Iva and Erin: Grace and Grit

By Rachael Colacino

Grace and grit. Yin and yang. Teammates, friends, sisters.

Ten years ago, teammates Erin Cafaro Mackenzie and Iva Obradovic won the NCAA Championship for Cal Berkeley. Both went on to the Olympic stage, and both have continued their journey as rowing and strength and conditioning coaches.  Now they are joining forces under the POWER SPEED ENDURANCE platform to share their knowledge and hard-earned lessons on how to row and train for the 2000m Olympic Race distance in the Shift WINTER ROW 2K SERIES.

Teammates first

Erin remembers the first day she met Iva, back in 2004. It was one of the first days of the Cal Women’s Rowing Team practice, and the team was running the stairs at the football stadium. A long, hot, grinding workout. The Head Coach, Dave O’Neill, told Erin that summer that a couple heavy hitters would be added to the team this year: two standout rowers from Serbia. She wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was enough for Erin to want to join the team again. When Erin arrived at the football stadium that day, she noticed two tall, beautiful blond Serbian rowers with impossibly long legs that looked to her like badass Barbie dolls. Iva did not disappoint as she pushed to the front, bringing the level of the whole group up a notch. Erin recognized immediately that Iva was indeed badass and had the drive and tenacity she’d been seeking in a teammate.

Iva remembers their first meeting similarly. Being new to California and away from home for the first time, she was afraid but determined not to show fear. She gathered her courage and set her face in the bravest way she knew possible. She ran those stadium steps as hard as she could. But then there was a short pesky blonde girl – Erin of course – pushing her own limits, pushing Iva’s limits, going hard, huffing and puffing right behind her.

Their friendship was solidified for Iva on the day of their first 2k row test, when she saw Erin, short for a rower by all stereotypical standards, using that grit for which she’s known to row her heart out and then some. A mutual trust and respect had been established. There was no turning back, Iva and Erin formed a friendship. One so strong that they just tell everyone who asks that they are sisters to make it easier to understand.  

Helping athletes become better rowers

After retirement (Erin in 2012 and Iva just this past summer in 2016) both Erin and Iva wanted to continue their journey as coaches. Iva is now the assistant coach for the UCLA Women’s Rowing Team. Erin continues to travel the world coaching athletes and coaches in rowing and strength and conditioning principles. She’s also quite busy helping build the best damn platform for information on training and coaching for sport.  

Erin and Iva have happily watched the rise of rowing in gyms and clubs worldwide and want to augment the growth by sharing their knowledge of what works (and what doesn’t) to guide athletes on a straighter path to their potential. The training they’ve developed for Shift ROW 2K SERIES is a well-rounded program that combines the lessons from their rowing experience in the past 15 years. The program will help address any individual weaknesses, transfer them into strengths, whether physiological, physical or mental. With the help of individual video assessments, Erin and Iva are also able to help each athlete target the movement pattern that has been holding them back and treat it with individualized coaching cues and drill Rx.

But, as Iva and Erin learned early on through their experiences at Cal, one of the biggest advantages you can have in rowing is having a good team to train with, coaches to help you stay accountable and guide you in the right direction, and most importantly teammates to push you and also share in the pain of the hard days. That’s why Erin and Iva wanted to make sure to create a community for the Shift Row 2k Training Series. It’s all part of the process of evolving and growing as an athlete — that vital combination of truth and encouragement. They want all their athletes to see the good that will come from sport in their lives, to practice skill and finesse and also grit and fortitude when needed.  And most of all find joy throughout the process.

The best motivation is information

Every person is a different athlete with a different body and different mentality. Recognizing that truth brings us one step closer to being the best athlete we can be. Our differences make us individuals and give us our own styles. And as Erin’s Olympic coxswain Mary Whipple so aptly puts it, “the best motivation is information.”

Erin and Iva are grace and grit. As athletes, Iva is one of the best technical and graceful rowers on the water. Erin is a bit more feisty, we could say… would row through a brick wall to get to the line first. Yet, ironically as coaches, Iva is known for being the hard-ass and Erin has focused more on movement efficiency and technique.

“Erin would row through a brick wall to reach her goal,” Iva said. “I would walk around it and look at it, brick by brick.”

And that’s the interesting part about rowing. We can be mired in stereotypes, that rowing is a tall person’s sport. With Erin and Iva’s different styles and approaches to rowing and coaching, they hope to show athletes that there are different ways to reach the same goals, and that stereotypes about what kind of athlete can perform should never hold you back.

“You can be whatever the hell you want to be,” Erin said. “Set your goals and make it work.”