Writing and Interview by Ellen Kahan
Kate was always athletic but she didn’t get into rowing until she was in college where rowing was fast and had a certain “cool factor” about it. She was competitive so she put her head down, shut out distractions and worked hard. She realized the importance of giving herself up to hard work and the benefits that come from the grinding, ever-present focus on excellence.
When Kate became a coach her perspective changed. She realized that some students come to the boathouse with far more on their minds than competition or trying out a new sport. Kate discovered that for many the first need is to feel safe and find safety within this new community. With this new perspective, attending to that need is her first task as coach. Fast boats have to come later. Kate strives to create a sanctuary within her rowing program where the challenges of learning to row can be faced without the fear of harsh judgment or criticism. Even while afloat on the cold waters of Lake Washington students need to be embraced, encouraged, and accepted. Every student, every day is celebrated for just showing up. Students carefully watch Coach Kate and have come to learn that her words match her actions. She describes a rowing team as a family that cares for each other and models that in her words and actions. She is a strong believer in second and even third chances. She waits patiently for a rower to return after a setback with renewed courage and lets them slip easily back into the fold. If her rowers detect that maybe she is having a rough day with a particular student they remind her that they are a family. Kate works to help students shut out the worries that they might bring to the boathouse and to keep their heads and their hearts in the boat.
Within the sanctuary of an eight there is a family, but it is a family of leaders. In some sports leadership is the dominion of a particular person-- maybe the star quarterback or the veteran point guard. In a rowing shell there is a team and each rower on the team is both setting the pace and following. No one is leading; everyone is leading. Everyone has the responsibility and accountability of a leader. Everyone leads in a way that protects the team and each member.
It is powerful to be a part of something that you fight to create. A team that starts as a group of individuals and is nurtured into a team of leaders cannot fail. Success is not the fastest boat. Success is the inclusive boat where all respond to the call of leadership and the importance of team.
Join us at the 11th Annual Row to the Future Benefit Breakfast on Friday, March 22nd and help kids row, thrive, lead, and find their team.