Updated: Sep 8, 2020
The George Pocock Rowing Foundation team is adding to its superstar staff this week and officially welcoming Jenn Gibbons as the new Executive Director.
Jenn comes to the GPRF from the midwest, ready to listen, learn and lead. She joins the staff has a lot of big goals for the GPRF, and comes with a passion for rowing as a tool to change lives and a wealth of knowledge and experience in running a non-profit organization. In addition to being a phenomenal leader, mentor, colleague and friend, Jenn is also an avid cyclist, dog-mom, pie baker and lover of all things outdoors. To learn more about Jenn, read our announcement from May when Jenn was named as our new ED. We are thrilled she is officially "in our boat" this week.
We sat down with Jenn upon her arrival and asked her a few questions about her vision and story, and as usual, we were markedly inspired.
How does your position impact the GPRF?
My number one goal as the leader of the GPRF is to bring people together so that we can get more kids on the water. Like many of the thought leaders from our past, I believe rowing is a powerful tool, capable of providing a lifetime of opportunities for young people on and off the water. That's why I'm here in Seattle and why I'm so excited about this role.
The GPRF has been working for over 35 years to provide access to our sport, so I will do my best to carry on a rich legacy and history while building toward a strategic and sustainable future.
In my role I will provide vision and direction for our staff and board so that we can focus on not only getting more kids on that water, but diversifying those we serve. Every kid deserves a chance to benefit from participating in this sport, and we have a long way to go and a lot to learn so that we can successfully diversify those who participate in it.
I won't pretend (not for a moment!) to know all the answers, but I am committed to asking tough questions, getting the right people around the table and leading with integrity. Rowers are doers. We do what we say we're going to do, we show up at 5 am to fill the boat, and we don't stop until the job is done. Practice by practice, day by day and stroke by stroke this is how we learn to work together and accomplish great things.
In my time as a nonprofit leader, I've learned that being able to say "no" is just as important as being able to say "yes". If it's not going to help us bring more kids to the water and change lives, it isn't going to be a priority because our mission must come first.
Last but not least, I realize that in my role, I "bring the weather". How I work and what energy I bring to the staff, board and volunteers will impact how others work and thrive so I take that responsibility seriously. We are doing incredible things for our sport at the GPRF and the work should be fun, positive and rewarding. I'm going to bring my best and expect that from everyone around me.
Where and when did you start rowing?
I started rowing at Michigan State University my freshman year of college. I had no idea that rowing was even an option or a sport until I was recruited in the lunchroom at Holmes Hall. I can distinctly remember calling my parents and telling them that I was going to try out for the rowing team, and then immediately having to explain what that was and how it all worked. Between the 5 am workouts and the travel, I'm sure they thought I joined some kind of cult...but it was a good one (and it kept me out of trouble).
After making the team, I fell in love with the water, the challenge of something new, as well as the friendships. As the first person in my family to attend college, I know that without a doubt I would have struggled to get through that period in my life without the discipline and demands of the sport and my team mates. Rowing kept me focused and provided a network and life trajectory I am forever grateful for.
That is why I started coaching and ultimately became an ED. Rowing has given me everything I have, so however I can help pay it forward and provide that very same life changing experience, the better I can sleep at night.
What is your favorite memory of rowing? In Chicago I rowed in a double and coached with a variety of people that I would never have met or encountered otherwise. It's not a specific memory, but I am fond of those mornings on the Lincoln Park lagoon and the hours I've spent coaching on the Chicago River. There's something about being on the water and emptying the tank, all while technically holding it together that leaves you feeling so accomplished, as an athlete and as a coach. It's rare in life that we get to practice giving something everything we've got, and by way of rowing and coaching I've witnessed and experienced it so many times. Life's too short to come off the water feeling like you could have done more!
Who inspires you the most in the sport?
Over the years I've been inspired by so many different groups of people. Initially it was my teammates, helping me dig deeper than I ever thought possible (whom I still think about during every marathon I run). Once I started coaching kids, I was inspired by the parents and volunteers that make the sport possible at that level. Every weekend they hauled trailers, grilled out, and did whatever was necessary so that their kid(s) and other kids could participate. At Recovery on Water (ROW) I was inspired by the athletes, the philanthropic supporters, and the staff. Generosity inspires me because it reminds us of the good in others and their willingness to pay it forward. I've been so fortunate in my career to gather inspiration at every turn, whether it's from a cancer survivor, a donor, or a colleague.
In life? My dad. He worked in foodservice as a salesman and taught me the importance of relationships and to be impeccable with my word. If the company he worked for forgot to deliver a case of ketchup to a customer, we were going to drive it up as a family that weekend to make it right. On its face it sounds like a silly example, but with every Saturday delivery he taught me that life isn't about one big moment, it's a series of little decisions that develop character and establish trust.
How has your rowing experience changed during COVID-19 Having recently moved to Seattle from Chicago, I am taking advantage of all the elevation on walks, runs and bike rides. There's no lack of beautiful places to hike and explore in the Pacific NorthWest! I do look forward to working with Padraic and our boathouses to continue to adapt and pivot where we can to get our kids (and myself!) back on the water in as many ways as is safely possible.
What advice would you give to someone considering rowing for the first time? Don't get too concerned with finding the perfect equipment or person to row with. Just get in a boat as much as you can with whoever you can and accept that it will be an opportunity to learn and grow. Our sport isn't complicated (we literally repeat the SAME movement OVER and OVER), so don't concern yourself with details that don't matter. If you overthink it, you risk missing the beauty and the joy of being on the water in the first place. If you take a bad stroke, you will have millions of opportunities to take more and get it right.
Do you have a favorite workout?
Fast Fridays are some of my favorites. Sprint workouts are short enough to convince yourself you can do anything for a minute and a half (I like to tell myself it's 90 seconds, somehow that makes it easier?!), but cumulatively exhausting and efficient. Every opportunity you get to practice doing something you didn't think you could do is a little reminder that we are capable of doing so much more than our minds think we can. Life is just one hard piece at a time.