Volunteer Spotlight: Jessica Donahue

Interview and writing by Ellen Kahan

This blog is part of our storytelling for the 11th Annual Row to the Future Benefit Breakfast. Join us on Friday, March 22nd to help raise funds for youth access to rowing at our largest fundraiser of the year. Reserve your seat(s) at: https://www.pocockfoundation.org/benefitbreakfast

Even before she picked up an oar, Jessica was part of the rowing community as a spectator at her older sister’s regattas.  She could feel the energy of parents and youth alike as teams were tested and memories made. Starting in middle school and through high school Jessica rowed with her local club team in Everett.  The fact that the team was built of girls from different schools, neighborhoods, and family situations was celebrated. Regardless of background, when they got in the boat and put aside their day’s problems they were a team: a tightly-knit community that pulled together in every way.  It might take some time to learn the different life circumstances of the other girls in the boat but the discovery of them only deepened their respect for one another. Together they muscled through the good and the bad days of life, practice, and competition.

When Jessica began rowing in college with the program that had recruited her it only took a short time for her to realize that something was missing. The social climate on campus and team dynamic amongst the rowers didn’t build camaraderie and sportsmanship; instead, it created dysfunction and undermined the community that Jessica loved at Everett. As a freshman Jessica left rowing.  It was a heartbreaking decision but one that was oddly driven by her love of rowing and all that she treasured about teamwork and the rowing community. It was the same courage and perseverance she had learned from rowing that gave her the strength to temporarily leave it.

Jessica was not going to give up on rowing or the joy it brought her.  The next year she started at Lewis & Clark with a new team and it was like coming home: found again was the power of team and community that has connected Jessica to this sport as athlete, coach, and leader.  

Jessica has creatively maintained her connection to rowing.  In college she studied abroad and found herself coaching novice rowers and learning about rowing traditions in Ireland.  During her graduate studies in sports leadership Jessica continued to both coach and row at various boathouses.

Her commitment to the rowing community is unshakeable and she dreams of rowing being available to all.  Jessica supports the Row to the Future program because it holds out to others the same gifts she found-- the gift of mutual respect and support that joins team members together and connects them to the larger rowing community.

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