Cal rower Kara Kohler just completed an amazing novice year of rowing that saw her go from taking her first strokes ever, to making Cal's top-ranked Varsity 8 and winning a Pac-10 title, to winning a U23 World Championship in the USA W8+ in July. How did Kara find rowing and what was 2010 like for the now sophomore?
row2k - What was your athletic background prior to rowing?
Kara Kohler - I came into rowing with a strong swimming background. I have been swimming ever since I can remember, but started training seriously when I joined the Crow Canyon Sharks, a USA Swimming Team, just prior to starting high school. Aside from swimming I spent a few years playing tennis and running track. I really tried it all when I was younger, but found my passion in swimming.
row2k - How did you find rowing and what was the recruiting process for you as a novice?
Kara Kohler - The idea of rowing in college was suggested by a family friend who was familiar with Cal crew. At first I thought ‘yea right’ how could it be possible to go into a sport that I knew nothing about, at a school as prestigious as Cal. I kept the idea in the back of my mind and later while I was planning visits to other colleges for swimming I decided to do a little research on Cal Crew. I told my parents about it and, like me they weren’t too sure what to make of the idea. I pursued it further, was eventually invited for an official visit, and soon after committed.
row2k - What was the first couple of months like, how quickly did you get pulled up to the varsity squad?
Kara Kohler - The first couple of months were at times a bit stressful simply because I was starting college and coming into this sport with no experience or knowledge. It was hard for me at first to be in this position among experienced rowers and not knowing where I stood on the team. However, after learning the basics in the first month or so, it became an enjoyable challenge to see how quickly I could excel and soon after I was brought up to train in the varsity boats.
row2k - You figured out the erg pretty quickly, any tips for other novices on how to excel on the machine?
Kara Kohler - The only way to excel on the erg is to put in the work. I came in with a training regimen very similar to rowing having spent four years in the pool everyday and often twice a day. That really builds up your mental toughness and endurance. Also setting high expectations for yourself and sticking to them consistently no matter how tough that may be, will bring you a long way. I came in and saw which rowers on the team were the best of the best and set my standards off of them.
row2k - Your first race ever was in Cal's Varsity 8, what was that experience like?
Kara Kohler - For my very first in-season regatta I raced in both the varsity and the 2V. Not at the same time of course but within the regatta. There was a little anxiety over it being a real race and all but we were pretty confident which helped ease the nerves. If I recall correctly, in one of our races I took an air stroke during the start which freaked me out, but I was quickly able to refocus and get back to business.
row2k - What kind of a teammate was Jill Costello, and how much impact did she have on your development as a rower?
Kara Kohler - She was the kind of teammate that many aspire to be like. She not only had the determination to make the best of her situation with lung cancer, but also to continue on a path of excellence when she easily could have retreated. Despite everything she was going through I cannot remember a day when she didn’t come to a practice with a genuine smile. Her courage to face all her challenges head on was what made her such an inspiration to everyone. As a person and a rower she gave me a new perspective on how to look at life’s challenges, big or small. As she wrote after she was diagnosed, “Life is all about how we handle the challenges we are given.” I will never forget those words, and will never forget Jill.
row2k - How/when did you decide to try for the U23 team, did you think you would have a shot at making the boat?
Kara Kohler - Well, I believe the first step came when I attended the identification camp last November. At that point I really wasn’t sure what U23s were, I just knew that at ID camp they were going to put us on the erg and potentially in a boat. After figuring out that U23s is a selection camp to race at U23 Worlds, I never questioned whether I would apply or not, it just seemed like the next logical step to take. At camp I didn’t fret too much about whether I would make a boat, I just thought that it was cool that I was able to train at these neat locations with the best of the best college rowers.
row2k - How was racing and winning gold at the U23 World Championships in Belarus?
Kara Kohler - It was quite exciting to get to experience what international competition has to offer. Being there representing the USA, seeing all the other rowers from other countries, and hearing all the people cheering was a big pump up for each race. Having felt defeat before, made winning gold feel even more triumphant.
row2k - What is your favorite part of the sport?
Kara Kohler - Having so many people holding each other accountable to do our best for the benefit of the team.
row2k - What was the most important thing that rowing has taught you in the last year?
Kara Kohler - To just take a chill pill. It really makes everything a whole lot more enjoyable.