Not only does she have the most envious job ever at EA, but she’s a Tough Mudder veteran, raised thousands of dollars for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through Team in Training, and tackles any new obstacle from endurance cycling to rock climbing (despite a fear of heights) and training for her first triathlon, all with the enthusiasm and spirit of a true competitor with her head in the game.
Introducing Carolyn Rohde
Full name: Carolyn Rohde
Nickname: Rohdster, RohdKill (in videogames), but the one that I love the most is Auntie C
Relationship Status: Single
Hometown: Grosse Pointe, Michigan
Favorite way to work out: Long runs outside (I hate the treadmill!) or a sweaty spin class
Favorite way to be girly: Shoe shopping!
The first time that I can remember meeting Carolyn was this past spring at a charity fundraising event in San Francisco when she told me she was doing Tough Mudder in Tahoe that following fall. I remember being impressed and then thinking that everyone “says” they’re going to do Tough Mudder, but few actually go through with it. Clearly, I had no idea how tough and fearless Carolyn actually is. The fact that Carolyn is now a Tough Mudder alum is only the tip of the iceberg of her general badassity. Not many people can say that they have competed in endurance races like Levi’s GranFondo and raised thousands of dollars for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through Team in Training. But then again, not many people are like Carolyn Rohde. Here’s why.
Carolyn and I sat on a bench made of old snowboards at the House of Air in San Francisco, a little sweaty from our trampoline dodgeball session. She’s wearing her University of Michigan tee shirt and is the kind of woman who can look totally great without makeup (it would make me secretly hate her except for the fact that Carolyn is one of the most likeable people I’ve ever met). We just finished about half an hour jumping on trampolines and acting like kids again. I was a huge video game nerd as a kid and I knew that Carolyn worked at Electronic Arts (EA), so naturally, that was the first thing I wanted to ask her about.
It’s (Not Only) a Man’s World: Working at Electronic Arts
Carolyn Rohde (CR): I work in the corporate development group at EA, responsible for mergers, acquisitions and investments for the company on a global basis.
Chicks Like Sports Too (CLST): Seems like a dream job for a gamer. Do you play?
CR: Yes I grew up playing videogames, especially EA Sports titles with my brothers and friends. And given my background in finance this job really was a perfect fit for me.
CLST: What kinds of games do you like best?
CR: I like our Sports titles (Madden, FIFA, SSX) and Need for Speed the best.
CLST: Do you ever get to play video games at work?
CR: We do get to test out different games at work.
CLST: Do you ever beat the guys?
CR: Sometimes, but everyone on my team is really good at different games or different genres so that makes it fun.
CLST: How many people are on your work team? Are you the only female?
CR: Our team is small and yes, I’m the only female executing deals in the corporate development group.
CLST: How do you feel about that? Do you ever look around and notice that you’re in a completely male dominated industry?
CR: I just embrace it. The gaming industry is becoming less and less male-dominated with the rise of more casual, lighter experiences online and on mobile devices so I like to think I can bring a unique perspective on companies with female-targeted games. But I can also appreciate and enjoy the more “core” male-dominated titles. My team is incredible and I like working with guys.
CLST: Ok, enough shop talk, I want to get the scoop on what EA employees actually think about….the Madden Curse. Does it exist?!
CR: (laughs) Yes, I totally believe in it. So it was pretty bitter sweet that Megatron was on the cover since I grew up a Lions fan.
At this point Carolyn and I realize House of Air is closing for the night so we take our tired selves over to Planet Granite next door for some climbing. I should mention that Carolyn had a fear of heights when she decided to start rock climbing. I was there during her second session at Planet Granite, which she closed by climbing a 5.9 (very impressive for a beginner). It always impresses me when someone tries something new and ends up being really great at it. And that’s Carolyn. She has fears and weaknesses which prove she’s human, but she faces them head on and prevails, which proves she has a true athlete and competitor in her. Carolyn and I were tying into a climb and I thought this would be a great opportunity to talk to her about one of her latest accomplishments, Tough Mudder.
On being tough enough to overcome her fears,
the century ride and fundaising for a great cause
CLST: So you just finished Tough Mudder. Was it tough, as advertised?
CR: It was pretty tough but I felt well-prepared. I was able to attempt all of the obstacles and I think there was only 1 where I couldn’t make it all the way across and fell in the water. I was actually pretty happy with event, and I’m so glad I didn’t injure myself (she had her century ride the following weekend). It was also helpful to have a fun, positive and strong group of people to do it with. I would’ve been miserable out there all by myself.
CLST: Who did you do Tough Mudder with? Did you have a costume theme?
CR: Our team was some friends and coworker and our theme was ‘San Franpsycho’. We even had bright San Franpsycho shirts!
CLST: I didn’t feel it when I did Tough Mudder but everyone freaks out about the electroshock therapy. How was it for you?
CR: I didn’t really know what to expect so I just ran as fast as I could through the mud and covered my face. The shock wasn’t necessarily painful, it just made me jump a little. It wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be.
CLST: I think you mentioned that walk the plank was the scariest obstacle, talk more about what made certain obstacles tougher.
CR: In my opinion, Tough Mudder doesn’t require as much physical strength as it does mental strength. Everyone will conquer some sort of fear, whether it’s heights, hypothermia, electro-shock, claustrophobia or barbed wire. For me, the hardest obstacle was one where you had to jump into freezing cold water from a plank at a pretty significant height.
CLST: What made you overcome your fear?
CR: I didn’t hesitate. I just jumped. When I hit the water, it felt like I was hyperventilating. But I just swam as fast as I could to get to the other side and out of that water. That was a pretty critical moment in the event though, because it gave me confidence to be able to conquer whatever happened to be next. The other one that was tough was one where you had to crawl inside a muddy, pitch black tube that was barely large enough for my body. I had a fear of getting trapped in there, but then 30 seconds later you see the light and all is well. The crazy thing about fears is that most of the time, they’re largely irrational. It’s how you choose to overcome them that’s the important part.
CLST: I had a similar experience, the cold really got to me. It’s not really something you can train for though. Did you train for Tough Mudder at all?
CR: Yes, I did a 90 minute boot camp class 4 days per week and I also had my weekend cycling rides as I was also training for my Century at the same time. I also did at least one long run per week.
CLST: That’s more training than a lot of people do for the event. Do you think someone could hop off the couch and be successful in a Tough Mudder?
CR: Absolutely. But you have to be a little fearless and you have to be OK with getting dirty and uncomfortable. My advice is to have a great team and if you think an obstacle is too hard or if you think you may injure yourself by attempting it, then skip it (that’s allowed).
CLST: Talking about training, you were training for another huge event, the Levi’s Gran Fondo Century Ride. How was the event?
CR: With 9,000+ feet of elevation gain over 103 miles and extreme temperature changes, the Levi’s GranFondo was the most difficult endurance event I’ve ever done; harder than a full marathon in my opinion. But with extreme challenge comes great reward. I remember crossing the finish line on cloud nine and hugging all of my teammates that helped get me to that finish line. We were on the bike for 10 hours, so as much as strength is important, mental toughness is absolutely crucial.
CLST: Were your training sessions as intense as they sound to a non-cyclist?
CR: Believe it or not, I was a non-cyclist and total beginner just 4 months before the event. So yes, the training sessions were pretty intense, especially as we built up to 60, 70 and 80 mile rides. Again, it wasn’t so much the physical intensity that was hard (although the hills are quite difficult) as it was the mental toughness. Because our event was so hilly, our training rides were full of hill climbs. My favorite (but also the most difficult) was when we biked to the top of Mt. Diablo twice in one day. It was worth it for the views and the super fast descents, though!
CLST: What bike do you ride and how did you choose your bike?
CR: I have a Cannondale Synapse that I bought at Sports Basement. It took me a few months of research to finally settle on the one I liked. I ‘test-drove’ bikes at 3 different shops and I also searched through Craigslist. But ultimately the one I chose fit me the best, it was comfortable, and the guys at Sports Basement were really helpful and knowledgeable.
CLST: Would you do it again, or another long cycling event again?
CR: Absolutely! I love cycling in the Bay Area and I enjoy accomplishing goals like Century Rides. Through cycling, I’ve seen beautiful vantage points and nooks and crannies of this city that I never would have seen. As for events, I would love to do America’s Most Beautiful Ride which is a loop around Lake Tahoe, or the Death Ride which is a tour of the California Alps (and super challenging!).
CLST: What biking advice would you give to newbies?
CR: Eat, stay alert, don’t assume, and ride with a group. Eating on the bike is really important to avoid ‘bonking’, which happened to me in the beginning of my training. It was a little weird eating ‘real’ food like PB&J while exercising but it’s crucial in order to sustain your energy on long bike rides. The other pieces of advice are mostly safety concerns. Cycling in the road can be very dangerous, so newbies need to make sure to be aware of their surroundings, call out hazards to other bikers, follow the rules of the road, make eye contact with drivers and don’t ride alone unless you need to. And don’t listen to music!
CLST: You did that event through Team in Training, right?
CR: Yes, it was great to have that kind of support system.
CLST: You did your last event (and quite a few) through team in training. Do you have a connection to the cause or do you just like their program?
CR: Both. I’m currently on my 4th season with Team in Training with the goal of finishing my first triathlon in March. I’ve done 2 seasons with the Run team and 1 season with the Cycle team. So, I started with TNT with a very specific goal – to train for my first full marathon. That was it. I didn’t really know much about the cause and I didn’t really know what I was getting myself in to. But after my first season with the team, I learned that it’s so much more than just getting to the finish line. I met a ridiculous amount of self-less, friendly, positive, charitable people and most importantly, I learned about blood cancers and I met so many people that were affected by them. Our ‘honored teammates’ are the people that gave me the motivation to wake up early on the weekends, to sacrifice my football Saturday’s, to power through the training schedule and to fundraise as much as possible. Also, this past September and right before my Century ride, I learned that my mom’s cousin was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer that starts in the plasma cells in the bone marrow. She is undergoing chemo right now and will hopefully stay strong and fight the disease. When I heard about her diagnosis I immediately signed up for another Team in Training season with the goal to raise $5,000.
CLST: Team in Training is such a unique experience. Tell me about the sense of community you get through TNT.
CR: It’s truly unbelievable how supportive, friendly, encouraging and welcoming everyone is on the team. We don’t just meet for our training rides and go home – we have brunch together, we go out for drinks, we get to know each other on a personal level and help each other accomplish our goals. During my Century ride, for example, there were 8 of us that started the ride together, re-grouped together, and finished together. Some of my best friends are people I have met through TNT.
CLST: Is fundraising scary?
CR: Not at all! If you throw a small event and tell people what you’re up to, usually friends, family and co-workers are really supportive. Plus, you never know who will have a connection to the cause, which is why my philosophy is “Just ask!”.
CLST: What’s the most effective way to fundraise/what kind of events have helped you raise the most money and/or have you had a large number of just individual donations throughout the years?
CR: I think the most effective way to fundraise is through events. Definitely my most successful event was a date auction that raised over $5,000 in a single night. I rented out Red Devil Lounge, auctioned off dates with 5 of my guy friends and 5 of my girl friends and I had all of the dates donated from local businesses (e.g. rock climbing classes, wine tasting, bartending class, etc). It was amazing how much fun it was and I still get compliments and questions about the event. I also had a silent auction with 10 items from local businesses which helped bring in additional donations. It was a huge success and a ton of fun to plan and host. The other fundraiser I did was a SF Giants game where I bought 95 tickets in the same section through the group sales ticket office and sold them for a slight premium to friends, co-workers and teammates. That was a ton of fun, too, and a lot easier to organize. Right now I’m organizing a 5K fun run/walk in my hometown over the holidays which should be a blast.
CLST: Who would you recommend TNT to and why?
CR: Literally every single adult in this country (there are local Chapters nation-wide) unless you like cancer, like being lazy and hate accomplishing goals. The benefits of TNT are endless: you get in shape (or improve your endurance), you possibly learn an entirely new sport, your endorphins will make you so happy everyday, you’ll meet amazing new people and make great friends, your training plan is designed for you by expert coaches, and you’ll help an amazing non-profit that’s saving lives! Seems like a no-brainer to me.
I switched gears for a minute and wanted to talk to Carolyn a little about her college experience. I went to Michigan for the first time last summer and loved it. Carolyn’s originally from Grosse Pointe and went to college at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Now that Maryland is in the Big Ten, I wanted to pick my future rival’s brain…
The College Years
CLST: You went to Michigan. Go Blue!
CR: Go Blue!
CLST: So, I’ve been to the Big House before. You can’t bring purses in. What’s the deal?!
CR: Ah yes, one of the many safety quirks that the campus implemented. I actually liked the rule because it was easier to cheer and jump up and down without a purse.
CLST: I went to Maryland, so naturally I watched a lot of basketball during undergrad. You must have watched a lot of college sports at Michigan too.
CR: Yes! I regularly went to men’s and women’s tennis matches and hockey games as well as all of the football games of course. We have a really good hockey team and the students have some vulgar chants that make it entertaining. I also traveled to quite a few away football games which are always a blast. One of the reasons why I chose Michigan was because of our sports teams. I also played on Michigan’s Club Tennis Team which was a ton of fun – we traveled all over the country and had some pretty solid competition.
CLST: Where is your favorite tailgating spot in Ann Arbor?
CR: Skipped the frats; house parties were usually the best. There was a pretty epic place called the “Box house” where we usually ended up tailgating. I miss Ann Arbor.
CLST: Do you care about Cal/Stanford rivalries now that you’re here? If so, what side are you on?
CR: I care more and I would have to side with Stanford. Sorry Estes.
CLST: Now that we’ve lost all our Cal fan readers….let’s switch gears a little. Your talking about Michigan reminds me how much I loved that 30 for 30 about the Fab Five. I love that you like 30 for 30 too! What’s your favorite thing about the series?
CR: I love this series so much for so many reasons! I love that every episode I watch is inspiring and sometimes jaw-dropping. After almost every episode I watch I want to go talk about it with everyone I know. I love how truly rich the content is and how well-produced they are. Sports have such a profound impact on this world, more than I ever knew.
CLST: Which is your favorite 30 for 30, or is that a stupid question?
CR: Of course the Fab 5 one. But my second favorite was “The Two Escobars”. I knew some of the details about Pablo and Andres but I didn’t really know all of the facts. I recommend people watch this one. It’s even on Netflix. And my third favorite is “Four Days in October” about the 2004 World Series.
CLST: Let’s talk about the Fab Five. Jalen Rose in particular revolutionized the basketball uniform. Let’s talk fashion, sports style. Now a lot of sports brands like Adidas, Nike and Under Armour are teaming up with college football teams to make some pretty outrageous and eye catching uniforms. Some of them look pretty awesome. Excluding Michigan, which college team has the best style on the court/field?
CR: The Oregon Ducks’ uniforms are always pretty badass.
I had one more thing to ask Carolyn about, and it’s actually the one thing we don’t really have in common….our diet.
Eat Your Veggies
CLST: So, you’re a vegan. Sorry, that’s not a question.
CR: I don’t like using the term ‘vegan’ because it encompasses so much more than just nutrition; and it’s a bit of a controversial and loaded term. I like ‘plant-based’ or just vegetarian instead. I’ve been a strict vegetarian since I was 10 years old and in the last 4 years have experimented with giving up dairy after reading a couple books on the subject. I still have dairy occasionally but I definitely notice a difference when I stick to whole foods from plant-based sources (whole grains, veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds).
CLST: That’s impressive to me because you’re so active. What is your diet like/what do you eat to prepare for races?
CR: I try to stick to plant-based foods that are fresh and not processed. I like steel cut oatmeal for breakfast with loads of cinnamon, walnuts and chia seeds. At lunch I’m fortunate to work for a company that has awesome vegetarian options in the cafe so I’ll do a big salad with tofu and raw veggies and some quinoa and beans for extra protein. And dinner is anything from pasta to a burrito or a tempeh sandwich. When I’m training for races, I increase my carb intake but I also strive for good, quality ingredients and nutrition and cut out the junk.
CLST: Do you endorse any other one, like paleo for athletes, etc..?
CR: No, not in particular. But recently I’ve been reading a lot about gluten and may try and experiment with a diet with less gluten. But I really like beer, so that might be tough.
CLST: Do you have any vegan athletes that you look to for inspiration?
CR: Yes. Scott Jurek, Rich Roll and Brendan Brazier are my inspiration. I was lucky enough to go for a run along Crissy Field to the GG bridge with Scott Jurek (vegan ultramarathon runner) and talk about plant-based nutrition. It was incredible. I also met Brendan Brazier and a few other vegan authors and physicians at a TEDx conference last month. It was really inspiring to hear them talk about their own personal stories and how a plant-based diet has helped them. Rich Roll is actually originally from my hometown AND he used to live in the Marina (my current ‘hood) and he is a vegan triathlete who completed Ultraman (a double Ironman) several times.
CLST: I actually know a lot of endurance athletes who prescribe to a similar diet as you. How does it make you feel to know you’re putting good things in your body as well as being so active. Do you feel healthy?
CR: It’s hard to know for sure, but I think that eating plant-based foods has given me the energy to be able to do endurance events like marathons, century rides, Tough Mudder and hopefully a triathlon this spring.
Welcome to the Chicks Like Sports Too family, Carolyn!
CLST: One more question. Finish this sentence with something other than “Sports”. Chicks Like __________ Too.
CR: Chicks Like GAMING Too.
CLST: A woman after my own heart, indeed.
I want to thank Carolyn for taking the time out of her busy schedule to be the guinea pig for my interview series. She was an awesome participant. In the end, she truly represents what this blog seeks to endorse. Carolyn has an enthusiasm for life and isn’t afraid to challenge herself. And Carolyn is proving that with your head in the game, you can overcome your fears and accomplish more than you ever thought possible. You’re an inspiration. To donate to Carolyn’s Team in Training for the Lavaman Tri, please visit: http://pages.teamintraining.org/sf/lavatri13/crohde