Raising an Olympian with Lisa Snyder


Set a goal. Develop a plan, be held accountable by someone you trust — someone with similar goals.

Get outside. Every interviewee so far uses the outdoors for both physical and mental health.

Choose your friends carefully! The people in your circle will shape your outlook, and you will shape theirs.

Lisa is the mother of an Olympian – Katelin Guregian  A multiple gold medal winner in the sport of Rowing.  She medaled in Rio and by the time you read this interview, her crew has already won their heat to auto-advance to the finals, being held Thursday, July 29th @ & 9:05 eastern.

But this interview is not about Katelin.  This conversation is with her 60-year-old dynamo of a mother – Lisa Snyder.  During my initial conversation with Lisa, my initial thought was how much our friends and family shape our attitudes / interest in fitness and sports.  I was curious what kind of role model Lisa provided to her daughter that made Katelin want to push her physical abilities all the way to the Olympic games.  Keep reading to learn how Lisa addresses this question.

Through our conversation, it became clear that Lisa is an athlete who is completely unwilling to accept any limitations as to what she believes she can achieve.  Even at the age of 60, if she becomes interested in a sport, she sees no reason why she cannot develop a training plan to achieve whatever physical traits are required to be competitive in her sport of choice.  She morphs and adapts as needed.  She has succeeded this way time and again, and she is not stopping anytime soon.  Similar to the other athletes interviewed at AgeIsNoBarrier – Lisa is extremely healthy, avoiding the chronic issues of the previous generation, but her exceptional health is simply a by-product of pursuing the sports she loves.

While neither parent was really involved with sports – the entire family seems to be imbued with a competitive gene and an adventurous spirt to discover “what’s next”.   Lisa and her brothers were always looking for that next challenge.  Growing up, they were never allowed to spend too much time indoors, forcing them to play outside, happily exhausted by sunset.

Lisa cannot pinpoint the exact moments when her love of sports and her competitive drive became hardwired, or the exact people who shaped those early experiences.  She has engaged in such a variety of sports and activities over the years, that her cast of supporting characters is too long to identify one or two.

Prior to these conversations, I did not know Lisa and we have never met in person.  Now, I feel like I have known her for years and want to learn the sport of rowing just so I can hear her yell at me from the shore.

50+ years in 50 seconds

Athlete:  Lisa Snyder
Home residence:  Metro Orlando
Age:  60
When you close your eyes, how old are you? 43-49   
Why that age?   That’s the time I really started training hard.  This is the age period where I felt I was at my peak.    
How fit / athletic prior to that age:   I always trained hard, probably hardest in college.  Maybe too hard!   (Too hard?  Hmmm.  More on “too hard” in the deeper dive section)
Basic Biometrics:  resting HR of 54 , 43 vo2 max (per my running app). 
Occupation when not participating in your sport:  small business owner with husband – masonry accessories for vertical unity masonry
Sports / activities where you want to be competitive:   currently: sculling (solo), rowing (group/team) are my priorities, supported by weight training and running.  I also had bouts with jui jitsu, cycling and a few marathons.

Lisa & son competing in local Mud Run

Sports / activities you do just to enjoy the moment:  None really.  It always starts our simply, but it always winds up becoming something else.   I’m very competitive against me.
Exactly how much do you love coffee?  Too much
Did you play sports when younger?  Absolutely:  field hockey, softball, skiing, track and field, soccer, basketball, football, and of course… neighborhood shenanigans.  Until college, almost all sports were team sports.  Loved being part of a team.
Shenanigans?  Growing up, you could either sit on the porch – or go do stuff.  So we were always outside, making up games.   Even playing 2-man tackle football.
“Have to” or “Want to”?   Want to cuz it’s fun – have to for mental health.
When training – lost in your thoughts?  Or letting music set the pace?   No music.  Lost in my thoughts.
Current injuries: arthritis in hands, hips, shoulders (but I guess that’s not really an injury, per se) probably a neck/back issue affecting arm and hand, probably a lower back issue affecting rowing, definitely a shoulder issue in the side never operated on.
Past injuries, fully recovered: ACL repair, SLAP repair (for a labral tear in the shoulder joint), and a  cervical disc replacement that has been amazingly effective
Past injuries that effect today: issues related to all of the above,  plus a few broken fingers, messed up wrist and a lot of horizontal-movement joint abuse in ankles and knees
You have played hard!  With this much wear & tear – how does your body feel first thing in the morning?   Depends on what I’ve done recently.  If I don’t go 100%, I feel pretty good in the morning.  Really never in much discomfort.
Age when you stopped recovering quickly from injuries:  hmmm….  last year?  59?  I’m not certain.  Recovery from surgeries is slower at this age, but I still recover pretty well from hard workouts.  Medications I currently use:  None
If you were ever unfit:  medications you were able to stop using once you started training:  Doesn’t really apply – but I did recently learn I have a heart condition (myocardial bridging, which would occasionally cause me to gasp for air.  When it happened, I just could not get a breath.   Discovered this when competing in the C.R.A.S.H-B World Indoor Rowing Championships.  (using Concept II rowers)  At this time, I do not need to take medication due to (or despite?) my activity and fitness level.  
Supplements I currently use:  Just last week, I started taking a B complex.  I occasionally take electrolytes if working out too many hours in the heat   
Dietary choices or restrictions:  I try to stay away from the obvious (sugar, bad fats, processed foods, white flour, etc.)
Average hours of sleep: 7
Do you track your quality of sleep? Yes   
How?   A Garmin watch.  I upgraded my first Garmin to one that had more cool stuff, including sleep data.  (Love the heart rate feature!)  And while I never hit the default 8 hours of sleep that the Garmin requires for their little checkmark of success, I do get to monitor my quality of sleep – and find it really fun to try to match up quality of sleep with what happened the day before, and how I feel the day after.  It’s pretty darned spot on!
Greatest source of pride as a 50+ athlete:  Coaching high school athletes and being able to literally practice what I preach.  I try to do everything I’m asking my high school athletes to do. 
Still practice this?   Absolutely.  I test out new drills on the water prior to asking them to implement them, and I do their land workouts on my own time so I am better acquainted with what we are asking them to do and can adjust my expectations accordingly.

Specific to the sport of rowing / sculling

For non-rowers (myself included) that don’t know the difference between Rowing and Sculling, here is a very short primer: 
There are two primary disciplines of rowing:
Sculls:  1 person, 2 blades.  (Lisa’s preference)
Sweep:  1 person holding one blade.
All events at the Olympic Games are 2,000 meters, or approximately 1.25 miles. 
Outside of the Olympics, master level sprint races are 1,000 meters.
The smallest boat, the single scull, is approximately 27 feet long and as narrow as 10 inches across. 
At 58 ft, the “eight” is the longest boat on the water.

Lisa is a member of the Orlando Rowing Club and Edgewater Masters.  ORC is a masters-only program of rowers and scullers whose interests range from healthy social activities to nationally competitive ones.  Edgewater masters are affiliated with the Edgewater High School program and focus on big-boat (rowing vs sculling) competition. If you join as a master, it’s implied that you want to learn and race.  

How did you get interested in rowing / sculling?  
I became interested in rowing when my daughter started.  After her first year on the high school team, I took a learn-to-row at Orlando Rowing Club – a masters-only rowing & sculling club.

That’s a pretty big parental commitment…?  
Well, I wanted to learn the sport, understand what my daughter was doing.   At first, I was just checking it out.  

Single area of focus you want to improve?   I’m coaching again, and my training is more intentional again.   So my new goal:  I want to achieve the euphoria of how I felt 15 years ago.  Plus…I get to eat whatever I want.

In whatever way you measure physical ability….have you peaked?  Can you still improve?     I may have peaked from where I was when younger, but I think I can still improve from where I am.   Yes, if I choose to train for another competition, I can still improve.

Favorite race distances? 
The longest event is a 5km row, but the master’s events are sprint distances of 1,000 meters.  I definitely prefer the sprints.

How do you fuel?   
Since the master’s events are only 1,000 meters, I don’t fuel during the race.  Just have to fuel properly a couple of hours before.

Average weekly hours of training?  
When training for a race – a couple of hours per day.  

Post-race recovery protocol?    
Nothing in particular.   Just get the fluid levels back up, spend time with the people you haven’t had a chance to talk to during the competition and then – just bask in the fun of the entire competition.

Who most inspires you in your sport?    
The person I try to emulate.  It’s my rowing partner, Jonathan Rich.  Jonathan is not only superior to me in all things athletic, he is one of the finest humans I have ever met or expect to meet.  If I could be a speckled slither as fine as he in that department, I’d be a vastly far better woman.

Favorite tracking device / app?
Excel spreadsheet!  I have more manually entered data and notes and tabs in that spreadsheet than Carter has pills.  (Editor’s note:  Anyone over 50 should get that reference)  I get data from my watch, from an old-fashioned timer, from my speed-coach (while on the water), from personal notations, and/or from facts (how much weight, how many reps, how much rest between reps)

Overall Health & Wellness

Lisa and Mix Doubles rowing partner – Jonathan

Why aren’t you sipping margaritas at the beach right now?  What motivates you to still put yourself through so much training? It’s as much to avoid how I feel when I don’t.   When I work myself to the bone, I feel wonderful.   The feeling of working to your max is kind of like a drug.  Mood altering.  Plus, I fall in love with almost every new sport I try.

When I choose to dive into a new sport, I have to set a goal – a huge goal that I will not take lightly, a goal that will keep me motivated day after day to stick with the training program.  For me to stay consistent, it doesn’t have to be an actual competition – it can be a personal goal – but most assuredly, something measurable

Can you give me a recent example? 
My rowing partner and I set a very audacious goal:  to compete at Nationals at the highest level we possibly could.  We did sneak in conversations here and there about the possibility of winning, and we definitely knew where we needed to be to get in the podium mix.  We set very specific speed goals (splits) for ourselves and those goals kept us focused and on track.

And – how did you do?    
We won!

Knowing that you always set specific goals in each sport, what goals did you have for running and cycling?   
When running, my goal was to qualify for the Boston – not necessarily to run the actual event.
And?  Hit that goal!
And for cycling?   My goal for cycling was not to move up in cat rankings – I did not have the time to pursue it at that level. But it WAS to win whatever race I was in at the time.  Often that was with the men.  At 45, women were allowed to race with the 55+ men.  That was my favorite racing!  And my favorite rides were those weekend ones with the A group. Dang those guys were tough!

Can I assume this mindset applies to your everyday life outside of sports?
Definitely.  But I try not to be too enthusiastic about setting personal goals.  It’s easy to become too wrapped up in yourself and I need to have time and energy to give to others.

Any weaknesses?  Mentally / physically, anything that might prevent you from achieving the goals you set?
Her initial response:  Seeing myself as less than I am. 

How does that effect you day to day?
I have to control my “brainspace”.  I don’t do well with downtime.  I tend to fill that time with things that don’t feel meaningful.  If I have a big goal, and a training plan – then I won’t waste time.  I’ll be more meaningful with my time.

After more time for reflection:  Another weakness – hard to say out loud because deep down in my soul I believe and wish that everyone, myself included, lived the antithesis of this!   …for years I struggled with allowing results and the bottom line to define my self-worth, instead of valuing the Process.  That is a HUGE weakness.  

Can you clarify what you mean as “the Process”?   What my goals are and why, how I get there, what I leave in my wake and how I approach obstacles.  That is what defines a person.  If and when I can nail the Process, I will be proud of that achievement and at peace with myself.  This one is a biggie to me.  It pretty much embodies good sportsmanship, positivity, compassion, love…  all the good stuff of life.

Earlier, you mentioned you may have trained too hard during your college years.  Meaning?
Meaning… I did not know how to NOT GO 100% every day.  I don’t think we need to do that.  At any age.  Training at 100% every day can be counterproductive.  Probably until my 40’s, my practice intensity was as hard as my game/race days.  Before that, I may have burned out here or there and hence never realized full potential. 

Outside of your sport, how do you prepare your body for the stressors of that sport?
Cross training.  When coaching, I do whatever I ask the kids to do.  Overall, I would say I work hard to be fit for the sport I am participating in at the time.  So, for marathon training, I did not do much strength training.  When cycling, I focused on lower body endurance for centuries and then focused on speed and strength when racing crits.  As a result, I let my upper body strength lag.  For rowing, I do all of it!

Coach Snyder watching her crew from shore

Nutrition / diet:  has training changed anything about how you eat or drink?
Just more.   I eat more because I’m allowed to.  

Recovery?  (not post-exercise, but throughout the year)
I do not.   It just happens naturally.   Life throws me a hiatus once in a while.

Any “non-exercise” forms of preventative care?   (massage, chiro, personal trainer, blood work, etc)
Not really.   Never taken the time for massage.  

How healthy were your parents at your age?
Mom was not athletic at all.  Dad did not really compete in sports, but he did coach once he had kids.   

Any family history you’ve been able to avoid?  
Dad has High blood pressure  – mom has high cholesterol.   At 60, I’m very mindful to watch for these issues, but so far, I’m healthy and do not require any meds to manage either issue.

The health benefits of training / competing:  is that a focus?  Or just a happy and beneficial outcome?   
Happy to be healthy and fit – but that’s just a benefit of doing a sport I love.

How do you feel – physically and emotionally – when you miss several days of training?
Like a blob.   All fat and soggy and icky. 

Do you find a supportive community in your sport / activity?  
Outside of my family and several long-term friends, most of my community is found through whatever I am involved in at the time.  Typically through sport.  I tend to thrive on change, and as I start a new endeavor, the new community comes with it.

Putting on your coaching hat…

Lisa betting she can swing higher than you can.

What advice would you give your younger self?
If I knew then what I know now…I would have not smoked, drank, or ate junk food.  But…I like the path I’m on, so maybe I wouldn’t change a thing.

What advice would you give any 50+ individual that believes their athletic days are better left in the past?  
Big.  Fat.  Lie.   As long as you’re willing to fall off the horse a few times, you can accomplish whatever you choose.  If you want to walk blocks without pain, start with one block.   After my pregnancy, I decided to start running, but was incredibly out of shape.  So I set a goal of running from telephone pole to telephone pole.  Simple, short distances, easy to measure.

Any final hard-earned wisdom you’d like to share to the 50+ crowd?
For any age group:  it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, as long as you’re doing the right things, the right way for the right reasons.

Quick daughter questions:   how much did your sports / training influence your daughter on the way to becoming an Olympian?
Straight up answer:  I have no idea if my life influenced her to compete as an Olympian.  We just always encouraged her to do something, and then would support whatever she chose.

Pot stirring question:  Whose genetics are making her an Olympian? 
Editor’s note:  Both parents laughed, and took credit for their genetic contributions.

To Lisa – I don’t think you take enough credit for influencing your daughter’s Olympic journey, and I am positive the ripples of your influence will continue to spread through the next generation of your families.

Questions for Lisa?
Include any questions in the comment section below and I’ll forward her replies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s