a week, so being on my feet for a job is not ideal. Working remotely from a laptop has been the best thing.”
Now in her fourth year with GE Transportation, Hogan says her peers and her boss have had her back all the way to Rio. “I’d give my team 11 out of 10,” she says. “I have the most amazing team and my manager, Rick, is the best I’ve ever worked for. He is very understanding of my schedule!”
The striving spirit of GE sits well with Hogan’s own competitive nature, and has encouraged her to pursue those strategic pivots, at work and on the water. “Because GE is a Worldwide Partner of the Olympic Games, they understand and respect how profound the Olympic Games are for the entire world,” says Hogan. “It is fantastic to work for a company that is willing to support athletes during their time of greatest need when trying to qualify for a Games.”
Hogan’s early years of ocean racing and racing in surfski events with her surfski champ coach have all made for great preparation for Rio’s reportedly bumpy course, as have the years she’s spent honing her skills. “Canoe sprint is a very technical sport, and it takes eight to 10 years to master the technique, strength, endurance and power required.”
Hogan’s evolution as a competitive athlete demonstrates the importance of changing direction and focus to suit both the conditions of the time and the demands of the task at hand. Early in her career, it was easy to make big strides in performance as she mastered the tricky, unstable kayaks used in canoe sprint.
In recent years, the focus has been on extremely technical improvements that produce differences of a mere centimeter or two per stroke. Those small advantages over the course of a race can mean the difference between medalling and finishing at the back of the pack.
After 21 world cup appearances, representing the United States in five different paddling sports, Hogan is ready to make her mark at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. “I don’t think I’m going to go for another Olympic Games,” she says. “My next goal is to be best in the world at something. That’s my next focus.”