Fuel Your Purpose: Caroline O’Dwyer

Cycling, Music, Coffee, and Chasing the Flow State

— Anne Mercer

Welcome to the “Fuel Your Purpose” interview series. We’ll be chatting with fascinating people from all walks of life about their life, what motivates them, their love of coffee, and so much more.

From a distance, Caroline O’Dwyer’s interests—singing, cycling, yoga, and coffee—don’t have an obvious alignment. But, as you dissect each passion and learn her story, the connection becomes evident: seeking out the flow state.

We’ve known Caroline since 2019 as a Victus Coffee ambassador. Yet, we never had the opportunity to sit down and learn her backstory.

A native of Fairfield, CT, Caroline’s mother was born and raised in Germany, and her father was American. 

When asked how German culture impacted her life and career choices, Caroline explained: 

“My Mom’s generation—the children of those who fought in World War II—they have massive ‘German guilt.’ When she moved here and married my father, she wouldn't always tell people where she was from. There was some tension between fully embracing her German background and the desire to assimilate into American culture."

Caroline spent childhood summers going back and forth between countries, with little German language experience to fall back on. Having family members that fought on both sides of World War II brought an interesting dynamic to her adolescence, especially as her mother married an American man. 

By profession, Caroline is a mezzo-soprano operatic singer with a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree (D.M.A.) in Vocal Performance from UCONN. She is an Artist/Teacher in Voice at the University of Rhode Island and also teaches for the Jorgensen Center’s Joy! Conservatory Program in Storrs, CT.  

Yet, her ties to German culture, which has a long history in the development of opera, isn’t what initially led her to pursue music.

I actually wanted to be a jazz singer. My dad was an avid jazz fan and had his own jazz radio show on the local public radio station, WFUV.

Her father’s passion for jazz music was reflected across their home, with a collection of Victrola phonographs and old records strewn across the house. 

Following her father’s musical footsteps, Caroline signed up for the Fairfield County  Children’s Choir and the rest was history.  

Even after years of choir practices, Caroline wasn’t really exposed to opera until her freshman year of college. 

“I went to UCONN for my undergrad, not knowing they didn’t offer a jazz vocal major. I saw my first opera at the Met as part of a program for UCONN students, where we got free tickets to dress rehearsals and evening performances. I was hooked from the start and thought, ‘I want to do that.’” 

She switched her major to vocal performance and launched her career trajectory that included a Master’s Degree from the Eastman School of Music.  

However, as Caroline became more entrenched in the lifestyle of a performing artist, it became clear that pursuing her other passions—cycling and yoga—would not be possible. So, she decided to pursue her Doctorate and take the academic route.

Yoga: From High School Job to Lifelong Passion

We all have our first job. From bagging groceries to bussing tables at a local restaurant, these experiences help us acclimate to the workforce and garner lifelong characteristics.  

For many of us, these jobs are simply that. Jobs. For others, like Caroline, these experiences influence the momentum of our lives. 

At 14, Caroline was working part-time at a yoga studio running the front desk and cleaning in exchange for a small paycheck and free classes. Soon enough, she fell in love with the movements, the poses, the focus, the quiet—everything.

“Yoga brought me to a new understanding of movement and being comfortable in my own skin.”

Yoga quickly became a fixture in her life. As part of this passion, she pursued and received her official yoga instructor certification as part of an immersive retreat-style program.

Throughout the global health crisis of 2020, she began to offer Zoom classes and posts her sessions on her YouTube channel for others to follow along.

Competitive Cycling & the Need for Speed

When we first met Caroline in 2019, she mentioned discovering her love of cycling while living in Rochester, NY. She taught yoga 8 minutes away from her home and thought it was silly to drive that short of a distance.

However, upon recollection, she told us of her time cycling around Paris in college.  

“I got a cycling pass and commuted everywhere. I biked all over Paris! This is where I fell in love with commuting by bike.” 

Between her experiences in Paris and Rochester, cycling became a staple method of transportation. However, moving to Coventry, CT, changed her perspective on cycling completely.

“When we moved to Coventry, I started biking on hills and developed a love of going downhill really fast! And, once you get a feel for speed, you start thinking ‘How can I push this?’”

She spoke with a few friends in the cycling community who encouraged her to jump into competitive cycling.

Caroline reached out to local racing legend Amber Pierce and eagerly began her journey into competitive cycling. From there she began racing all over the state and New England , formerly with Connecticut's Team ERRACE.

Chasing the Flow State

From the outside, one might not understand what competitive cycling, opera singing, and yoga have in common. To Caroline, their unifying factor is the ability to achieve the flow state in each discipline. 

“I’ve had a couple of really amazing experiences where you’re so in-tune with what it is you’re doing and it feels effortless because you’re so connected. It happened to me in a choir rehearsal when everyone’s entrances and cutoffs were  perfectly timed, no one’s voices were  sticking out—I’m actually getting goosebumps thinking about it!—and we were all there with the conductor. All of a sudden you blink and 90 minutes of music have blown by.” 

The flow state, as made popular by positive psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura, refers to the sensation where you become fully immersed in the activity you’re doing, and is only achieved under the right conditions.

Each of Caroline’s passions act as a vehicle for attaining that hyper-focused, yet deeply physical and grounded state of “flow.”

I’ve had similar experiences in a yoga practice when you lie on your back at the end of Shavasana—your brain goes to an alternate reality. 

You realize you didn’t get distracted by your to-do list or whatever you have going on that day and you actually merge with the floor.

The same thing has happened to me on a bike. When you’re riding a good crit and taking every corner without touching the brakes, it feels like the peloton is a single organism in motion!

This subconscious quest for the flow state has also improved her aerobic capacity and the mindfulness required for all three activities.  

“With singing, your whole body is your instrument. If you let your ego get in the way, it doesn’t work. You have to have a good relationship with your body and be able to communicate with your body. In that respect, I think yoga and cycling have only enhanced my singing.”  

From singing in perfect harmony to being one with the bike, Caroline has made chasing the flow state part of her daily life.

Coffee as a Social Beverage

Caroline’s drink of choice for the afternoon, a decaf Americano. Ours, a pour over of the Victus Victoria blend

“A good cup of coffee that you can sip and enjoy gets you clear-minded and ready for the day. Similar to the feeling of a flow state!”

At home, you’ll find Caroline brewing a Hario V60 or a Chemex for her and her husband, Steve. 

“I think I’ve mastered the Hario V60 for myself. I have some work to do on the Chemex! But, my favorite brew method to drink is by far, the siphon pot.” 

As we chatted about our shared love of coffee, Caroline told us about her fond memories of gathering with music students at Joe Bean Coffee Roasters in Rochester, NY. 

“My relationship with coffee changed from the thing I nonsensically grab for caffeine to a form of social engagement… Joe Bean always asked jazz musicians from Eastman to play there, so it became the place that music students would go to. It was the place where you could find people in your community.”

It was here she began to learn more about coffee through educational events, tastings, and conversations with friends and staff. 

“I’ll never forget having a siphon coffee for the first time. I was blown away by the amazingly beautiful piece of glass and coffee put in front of me. I was with my roommate, Julia, at the time, and we totally bonded over it. I’ll never forget it and I’ll always associate siphon pot coffee with her and that experience.”

Finding Victus Coffee

We’re always curious to know how people found our coffee. With Caroline, it all began at the Tokeneke Classic in 2017. 

“That year, one of the prizes was a bag of Victus Coffee. And my cycling coach, at the time, Amber, won the Women’s Pro race. I took a picture of the podium ceremony and remember being like ‘What is that coffee?’”

After finding our Instagram and watching a few of our videos, she joined our belief of using great coffee as a vehicle to fuel great causes. 

“I remember being like ‘This coffee company supports the CCAP and Rwandan youth cycling? I want to know more about this!’” 

Caroline reached out to us in 2019 and has been a Victus Coffee ambassador ever since. We are so inspired by not only her athletic and career pursuits but also her convictions and passions as a genuine human being. 

At the end of our conversation, the topic casually switched to second chances. It was then that we learned of Caroline’s newfound desire to use her talents of yoga and music to help the incarcerated population.

I truly believe in giving people second chances in life. I hope to one day be able to offer yoga or music lessons through prison outreach programs.

It was awe-inspiring to watch as she spoke so powerfully about her drive to use her talents to help others—even when nothing connects her personally to that population—parallel to how Victus Coffee was born all those years ago.

Rapid Fire Questions 

— "Who inspires you?"

“My first cycling coach, pro-cyclist Amber Pierce, wanted to share her love of cycling with someone else. She took me under her wing and taught me so much. 

My yoga teacher in Rochester, Francois Raoult, brought yoga back to the basics for me and was the most influential yoga teacher of my career.

So many musicians inspire me, but one of the singers right now who inspires me is Jamie Barton. She’s a mezzo-soprano who identifies as a queer woman, and pushes the traditional gender boundaries in her operatic roles. She has said ‘screw the boxes that people with our voices are put into and are supposed to play on stage.’ Singers like her are really changing the way opera audiences respond to casting choices for leading roles. I think this is really brave in an industry that is painfully slow to adapt."

— “What are you excited about?”

“I have a solo voice recital coming up on December 5th at the University of Rhode Island. I haven’t performed on stage since before the pandemic, so I’m really excited about that!

I’m also excited about the return of road cycling. Now that my Doctorate program is complete, I’d like to volunteer my time at an upcoming race.” 

— “If you could have coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?”

“Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I recently watched a documentary about her and it reinforced the fact that we as women had a guardian angel looking out for us. Also, I’d like to work out with her!” 

Learn more about Caroline by visiting her website.

Know someone who we should interview?
Send us a message at anne@victuscoffee.com.