035 | Interview with Katie DeRose
Welcome to CoxPod - a podcast dedicated to coxing topics. I'm Breana. And I'm Anne. We're experienced coxswains who continue to learn a great deal from the broader coxing community and from sharing with each other. Our primary goal is to promote ongoing skills development and we're happy you're joining us.
ANNE: It's been a while since we had a guest join us and we are delighted to be here with someone who has high school, masters, and now collegiate coxing experiences.
BREANA: We've invited Katie DeRose to join us today and little did we know - until we first met with Katie - we have found yet another coxswain like ourselves who has marching band origins and is also a fellow introvert. So welcome, Katie.
KATIE: Hello everyone. Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.
ANNE: We're thrilled to have you. And let's get right into it. My first question is: what do you love about coxing?
KATIE: Wow. There's just so much that I could say to answer this question but usually when I'm asked this, I like to describe the best instance when you're working with a boat and everything just clicks. I was always told that the best way that you know that you're rowing well - when I was a rower - is when you get something so right that there's bubbles coming up and hitting the boat. I've taken that with me ever since and it's just amazing when you get that in a boat that you've coxed and you've been working with these rowers and then everything just finds its perfection and you're actually moving the boat and you hear those bubbles.
ANNE: It's an incredibly magical sound, isn't it? I think we all can relate to that. I was also wondering if you could tell us right at the outset something from your coxing experience that you're really proud of.
KATIE: Definitely. So one of the best coxing experiences I've had and even the highlight of my past year really, was at Masters Nationals in Sarasota. I had made a really bold decision at the beginning of my senior year to cox for the master's program at Saugatuck instead of sticking with the junior boys and obviously that was a pretty big risk. Not a lot of people would do that but I just felt really strongly about that program and I wanted to develop them and I love their culture so I stuck with them. And I had some pretty solid boats that I was always in that I could really see move throughout the year. We had some losses at the beginning of our season but then we got to Masters Nationals and we were doing really well. It got to a point where we were winning some races … losing others. There's just so many races at Masters Nationals but the last day of the Regatta - that night before - I had looked at the points calculations so far and we were very close to winning the women's points trophy. And this was coming after a day where we had just lost a race by half of a stroke in the boat that we were most heavily focused on. So it was a big letdown but we knew that we had to come back the next day. I think I had three more races that day so I had three more chances to make a big impact and we saw that we needed these points for the Masters trophy. I think I had a 4+ and an 8+ that would be counted towards the woman's points trophy and it just became our absolute goal that we were going to get these points. It was tough because we were in slightly different 8+ lineups. We were a little unsure of it but we needed our 60 year old 8+ and our 70 year old 8+ to win in order to do this. I was in the 60 year old 8+ and it was just so exciting coming across that line. We were head to head with Masters Coaching basically the entire time but we were able to push through them in our sprint. And that was just the best feeling ever - especially when we came off the water and asked how the 70 year old 8+ that raced after us did and found out that they won, too, so then we knew for sure that we had won the women's points trophy for the first time since 2009. And that just made me feel like I was really able to finish it off before going to college and contribute everything I wanted to that program.
ANNE: Such an incredible story and I've got goosebumps just listening to it. Thank you for sharing that.
BREANA: And we want to encourage our listeners to stay tuned to the end of this episode. Katie has very graciously agreed to share the recording of that very points trophy winning race with us from US Rowing Masters Nationals in Sarasota 2022 with that women's 8+ from Saugatuck Rowing. So we encourage you - stay tuned - you will get to hear the full race recording that (again) Katie has very generously shared with us.
ANNE: And we had sneak previews and it's terrific. It's really great so thank you for sharing that with us, Katie … and our listeners. I think that you've just described what might be a pinnacle (you know) or at least a peak in your coxing career. I'm wondering a little bit about how you actually learned to cox.
KATIE: I actually started out as a rower like I think many coxswains do. My dad was pretty set on me rowing even though I was in the band but that spring of my freshman year, he encouraged me to start rowing for a local program called Great River. I was there around the time of COVID where we didn't have too many races that we were really able to get to so I started out and I got right into boats there. I was even in their top quad at the Sweeps and Sculls because they needed another person and I was the one to jump in. That was pretty scary. That was my first race but I got through it and I really loved rowing and I loved Great River. It was a really good experience to get me into rowing especially in that smaller setting but I realized that I would be better fitting as a coxswain because I think I just have some of the inherent qualities that coxswains need. And it was something that really interested me because it was more intellectual and I'm pretty tough about my grades and stuff and learning so I knew that I really fit the role and that if I wanted to go to a top school this was my avenue to be able to continue growing. I wasn't that concerned about recruiting along the way but I did know that in order to cox, I needed it to move away from this sculling program that I was in where I would be lucky if I would cox once a month there maybe. So I switched to Saugatuck and I found my place on the varsity boys team there where I was immediately surrounded by really amazing coxswains that were older than me. And that's really where I started.
BREANA: That is a really common trajectory for folks - to go from the rowing side to the coxing side. I absolutely relate to the pull of the intellectual challenge of coxing and it's awesome to know that you found your place in the sport ultimately. The way that we initially found you, Katie, is through your work on an Instagram account called Coxswain Resources which has an accompanying, spectacular google drive just packed full of all kinds of resources that you and your team there have compiled and have very generously made available to the rowing community. I'd love to hear a little more about how you came to create Coxswain Resources and anything else you’d like to share with our listeners about that resource.
KATIE: Coxswain Resources really even became a twinkle in my eye - I guess you can say - when I was coxing that summer at Saugatuck. I had been involved with this US Rowing Junior national team coxswain camp that was virtual because this was 2020 where there were no actual camps. So I got involved with this really big community of coxswains. I think there were probably over 100 coxswains on that call. We got to meet some interesting figures like Mary Whipple but what really I got out of that personally was in the chat, we were talking to each other and bouncing ideas off of each other and then we would go into breakout rooms and get to go over our recordings together and just really grow at a time where I wasn't on the water. I was sitting on the launch watching pairs every day. So it was really nice to be involved in that community. And I also felt like it was a unique situation because – sure, there are a ton of coxswain resources out there now. I feel like sometimes they're kind of scattered and it's hard to really know where to get started so I kind of wanted to organize that for people that would come after me. And we're looking for another place to grow but also to connect coxswains in a way that they could really learn from each other. I definitely had a lot of mentors at Saugatuck … even from the year above me … and I wanted to provide that to smaller clubs, too. I came from a small club. I know how it feels to be the only coxswain or the only one interested in coxing at your club. So I came up with this idea that I was going to create something to continue on to this camp almost where I had been connected to a coxswain CRI who was my age and we created this novice coxswain class that winter. Tt was a lot of coxswains from our team and then this year, our coaches were really helpful in connecting us to other coaches like Deerfield who got really involved in it. So we were connected by (I think) about 25 coxswains our first year that were consistently on the calls. And we developed this curriculum where we would have a presentation and then we had a coxswain from Sarasota and then another coxswain from Saugatuck that helped out so that we could go into those small breakout rooms and we would push coxswains to practice their calls - even when they were just starting out. Or find ways to think about steering by playing other videos. So we really tried to make this interactive coxswain module (almost) where novices could really figure out how to learn in the best way especially when they weren't on the water mostly. So we got through that and then it was kind of done at the end of the winter. We weren't really sure what was going to happen. We just went into our spring season but then the next year we actually decided to come back with that and our two senior coxswains from Sarasota and Saugatuck were gone so we replaced them with another coxswain from Saugatuck and another coxswain from CRI that were younger than us so we knew that it would be able to continue on. And we got started again and it was a little different because people weren't as tied to COVID at that point but we still were able to make a lot of progress with this new cohort of coxswains. We even expanded a little to offer more of a discussion for now our more experienced coxswains. But the two younger coxswains really wanted to make something even more out of it and they were really big on creating this Instagram account to attract more people. So it kind of started as a way to attract people to these Zoom classes - which did happen - but then it kind of evolved into more because I was - oh well. I have this resource drive that I've shared to everyone that's in these classes but I want to show people how to pick stuff out of it more and I want to highlight more of the resources so that it's immediately accessible to people. So I really started throwing some of the stuff out there and it kind of boomed after that because people were just really eager to learn from the unique stuff that I was able to find.
ANNE: There are so many important elements in the story that you have just shared with us. I am so impressed with the challenges that you faced and how you came out of them. To pick up coxing - a physical sport - during the time of COVID restrictions is daunting to say the least but you then took some of your skills – organization, communication, belief in the power of learning from one another – which, as CoxPod, that's one of our missions - and then turning it into something that is so engaging and so helpful to so many and fostering the growth of coxswains anywhere because it's virtual.
BREANA: Yeah. Tt's an excellent resource that I have found a lot of value in myself. And of course, things like this that we mention today will be linked in our show notes. You can always find further resources there if you'd like to check out Coxswain Resources for yourself and it's easy to find at that handle on Instagram to get you started as well. Katie you spoke a little bit already about your transition from a junior's team to a master's team. We'd love to hear a little bit more about that. Not every coxswain has coxed at every level … now here at the collegiate level. That was something about you that appealed to us as well - that you have really spanned all of the possible levels at which a person can cox. So tell us a little bit about your experiences across the spectrum of coxing opportunities.
KATIE: So I, of course, started with the Saugatuck boys team which was definitely a good place for me to really get my feet in the water. I was able to learn from a lot of top coxswains which was really helpful. But it was a little tough for me that first year because I was new to the program and I was competing with some younger coxswains and I was already a junior in high school at that point. So everyone that was in my grade was already pretty established there, I would say. That first fall that I was able to actually get in a boat, all of the coxswains on our team were sharing a boat so I was sharing an 8+ with another coxswain and we raced but it was scrimmages. We would do two races at most of the scrimmages. We would share whether we were going first or second. I was able to learn from watching a lot on the launch - which I definitely would advocate for any coxswain … and to just get on the launch even if it's not really with your team. I know that I ended up asking to watch the varsity 8+ a lot so that I could learn from those coxswains, even. And it's helpful to see a lot of different perspectives. So I started that way and I was still learning a lot. I crashed a boat into a dock. I was really trying my best but of course, I was just beginning. So that winter - which is when I started Coxswain Resources - I made it a real priority that I was gonna develop myself so I would be competitive for the varsity boats because I knew that youth Nationals was happening at that point. And I tried to make myself as much of a leader in the winter as I could. I talked to everyone in the boathouse. I really tried to work with people but even then, I still had these really two amazing varsity coxswains that were both seniors that were ahead of me. And as much as I wanted to push them up, I was still kind of in that third coxswain spot. But I wasn't u17 so I wasn't able to go to youth Nationals like I would have been if lightweight had continued. So that was a little bit of a disappointment but I carried on and I raced in the second varsity 8+ and I was with a really great group of guys at the end where a lot of them were seniors who were able to help me and motivate me to keep pushing which was awesome. And I definitely really developed my skills that spring. I was prepared for this summer but things got a little rocky for me with how my recruiting process went down - which I'll talk about in a little bit. But I was a little down on it I guess you could say. And it was tough because that summer, we had people everywhere. We had some guys that were on the junior national team … we had some guys that chose to train on their own for recruiting purposes … and we had other guys that were used to the older coxswains that I was different than in my own good way. So it was a little bit of a battle to figure out my place on it. I was in the varsity 4+ that we were able to put together for summer Nationals and we got to the semi-final but then didn't do so hot. That was a little bit of a disappointment for the guys in that boat and I think it kind of tore a wedge between us in a way because they were still used to that old coxswain that was very experienced … had a lot of different energy that I was giving. And I know a lot of people will say that, “Oh, you can't take things personally”. I hadn't fully learned that yet - a lot of it got really heated. If I made a mistake sometimes people were swearing at me and I didn't know how to handle that. So I think I sort of took an offense there and that made it even worse. And I did have one really solid, dependable friend on the team that I still talk to today but I was just not really happy there. And that spring, I had started coxing for the masters as soon as they got into 8+s. And I carried on with them that summer, I was the most reliable coxswain that they had because I really wanted to get that extra water time. And I saw coxing the masters as a benefit to me even though there were people - even my coaches - that were really deterring it and they weren't even seeing it as – oh, I'm taking more of the initiative. So I had to battle with that a lot but I realized coxing the masters is the best thing for me and I really took it to another level than other Saugatuck coxswains had done in the past because I made relationships with basically everyone on that team. This weekend I'm on break and I'm going out to breakfast with two of them tomorrow. So I'm really close with them. I made sure to learn all of their names. I knew how to help them and I carry that into the racing season to the point where I was able to get invited to go to Masters Nationals in Oak Ridge with them and I just had the most amazing experience there. I was being supported by all these people while I was starting my college application process. They were, “Oh, you want to go to Villanova? I could write you a letter of recommendation.” I just had all this support - even aside from rowing that weekend. And I found a way where I could really just crank out race experience. I raced 12 times that week and that was never going to happen for me at the youth level because there's just so many coxswains at Saugatuck. I just felt like - if I love coxing and I want to be in a boat and these are the most supportive people that I've ever been around - I mean, they're more mature adults. That's where I wanted to be. So that fall, I ultimately decided that I want to race at the Head of The Charles with the woman's masters team. I'm really glad. I mean … I even got to race at the Charles twice that year because I was in their Director's Challenge boat, too, and it was because I was their coxswain. And I got to race at the Head of the Housatonic three times in a row. it was not the most fun experiences - I was just constantly going back and forth - but I got so much experience and I just grew as a coxswain so much more than I would have if I stayed on the youth level. I'm just really grateful that that's how that panned out.
BREANA: I love that. There’re so many relatable parts of that story, I think. From living in the shadow of another coxswain - that's always a tough spot to be when the athletes have continuity on their side but you're new and you have your own style and people have to get used to that. And I love what you shared about the value you found in getting in the seat on a master's team. Both of us at CoxPod are also masters coxswains - are huge advocates of that scene. If you're out there and you're looking for more water time, there is probably a master's team in your area that would love to have a dedicated coxswain who would come out and learn. And you just can't discount how much you're going to learn from that additional time in the seat like you said. So I love that you shared that. I hope that inspires more coxswains out there to seek out their masters teams in their area and get that time in the seat … get that networking and camaraderie that come comes with that environment. I can't emphasize that enough and I'm really glad that you took that opportunity and are here to share it for us now.
ANNE: Yes, indeed. And do you mind now moving on to your recruitment experience because you've mentioned that and it seems like that's the next part of your story?
KATIE: I started recruiting basically when I was really finally getting to cox. COVID really impacted my year where everyone that was a coxswain for the class of 2022 had way less experience because they missed out on their whole sophomore season. So I was still very much learning at the point where I was starting to talk to coaches. I started right away because I heard that's what you have to do, so even if I didn't have many solid recordings, I got right into it and emailed all the coaches I was interested in. June 15th - after my sophomore year - I started having phone calls and that was really how it was for my entire fall season … just constantly communicating with coaches, keeping them updated really on how I was learning because that's what I had to talk about. And I tried to showcase myself as someone that was just always learning and trying to improve, which was definitely attractive to the coaches. They also really liked how I communicated. I wrote detailed emails. I was courteous. I was on top of my game and every two weeks they got an email from me about how I was doing. So I really tried to make myself stand out in all of those tiny ways. I guess you could compare it to … if you're taking a class and five percent of your grade is based on homework, you want that full five percent so that you could be a little lower on the test. I was trying to be perfect at any mark that I could get with the coaches. Some teams - I just didn't really mesh with the coaches. I think they liked other coxswains better. So around that winter, I started to know which teams I was talking to more than others and which teams were really truly interested in me. I started asking coaches, “Where do I stand on your list” so I had an idea. And I had this school ask me pretty early on to cut my list down to five schools - so that meant I could only talk to five coaches which was really a big risk because I didn't fully know whether I was going to get a spot. Some teams didn't know if they were going to recruit a coxswain this year, so I battled with whether I was going to do that a lot. But I ultimately decided that I was going to do that because that was my top school that had asked me to do that. I was a few spots down on their list so it wasn't a guarantee that I was going to get their spot but it was better than not talking to them at all especially since I wasn't so dependent on recruiting that I thought, “Oh, if I don't get a recruiting spot, I'm not going to get into college” like some people have the mindset of. I was fully prepared to apply on my own if I needed to. I think at some points in my junior year, going through the recruiting process was more a pride thing in a sense, but I've since learned my lesson there, I guess you could say. So then in the spring, I was really focused on those five schools getting the best recordings out that I could get. When I narrowed it down, I kept a few schools that were a bit of a long shot, I guess you could say. Like that school that I was a few spots down on … top schools in the country. But then I kept some schools that I was more in the range with that I had really good conversations with the coaches. So I was confident with that. And I ended up really between two schools because one of the schools that was a bit lower on my list offered me a spot …I think in late May … early June. And I had to decide, “Okay. Am I going to go to this school or am I going to continue trying for this spot at my top school where I'm competing to get an official visit in the summer but I don't even know if that's a guarantee?” So I had to go to the school – it was not close to my home. I won't try to give it away but I went and I visited the coach on the very first day that the NCAA allowed us to go back to seeing coaches in person. So I toured the school. I got an idea of what it was going to be like and my mom and I decided that I was going to commit to that school. We were still waiting for my end of junior year grades to come out because that was a requirement that the school had in order to fully commit me but we weren't concerned about that and I was like – ready … okay … I'm going to the school. I'm all prepared. But then some changes happened. The whole time that I had been talking to that school, I was talking to interim head coaches. They had replaced a head coach that had some issues, I guess you can say, and they just had their two assistant coaches working as head coaches. What ended up happening was in order to hire a new, full-time head coach, they had to let go of the interim head coaches that had recruited me, And at the time - that was the summer before my senior year - I hadn't signed an NLI. I hadn't started my applications yet and that meant that the commitment that I had gave verbally didn't fully mean anything. So they ended up deciding that they were going to go in a different direction and the coach took the coxswain that was recruited to her school that she had just came from and put her in my spot. So then I had this other school that was, “Oh well. We have a spot now. We want a coxswain with good academics.” But I was not really interested in that school - I went there and I was like, “I cannot go here”. So I ended up being, “Okay. Well, now it's too late to get a recruiting spot anywhere else and I already messed it up with this other school where I stopped trying to get that official visit. I'm not going to get in anywhere else unless I apply basically”. So I ended up abandoning my recruiting process all together and I went down the route of applying to schools. I'm actually very happy that that happened to me because I go to Cornell now. I got in completely on my own and I did not talk to the Cornell coaches at all during my recruiting process. I was not interested in Cornell - I told myself that I would not go to Cornell. I actually was on a Zoom call with the Cornell coaches - that I'll mention a little bit later - that I was, “Oh well. This sounds like a really nice team but I'm just I just don't want to go to Cornell’” But guess where I go now? So if anything could happen, I think I really evolved as a person through those two years that I was recruiting and the Katie that started recruiting with 25 different schools wasn't the person that I was when I was making the decision of where to apply. So I would definitely encourage any coxswains to keep an open mind with the process because I know this may sound like a really crazy story but I actually do know some other coxswains that did not end up at colleges that they had been recruited to … for whatever reason. So anything can happen and it may work out for the better.
ANNE: Thank you for walking us through that journey. There're so many twists and turns and I think it really showcases your dedication and your persistence and your adaptability - all of which we know are key elements of a great coxswain. And thank you for articulating that for some of our listeners that may be considering that path. I think it's going to help them to know that if they have a less than direct pathway, they're not alone. Also, I'm a little bit in awe of how you are now looking back and seeing the growth that has happened to you as a result of going through it, having it not work out the way you wanted … taking a path you never imagined taking. And now look at you.
BREANA: I'm in complete agreement. You mentioned as part of that story that when you found Cornell, you ended up on a Zoom call with some of the coaches and athletes. And love to hear a little bit more about that and how that gave you an insight into what the team culture might be.
KATIE: After I was applying to schools, It ultimately came down to - right after Masters Nationals, before I was going to go back to senior year, I visited Dartmouth and Cornell in the same weekend. Very long drive - not sure I would recommend it. But I was really focused more on the team environment and culture at that point because I had just come from the Saugatuck boys team where I didn't love my teammates and how they treated me. So I was looking for a coach that would have my back and that was my very big priority. I ended up reaching out to all the coaches on both of those teams to say, “I'm visiting and I'm not expecting a recruiting spot but I would love to talk to you if you're there.” So I ended up being invited by the Dartmouth heavies - they were having practice that day and they invited me to come on the launch. I had never been on a launch at a college practice before and it just blew my mind. I really loved the team. I felt like the rowers were very welcoming to me. They had had this coxswain that was just starting out coxing them - thought that was really cool and the coaches were great. So I was, “Okay. I could go here.” But I wasn't really thinking about what I wanted aside from rowing and on the drive to Cornell I was thinking, “Oh, I'm going to Dartmouth. This doesn't matter” even though I wasn't fully seeing the whole picture. But then I got to Cornell and I was able to meet the heavyweight coach at the boathouse. And the boathouse that Cornell has is incredible. We have pictures of rowers on the walls … actually like imprinted. It's really cool to see. I would think I'm at a professional stadium or something like that. So I got to the campus and that was where I was meant to be. I know people say I knew that I wanted to go here as soon as I stepped on campus. I didn't think that that made sense after I had visited so many colleges before but that's how I felt at Cornell. Just looking at the hills over the slope and it's just a really incredible place. I'm big on nature and I just thought it was beautiful and it had what I wanted for my major because Cornell has really unique - any person, any study motto. So they have a lot of unique majors there. So I was like, “I'm applying to Cornell.” But I didn't reach out to the coaches that I hadn't talked to. I thanked the heavyweight coach for meeting me but then I didn't really update him that, “Oh. I decided to apply early decision.” So I didn't have any support going in. After I got in, I looked at the other two programs that I hadn't really looked at and the Cornell lightweight men had most recently been the most successful - they had won IRAs in 2019 which was attractive to me because I'm a very competitive person. The other thing that really attracted me (again) was the environment and I knew a little bit more about the lightweight men from that Zoom call that I talked about where two of the 2019 coxswains and the two coaches at the time were talking about their coxswain culture and how they have pizza nights and go over recordings and have a big Google drive like I have. And I was just, “Oh, this is such a collaborative environment. I'm not gonna be in another situation where the coxswains are cut-throat against each other. This is where I want to be.” So that's really how I ended up with the Cornell lights. Coach Kerber was really open to having me walk on even though he had recruited a coxswain which was surprising because you didn't really find coxswains recruited to lightweight programs a lot. But the coxswain that's in my year, too, is really amazing and it's just still really a collaborative environment I'm really happy that that's where I ended up because again, I looked at that team after I was on the Zoom call and I was, “Oh, this is a really nice team but I'm never gonna be on it.” But now I'm on that team.
ANNE: You are full of amazing stories, Katie. So now we have you up at Cornell. Are you able to describe for those of us who have not had that collegiate experience what a day-to-day experience is like?
KATIE: Yes. So as a disclaimer, I'm currently on medical leave from the team but before I was placed on medical leave, I did get a sense of that especially as I was just transitioning to college my freshman year. I think that's where you're really jumping into it. The unique thing about a lot of the Ivy League schools - and some other schools - is that they're really academic focused as well as athletics focused. Of course, they really support their athletes - we have a fueling station like any other school does - and we have a lot of athlete support with tutors and stuff like that. But we also have additional rules where the ivy league makes us take a certain number of days off of practice. And then at Cornell specifically and some other Ivy League schools, too, we have this academic dead period where no one at Cornell at all has classes from four to seven. That's designated for activities and athletics. So we have practice in the afternoon from four to seven a lot more heavily than some other programs might. In the off season like the fall when we're not racing, we don't have two-a-day practices every day like some programs do. We'll have the four to seven and then we'll have some morning practices. They’re not too early - I mean I'm coming from a master's team where we'll practice at five. We're not practicing at five and even then, that's very focused against your academics. If someone has a 9:05 class, they say, “Coach, I have a 9:05 class.” They're off the water to get to that class. The only time that you miss class is very rare where you have to travel on a Friday but even then, most of the traveling we do is on Saturdays so you just don't miss class. It's really understanding of what we need as a student and an athlete.
ANNE: You've been so generous in sharing all aspects of your story and keeping it really real … which is important for us to learn from each other. And you keeping it real helps that, I find, so thank you for your honesty and candor.
BREANA: Yes. Thank you, Katie, for sharing your stories with all of their ups and downs and complexities. One thing that we are really passionate about here at CoxPod is the idea of transferable skills or things that we either bring from other activities in our lives into the coxswain seat … or things that we have developed and learned in the coxswain seat that serve us in the rest of our lives. So we'd put that to you - is there anything from your trajectory thus far that you can highlight as far as a transferable skill that you have gained and how that has served you?
KATIE: I think over time I've definitely seen myself while growing as a coxswain, really grow as a person even more. I learned really how to handle myself in better ways and how not to judge people really, too, because coming on to the masters team, I had heard all this stuff, “Oh, don't cox for the masters women. These people don't know how to row.” Stuff that is not true. And I think a lot of youth have this perspective - that what they're doing is more important than what the masters are doing. I mean, everyone's on different trajectories of their life and everyone's equally important because I really don't think that the youth team at Saugatuck could operate at the level they do without the support of the masters team - especially in relation to how finances work and everything like that. And I don't think I fully understood the masters until I was able to get in a boat with them because while they were in singles and stuff, it's, “Oh, hopefully the masters don't get in our way” or joking about them or something like that. I don't think that's fair. I don't love it. I think we should just mind our own business in sports. So I saw a lot of value in the masters team just from getting experience but it became a lot more when I got to know those people. I was in a men's 8+ once even and this guy showed up a half hour late. He was calling me ‘Skipper’ instead of my name. I was, “Oh. This guy does not care about me. He just does not want to learn my name and he doesn't even care because he's not even showing up on time.” And then we get out and there's this equipment malfunction where we were supposed to do race pieces and we couldn't. We get stuck kind of in the middle of the river waiting for the coach to tell us whether we could race or not and this guy - in the meantime - is trying to start this conversation with the other rowers in the boat about kicking out the guy that's right in front of him out of the boat … replacing it with another guy. And I'm like, “Who is this guy? What is he doing?” I was like, “This guy is a nuisance.” But now I'm thinking back to it, he was probably one of the most impactful people even in my life, really. I learned a lot just about how to perceive races. I remember winning a silver medal at Masters Nationals with him and thinking that they're gonna be really angry that they lost to Chinook but right after that race, he turned around and was patting my shoulder and was just, “Wow. That was a good race”. And I was just surprised. I thought he was gonna turn around and yell at me but he didn't. So I just learned a lot about perspective. And even outside, he's talked a lot to me about my career. He keeps trying to get me to join the Navy which is actually why he was calling me ‘Skipper’ because he was in the Navy. And I'm not totally sure about the ranks of the Navy but he saw ‘Skipper’ as a really high form of respect based on how I was commanding the crew and steering the boat - which I didn't understand - I thought he just didn't want to learn my name. But he does know my name. So I learned really not to judge them and I learned the value that they had and the perspective that they had on my life which I really didn't see beforehand. And then on top of that, I think especially coming from all these mature athletes, I learned how to react to different situations. Especially on the water, I feel if something happens … like there was a tight situation … I might have been a little upset about it in the past but I've learned that everything is a situation that you could grow from and that when you come off the water, it doesn't need to ruin your day almost. And I think I've learned how to even talk about those situations on land from them. So that's something that I'm gonna take with me - how I handle myself and how I could approach even difficult people or people that I’m perceiving in the wrong way in the beginning and just give people more of an open mind.
ANNE: A great example of transferable skills right there, Katie. Thank you very much. Another thing that we are curious about and people have asked us about is - how do we find coxing opportunities? You certainly have had lots of them. Would you like to share some additional ideas you have about that?
KATIE: Absolutely. I think I'm huge about finding any opportunity that I can. I've even coxed Learned to Row boats when I needed to … which I think you could get a lot from. But the first thing that I would recommend to anyone - especially junior coxswains - is find the local masters team. Some masters teams don't even have a junior program to feed them coxswains like Saugatuck does. And if you're at a program like Saugatuck, it'll probably give you an option to cox masters. But a lot of people were, “Oh. I don't want to cox masters” or maybe even your coach is trying to say, “Oh, you don't have the time or you should focus on this more.” But any time in the seat is a blessing and the masters need coxswains. If we don't have a coxswain, there's a masters rower in that seat so they would much prefer not to be in a seat that they don't want to be in like that. And then if you consistently show up and you prove yourself to them, they want a reliable coxswain. They want a coxswain that's going to steer them through a race well. They want a coxswain that's going to add to their program and if you show that you're that person, then you're going to become a valuable asset to them and they're going to do a lot for you. I was in a situation my senior year where I was at Saugatuck but then another masters program in Connecticut wanted me to start practicing and coxing them. So you might even become a big asset to the programs around you and then - even in addition to that - there's a lot of teams out there that might need help for their races. I mean when we went to Masters Nationals, I didn't know that you could just jump into a boat with another crew. That's foreign to me. Coming from the youth level, I was, “Okay. Saugatuck’s my team.” But what had happened was at Masters Nationals, we originally intended to bring two coxswains and I was going to be one of them. My coach Scott had said, “Oh. You'll probably have 10 to 12 boats that entire race” which was really attractive because 10 to 12 races is like gold. But then what happened was he realized we were going to enter three 4+s into one race so it wasn't feasible to only have two coxswains when you have three 4+s. And sometimes we just needed three coxswains on the water because of how the races were so close together. So we picked up a third coxswain - which I loved having her around, too - but he was, “Oh well. I promised you 10 to 12 races but now you're probably only gonna get seven to ten.” He wanted to help us find other races and he's, “Oh. I could reach out to other crews for you and stuff.” But Scott was a general manager of Saugatuck at the time - he had a lot on his plate - so I kind of was, “Oh. I could help out with this. I could probably just take the initiative myself.” So the first thing I did was go on to the ROW2K classifieds and just posted an announcement: Saugatuck Rowing Club has coxswains for Masters Nationals. I don't know if that was the most successful - I think I got one person that saw that - so then my last resort was I went to Regatta Central. There’re 140 teams registered for Masters Nationals and I looked at all the sweep entries … then I just emailed every team that had a sweep entry.
ANNE: Get out.
KATIE: Yeah. It was a lot of work and then I got a lot of responses. and the ones that I wasn't able to do because maybe I was already going to be on the water with Saugatuck, I passed off to the other two coxswains. So we were able to find a lot of people coxswains when they otherwise probably wouldn't have been able to race … some of them said. So that was really nice. And I love racing with other boats. It's just really amazing to meet different people and I get to race with people from all over the country, which is really exciting. And there's just so many different perspectives. I’ve jumped into boats with a lot of older people. I've jumped into boats with people just out of college. And you never know who's gonna need your help.
ANNE: Those are great suggestions. Again, thank you very much for those.
BREANA: Another question we wanted to ask you, Katie, is … you already mentioned it in a prior story just a little bit … how do you handle equipment malfunctions when those happen in the boat?
KATIE: If it's simple, I always have tools. I come very prepared so I usually could handle it on my own. But I've come to situations that I don't fully know what to do - usually there's a coach around that could help us out. But also especially coming from the masters world, I'm around a lot of experienced rowers. Sometimes I'm even in boats with carpenters and stuff, which is really cool. A lot of times if I don't have an idea of what to do, a rower will. I remember coming up to the Head of the Riverfront - something happened where we needed a very specific screw or something in a weird spot and my stroke seat who was having the problem, realized she could take the screw out of her foot plate and use it where she needed it to be. I wouldn't have thought of it but maybe your rowers would and you don't have to act like a one-man Island and be in charge of your boat. Lean on your rowers when you need to.
ANNE: More fantastic advice from Katie … I'm not sure that people realize that. Speaking of your kit - your toolkit that you carry with you - is there anything special that you want to highlight that you carry that some of us might not yet?
KATIE: My toolkit was definitely a key for me when I started out on the Saugatuck boys team. I was known for having everything. I had this big, yellow bag that I would carry around and that was considered my best coxing pro, I guess you could say, for a point. And a big thing that I had was a giant sponge. I don't fully remember where I got the idea to carry the sponge but I had a big sponge. And when we would get waked or sometimes we would go out and there's really big waves because we row on a bay, I had a sponge and we could wring out the seats so that there wasn't as much water in the boat and people loved that. I remember my coach thought it was so hilarious that we had a sponge. I think that was one of the moments where I really felt like a part of the team with coming on to a new team. So small things do count.
ANNE: They certainly do.
BREANA: The last question we want to ask today is: in reflecting back on your coxing career so far, what skills stand out to you for you personally that you had right away that were not a challenge to implement in the coxswain seat versus maybe skills that took a little more work to come together?
KATIE: I've been told a lot when I get into the coxswain seat, I'm a bit of a different person I know we said earlier that I am kind of an introvert so a lot of the masters would be, “Oh well - which Katie are you?” because I just found a way to command the crew … especially of adults, which could be intimidating as a 15 year old. But I was just able to really step into that easily and even if I didn't really know what I was talking about yet, I was okay talking and trying things out. So I didn't have a huge problem with that unless I crashed into a dock and then I was embarrassed. But that was it and I've figured out how to make myself feel okay in situations like that. Most challenging thing to me was steering. I was not one of those coxswains that was able to figure out steering easily. The biggest thing I needed to learn about steering - which my coach was not able to help me with at the time - he was always saying, “ I wish I could help you with your steering. I just don't know what to say.” And what I needed to be coached on was how I was holding my hands. I was holding my hands in a way that I thought that I wasn't moving them a lot but I actually was. So definitely how you're bracing your hands on the gunnel and how many fingers you're holding the steering with can make a big impact on the crew. And unfortunately, I did learn that the hard way. We've talked about this a little bit before how this past year at Masters Nationals, we lost our top 8+ by half of a stroke but we were able to come back the next day and have a similar 8+ win the points trophy, which was really exciting but that wasn't always the case with me. I was always under the impression on the youth level especially that if a crew had lost by a small margin, that's the coxswain's fault. So as soon as I lost that race by the half of a stroke, I immediately came to my coach Scott - who is amazing - and I was, “What did I do. Did you see my steering? How bad was it?” and stuff like that. I was just freaking out. And he made me realize there's eight other rowers in the crew and my steering was fine but I just had so much anxiety from past instances. And the one that stands out the most was Masters Nationals 2021. I was just starting to jump into other boats from crews that I didn't know and the big crew that I ended up getting to cox was from Greater Columbus. A lot of those rowers were very young - some of them had just come out of Ohio State, I believe, and it was daunting. They were telling me that they wanted to go sub three minutes down this 1K course and they had just won this gigantic trophy the day before. And I was terrified because I was still developing my coxing style. I was worried about impressing them. I was worried about steering a new boat and it was a tough race. I think it was a seven boat field at Oak Ridge and the other boat - I found out it was from Genesee - it was a mixed 8+ that race that we were in. So all the men from that boat and the coxswain that I later found out were from Princeton lights and they had just graduated - so it was a really competitive field. We were ahead in the beginning I believe but then Genesee started to come up on us and my steering was not where it needed to be and we ended up losing by seven tenths of a second … which I knew that it was me but I didn't want to blame myself. I didn't really say anything but I think everyone knew it was me because off the start, it was a bit windy. I kind of got a little too close to the buoy line at one point and that was what was going to make the seven tenths of a second matter … especially knowing that I was racing against a seasoned collegiate coxswain. So that was really tough especially since I wanted to help those people win. I didn't know them and I just felt really bad I put myself into that boat. Then we came in second. They wanted to go sub three minutes - that didn't happen. It was just really disappointing. So after that, I really made it my mission that I needed to focus on my steering more because I didn't want that feeling to happen again. I knew if I wanted to compete at a collegiate level, I didn't want that to make or break me being in a boat so that was my focus especially since I knew I was going to the Head of The Charles that year. I wanted to steer through powerhouse stretch straight as I could … wanted to nail those turns … and I didn't want to be the coxswain that's adding a lot of time. So I really worked on that and I had a successful season and the way that I was really able to confirm that was I made a bold decision the next year that I was gonna call the guy that I had arranged to cox Greater Columbus again and say, “Hey, do you need a coxswain again?” and they did. And I wasn't sure if they were gonna let me cox them because they knew that I had kind of messed that race up. He even asked me about it, “Some people had feedback that you went a little too close to the buoy line. Do you think you've worked on your steering?” And I knew I had. I steered a great course at the Charles. I had been practicing it all spring and summer so I was prepared to go into the boat. But then it just became, “I got that second chance but am I gonna jinx it?” I got into the boat and of course I was confident. I got everything settled but I was just nervous about what was going to happen in that race and to make matters worse, we get through the warm-up and we're lining up to go and it's a little windy so it's hard for people to stay in their lanes. So as we're waiting, I'm making a lot of adjustments because I'm very particular - after all these steering issues, that I want to be centered in my lane and I want to be in the best spot possible to start. So I always try to make sure that I'm lined up in the beginning as well as I can be. And I was nervous because it's windy and there's these straight fours that are going before us and we're watching them - they start and then they crash and then they start again and then they crash and so on. And that's just making me more anxious. These people in front of us can't steer. It's a bad course today. It's not ideal conditions. There's no way we were going sub three just based on those conditions. It was so bad that they ended up starting the straight fours a lane apart from each other. But we did end up starting and I steered a straight line. I called a great race and we won by open water and we got that big trophy and everyone was so happy. It just meant so much more that we were able to really come together and take photos afterwards and be excited and they were all so grateful that I was able to cox them. And even the day after, they were so happy with how I coxed that they messaged me and said how impressed they were with me … how I handled the wind while the race before us was figuring stuff out, and how I steered the straight line … made calls what I needed to. That really just showed - it confirmed - my improvement. These people had been with me a year ago and they saw I was such a better coxswain. They were already asking me to cox Masters Nationals again which was the greatest feeling in the world. It's a tie between the points trophy and then winning this trophy.
BREANA: It has been so inspiring to talk with you, Katie, and hear about your tenacity and your resourcefulness in your own growth as a coxswain. Honestly, it has really motivated me to step up my own game. I have had it on the back burner to get a giant sponge for my own tool kit and you've inspired me that I need to get that together and level that up. So honestly, you know this conversation - I think really demonstrated that coxswains can come back from bad races even if it takes a year or more to work on that skill development trajectory. And you showed us that a coxswain can pivot when their path doesn't take the trajectory that they first envisioned it would and can still have an amazing, really successful, really fulfilling career. So I'm really appreciative of everything that you took the time to share today.
ANNE: And another thing that you've highlighted is how important it is for us to find an environment that nurtures us and allows us to build our skills and grow as coxswains. And I want to thank you again, Katie, for joining us. We've learned a lot and it has been really enjoyable to talk with you. Is it okay if our listeners get in touch with you after this episode and if so, how?
KATIE: Absolutely. You can contact us at Coxswain Resource on Instagram. It's pretty simple if you have Instagram there. If you don't, feel free to email CoxswainResources@gmail.com. I'm definitely (usually) the one that answers the Instagram. You could even ask for me if you want to chat. I'm totally open to that. And we could get more in personal contact then. Thank you so much for having me today. I really enjoyed being on the podcast.
BREANA: We loved hearing from you and we're sure that our listeners will as well. So thank you again so much, Katie. And as a reminder, we want to let our audience know that you should stay tuned after our outro to hear that recording of Katie's points trophy winning Saugatuck women's 8+ race at US Rowing Masters Nationals in 2022. And we will also have that linked in YouTube video form in the show notes if you'd to check it out that way.
ANNE: We're now at the close of the episode and we want to thank you for listening. If you like what we're doing, please consider financially supporting us on Patreon. We're excited to bring you more content soon and until next time, I'm Anne. And I'm Breana. We're signing off for now and we invite you to listen to Katie's recording.
AUDIO from KATIE’S RECORDING - US Rowing Masters Nationals in 2022