Kristin Haraldsdottir


Season 01 : Episode 06

Kristin Haraldsdottir is a former NCAA National Champion in rowing, Division I Coach, PhD in Exercise Physiology and co-host of the humbled Podcast. Kristin’s story of becoming great at something, looking to share that joy with someone else and searching for another challenging outlet is a common evolution of the retired athlete. Kristin speaks eloquently to her experience stepping away from her sport from the athlete, coach and research perspective: the battle of trying to find the same challenge and camaraderie she had as an athlete, her research to find better solutions for athlete recovery and wellness, and her hopes for the listeners and athletes on the humbled podcast.

You can find Kristin on Instagram @kharaldsdottir.

Quick Links

Princeton Rowing

University of Wisconsin, Madison Kinesiology Dept.

Humbled Podcast

Show Notes

[3:06] Kristin’s Icelandic background as a barrier to continuing her sport of rowing after college at Princeton.

[3:46] Beating a few Olympians (nbd:) in the USRowing Fall Speed Orders in the Women’s Single event.

[5:00] Kristin’s experience rowing since retiring. Racing at the Head of the Charles Regatta and the alumni politics...

[5:51] Kristin’s coaching experience at Princeton and vantage from being close to many of the girls on the USRowing National and Olympic Team.

[6:32] Story of watching a close friend go through the brutal process of Olympic selection and not making it. The beginning of the end of feeling good about the sport.

[8:11] Why Kristin didn’t want to row beyond college (even though she could) and creating an Icelandic rowing team from the ground up. Trusting her instincts and feelings about being ‘burnt-out’, and not wanting to continue training.

[9:52] Seeing a lot of glory early on in her rowing career in 2006, winning the NCAA National Championships. Kristin’s coach pulling her aside after winning and telling her it will be harder now. And she was right.

[10:33] Getting caught up in failure her Junior and Senior year in college. Not understanding or processing her feelings of failure and taking it personally as a younger athlete. Understanding now her unconscious decision why she didn’t have the urge to continue training for her sport - why would you pursue something that is not bringing you joy.

[11:11] How Kristin got into rowing: Family moved to Rochester, Minnesota, went to boarding school in Iceland for two years, got homesick and moved back. A neighbor was over for dinner and suggested she start rowing (/drive her daughter to 5am practice).

[13:41] Kristin met her now husband/life partner the first day of rowing. She could not resist the man rowing in cut off jean shorts, Teva’s and a tie dye t-shirt.

[14:10] Getting on the erg (rowing machine) and immediately knowing how to do it.

[14:30] Erin’s theory on Icelandic peoples having freakish genes.

[15:16] Kristin stuck with rowing and went to Princeton to row, despite her grand plans of living on a sailboat.

[16:09] Kristin’s high school coach connected her with the Asst. Coach from Princeton, Wendy Lavash. She only applied to Princeton, did not have a back-up plan, kind of hoping it wouldn’t work out. But it did.

[17:33] Rowing becoming Kristin’s ‘everything’ her junior and senior year in high school. It was her network and her obsession to do well. She knew what score/time she needed to get to be recruited and she did the work to get it.

[18:45] Kristin’s sister Karolina’s misdiagnosed illness, stoking the desire to become a researcher and pursuing a Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology while coaching at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

[20:24] Erin’s observation that Kristin doesn’t transition gradually or struggle with decisions. She takes the initiative and goes after her new direction.

[20:50] Kristin not seeing a point in looking back at decisions - very counterproductive to consider the ‘what if’s’. Make a decision and move fast towards it.

[21:35] Erin’s realization that maybe she struggled more with transitions because she mulls over the decision and doesn’t trust her gut/instinct as much.

[22:10] Even though Kristin didn’t struggle with the decision to stop sport, it was still a hard time. Being so relieved the day she turned 30 because her 20’s nearly broke her many times.

[23:41] Kristin’s original plans to work with an Icelandic pharmaceutical after graduating from college, not going according to plan and how she made the best of her situation.  

[25:20] Lori Daughny, Head Women’s Rowing Coach at Princeton University, suggested Kristin apply for the 2nd Asst. Coach job at Princeton. She got the job and moved back to Princeton. Kristin felt like it was not a step of progress for her. All of her unresolved issues were exacerbated by her surroundings back in Princeton.

[26:16] Having friends on the USRowing National Team, and getting involved in their emotional rollercoaster.

[26:39] Coaching (or being a friend to an elite athlete) as one of the hardest professions - the ability to see and have perspective, but you can’t physically do anything about it beyond words.

[27:25] Kristin left Princeton to coach at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Knew she needed a different environment and also she liked coaching.

[28:10] As a coach, Kristin felt she was doing the athlete’s a disservice because she was just coaching the way she was coached. Feeling she didn’t have the tools (beyond empathy and intuition) to deal with major issues that came up as a coach: athletes being suicidal, eating disorders, injuries. She could tell them to go harder and longer but didn’t know when, why, what’s too she went to go get a degree in Exercise Physiology. A 2-year Master’s in Science turned into a 4-year PhD.

[30:00] Conversation about PhD’s and Olympic Medals - Would you want to do something hard if you knew exactly how hard it is going to be? The need to break down hard goals.

[30:34] The connection to athlete transition - are we looking at the big picture too much? How do we break down this daunting goal to be more feasible?

[31:58] Kristin questioning if she stopped identifying as an athlete after she stopped rowing in college. She wasn’t sure what she was. But missed being known for something, being good at something and being recognized for that.

[32:30] Kristin feeling like she needed to do something notable again (so she went and got a PhD)

[33:18] Kristin now runs in the other direction if she feels she is going to be evaluated for her athletic performance (despite running 5 marathons).

[33:48] Seeking challenge but not wanting to be evaluated by it...unless knowing the evaluation will turn out well.

[34:15] When Kristin is her own competition, she has no problem entering challenges. If she has to compete against someone else, the stakes are now too high emotionally.

[34:30] What would give Kristin peace to not feel like she is ‘in transition’ anymore: Having conversations about the difficulty has already given her some peace and incentive to stop chasing after notability.

[35:30] It’s an adjustment for everyone, to ask them to wake up (referring to her and her family in accepting change). Knowing others are out there feeling the same way, wakes you up a bit. It made Kristin wonder how long she had been holding myself back because she was holding onto the past.

[36:40] Since stopping a job and a living a lifestyle Kristin didn’t enjoy, she took some responsibility for her emotions and stopped being a passive participant in her life and chasing some sort of glory, amazing things have happened. It’s not a coincidence.

[37:49] We’re so much smarter than we think we are...once your brain realizes that you could set yourself free, it’s pretty cool.