Morgan Frame works out on a rowing machine at Orangetheory Fitness in Portland in mid-February. Frame was the head trainer at the fitness studio, but has since moved to Oklahoma City to begin training at U.S. Rowing national high performance center. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Morgan Frame had a memorable career as a basketball player at Waterville High and the University of New Hampshire.

She led Waterville to three consecutive Class B state championships – earning Miss Maine Basketball honors in 2009 – before averaging 13 points a game as a college junior and senior.

When Frame graduated from UNH in 2013 with a degree in sociology and justice studies, she was certain her competitive career was over.

But now she’s trying to earn a spot on the U.S. national rowing team, with an eye on the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. It’s been an whirlwind turn of events for Frame, who had never taken up the sport until three years ago.

“I never would have imagined this,” said Frame, who worked until recently as the head trainer at Orangetheory Fitness in Portland. “Even now I know, even with everyone telling me, ‘Go to the Olympics,’ there is a lot of work to do. I still see this as a stretch dream but I’m taking the risk to do it. It’s still a one-in-a-million shot of it happening, but at least I’m putting myself on the path to try it.”

Frame arrived in Oklahoma City on March 4 to begin training at U.S. Rowing national high performance center – an opportunity that came from participating last year in the reality television show, “The Next Olympic Hopeful.”

She began training last week, getting on the water before sunrise.

“I imagined it was going to be hard, and it’s hard,” she said. “I was working out a lot before but … it makes you a lot more tired than you expect. I’m sure I’ll get used to it.”

At 28, she knows she has a limited opportunity to earn a spot on the U.S. national team. But Reilly Dampeer, the coach at the high performance center, sees much potential.

“Her age is the only obstacle in her path,” said Dampeer, who has been coaching national team athletes since 2010. “But she is so strong and she is so committed. She is such a fantastic athlete and brings so much to the table. She has so much maturity and she knows how to use her body effectively.”

Dampeer said the 6-foot-2 Frame will have time to prove she belongs. “We want to give Morgan the minimum of a year at Oklahoma City,” she said. “Let’s go a year and see how she’s progressing.”

UNUSUAL PATH

Morgan Frame’s journey from leading classes at Orangetheory Fitness to becoming an Olympic hopeful in rowing was unusual, to say the least.

Growing up, she was never involved in water sports, except for water skiing with her family on Great Pond in the Belgrade Lakes. She was a basketball player and ran track, helping Waterville High to win three consecutive state championships in that sport, too.

Morgan Frame hoists the Gold Ball after Waterville High won the Class B state basketball championship in 2008. It was the second of three consecutive state titles for Frame and the Panthers between 2007-09. Morning Sentinel file photo

Athletics was at the center of the family’s life. “We always bonded over athletics, and not just my sisters and parents, but my extended family,” she said. “It was kind of what we knew growing up. When our older cousins played in sports, we just went to their games or meets. That was our family fun. Same thing when we grew up. That’s where everyone gathered.”

Her younger sisters would be successful too – Taylor going on to play soccer at the University of Maine, Alexa running track for the Black Bears. Morgan’s sport was basketball. From Waterville, it took her first to Saint Anselm University, then to UNH, where she started 50 of 52 games after transferring.

But after college, she had no desire to play anymore. Real life beckoned and it eventually brought her to Orangetheory Fitness, a chain of franchises with more than 1,200 fitness studios worldwide. As an instructor in Portland, she led classes on rowing machines.

An instructor elsewhere in the chain decided to assemble a list measuring Orangetheory Fitness rowing benchmarks at 200, 500 and 2,000 meters. The results were listed nationwide. Frame found herself at the top of all three lists.

One of her colleagues suggested Frame try out for “The Next Olympic Hopeful,” a television show launched three years ago by the U.S. Olympic Committee as a talent-identification program. Athletes compete in six sports – cycling, bobsled, skeleton, rowing, rugby and weightlifting – with the winners invited to join the national teams and receive funding as they try to earn an Olympic berth.

“I had never heard of the show,” said Frame. “It took about a month-and-a-half before I applied. I didn’t even tell anyone I applied.”

As part of the application, Frame sent a video of her rowing. A month later, she received an email saying she had been accepted and was invited to Colorado Springs and the U.S. Olympic Training Center last July for the TV competition.

“I didn’t believe it,” she said. “I actually didn’t believe it until I got the itinerary.”

Frame wasn’t selected as a winner in rowing. But she was impressive enough to get an invitation to Oklahoma City for another look in September. After one more trip to Oklahoma City in December, another strong showing, Frame received an invitation to join the high performance training center. She and her husband, Derek Baillie, will live in the same complex as the other 13 athletes invited to the camp.

Her husband Derek is a regional sales manager for Baldwin International, a company that distributes steel products. Baillie’s territory includes Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas, so the move there suited him well.

Frame, who has taken a part-time job at an Orangetheory Fitness in Oklahoma City, will train 20-30 hours a week for close to 10 months of the coming year.

“This will give her more of the foundational basics she will need to compete for the national team,” said Dampeer, who hopes that Frame will be ready to compete in the U.S. national rowing championships in July in Cincinnati.

Unlike most other competitive rowers, Morgan Frame’s experience with the sport has been almost exclusively on rowing machines than on the water. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Frame will train in the sculling discipline, rowing singles, doubles and quads, with the possibility of eventually moving into the eights, where Maine has a rich rowing history. Eleanor Logan of Boothbay won three Olympic rowing gold medals – the most by any woman in U.S. history – while rowing with eight-woman U.S. teams at Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro. Anna Goodale of Camden won a gold with Logan in Beijing. Portland’s Wyatt Allen won Olympic gold in 2004, and a bronze in 2008, in men’s eights.

Unlike most other competitive rowers, Frame’s experience with the sport has been almost exclusively on rowing machines rather than on the water. She was helped along the way by a couple she met at Orangetheory Fitness, Dana Pierce and John Watling of Yarmouth. Both were former members of the U.S. national rowing team and Watling was the U.S. Rowing’s Male Athlete of the Year in 2003.

“(Pierce) helped me get in the water,” Frame said. “She taught me some tricks on the rowing machine.”

While U.S. Rowing on Friday postponed the Olympic rowing trials, Frame said she will continue to train.

She’s on the water every day for two to two-and-a-half hours, the sun rising as she sets out in the boat. Last week she rowed in a doubles to learn the fundamentals of rowing – “Learning the stroke and form,” she said – without tipping a boat over. One person rowed, the other stabilized the boat. “We’re learning to stay upright and not flip the boat over,” said Frame.

This week, she was to move into a singles boat. As competitive as she always has been, Frame said she is trying hard to follow Dampeer’s instructions and not worry about results yet.

“I don’t know the sport, she knows better how to get to the next step,” said Frame. “Once I get in a single, and I know what I’m doing, then I’ll set goals for myself.”

MENTAL TOUGHNESS

Other than in college, Frame has never left the state of Maine for an extended time.

“I think that might be the hardest part for her,” said her father Doug, the assistant principal at Waterville Junior High School. “We’re adopting her dog (Henry, a 5-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog), she’s had him since he was a puppy. But she has to focus on what she’s doing out there. She’s super close with her sisters, who live in Portland. It’s going to be hard.”

But he’s certain his daughter can handle the physical task ahead.

“She’s a pretty determined kid,” he said. “She always kind of makes things happen.”

Asked if there’s anything she can transfer from basketball to rowing, Morgan Frame said, “I think it takes significantly more mental toughness in the sport of rowing. I used to think basketball took a lot of mental toughness until I got into rowing. It’s just so grueling that you really have to be able to let everything else disappear from your mind and just focus on what you’re doing. The mental toughness aspect has been multiplied.”

She also understands that she only has so much time to impress.

“Physically I’m where I want to be,” she said. “But my age? How long do they have to pursue me? There isn’t time for an injury, I have to keep myself healthy … I have to eat right, get sleep. I need as much time as I can to perfect this sport at my age.”

Morgan Frame will have certain benchmarks to make. She figures she’s about 25 seconds slower than she needs to be in the 2,000-meter testing to have a chance to make the national team.

“It’s all about getting that number down to where they’ll take a look at me,” she said. “Rowing isn’t easy. I thought I knew a little about form until I went to Oklahoma City the last time. I did the 2,000 test and realized I knew nothing about stroke rate and how fast I should be going, or where I need to be. But that also shows I have potential, being just 25 seconds away with no technique to rely on.”

And that’s why Dampeer is so enthusiastic.

“She is able to put up the power, and that’s huge,” said Dampeer. “But the harder task is doing it efficiently. She’s already (been successful) at a high level with basketball. She’s very athletic. I think learning the efficiency will be a reasonable path for her to undertake. It’s hard, but she’s got this massive power behind it. I think she can really do it.”

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