TYRA Alumni Focus: Maya Wei-Haas – National Geographic Science Writer

Maya Wei-Haas

My name is Maya Wei-Haas. I am 32 years old and live in Alexandria, Virginia. I’m currently a science writer at National Geographic. I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and rowed throughout high school, starting as a freshman in 2001 and sticking with the team until I graduated in 2005.

What Are Your Fondest Memories When You Were Rowing?

I have so many fond memories of my rowing days. I made some amazing friends, including meeting my now-husband, Travis Brown. I really enjoyed being co-captain of the team with Laura Pacenza. She and I fed off of each other’s energy.

I still remember Coach B coming down to the dock before a lot of races and asking her, are you ready? She would growl back at him, which cracked me up every time. So much of rowing was a mix of hard work and fun. I think that that was a good example of it. We were getting our head in the game but at the same time loosening up and enjoying ourselves.

Friends For Life!

Going to the Head Of The Charles was an unforgettable experience. The program was still so young when we went. The fact that we were racing in such a high-profile event was just such an honor. We placed around 10th overall, and this was more than we ever expected. It really cemented the idea that hard work pays off. We worked our butts off to get there and so to be able to see that in the way that we raced together that day was amazing.

Another race I still remember fondly was one of our home regattas. We were racing a mixed eight just for fun. It was at the end of the day, and we threw the boat together as the varsity women’s four and the varsity men’s four. It was such a fast boat. We were all so on that day and really in sync. You could hear the catch of each stroke together, it felt like we were truly moving as one and flying across the water.

How Has Rowing Helped Guide You In Life?

I was really shy in high school and suffered from a lot of confidence issues, and to be honest, I also really struggled with body image. I was a chubby kid and had trouble with hand-eye coordination. I was always the one that people didn’t want on their team. But that didn’t matter in rowing. When I joined the crew team, I learned that I could do a lot more than I ever thought I could. My curvy body could actually throw some power into the oar. Rowing was the start to what would become a long road of me learning to appreciate what my body could do and not what it looked like. It’s been a start and stop process, and I’m not at the end of the road yet. But because of crew, I started to realize that I should and could challenge myself to do more.

Celebrating The End of the Season At Awards Banquet!

Tell Us About Your Career So Far

I am a science writer for digital news at National Geographic. I write about all things in science and innovation but have a particular affection for rocks and reactions. I’ve been writing a lot recently about geology and the quaking planet under your feet, including earthquakes, volcanoes, and plate tectonics. These are the churning processes that have shaped the surface of our planet.

Maya Wei-Haas TYRA Alum
Maya Wei-Haas TYRA Alum and Science Writer For The National Geographic
Photo Credit Valerie Wei-Haas

I also write about a whole range of other topics from the origins of life and modern disease to space. It’s been a blast! One of my favorite things about this work is talking to scientists who genuinely love what they do. It’s amazing to connect with them and hear the excitement in their voices. So many of these people are truly passionate about their work. While reporting each story, I get to spend a little time in their world and share their enthusiasm for the work.

This job has been a kind of a second career for me. For a long time, I wanted to go into research and teach at a university. I got a Ph.D. in environmental chemistry. But at some point along the way, I realized the thing that I really loved about research was talking to other people about the work—creating posters, giving presentations, writing a blog, and volunteering at a school to do science demonstrations. So I started to look for other opportunities, and I was lucky enough to get a AAAS Mass Media Fellowship. That helped me leap from doing science to writing about science, and it’s been an adventure ever since.

Rowing Back In The Day On The Arkansas!

What Advice Would You Provide To Someone Who Was Thinking About Trying Rowing For The First Time?

I would say give it a try. Rowing is so different from any other sport that it’s hard to understand what it’s like or how to do it without giving it a go. I would also say, hang in there. The first few weeks are tough and confusing, and it takes some mental flexibility to be able to think about where your hands and body go during each stroke all while balancing a boat. It’s a challenging sport, but it’s gratifying. And the folks at Tulsa rowing are great!

If you are a TYRA alum, we would love to hear from you. Contact Coach B at neil@okrowing.org and let us know how you are doing!