This week row2k features an interview with Duke Senior rower Katie Dukovich. Find out how Dukovich rowed her way to college and what she thinks is more special than winning Justin Bieber tickets.
row2k - How did you get your start in rowing, and how did you find your way to rowing at Duke?
Katie Dukovich - This is a long story. I'm the youngest of five, three brothers and one sister. All of them played sports like basketball, baseball, softball, and football. All of my siblings were amazing athletes and super intelligent and I needed some way to live up to their standards. I couldn’t do it their way because they were already so much more achieved than I was. I felt very lost and kind of like a “nobody” in my own family. I needed to do something drastically different so I could stand out and make something of myself.
This is how it happened. So instead of going to basketball tryouts, I went to rowing practice with my friend just for a fun afternoon. As soon as I got there, the rowing coach, Chelsea Prior, put me on an erg and made me do a short test (it was supposed to be just for fun, but is erging ever fun?). Chelsea told me I had great potential. That was the first time I felt that someone believed in me. So I shook her hand and joined her team right then and there - all without my mom knowing. I didn’t want to tell my mom because something about quitting the sports that my family loved to watch and enjoyed so much felt very wrong to me. I didn’t want to disappoint her. I honestly didn’t want my family to know because I felt that they would convince me not to do it. So instead, I tried to keep it a secret for as long as I could. I knew I needed to do this for myself.
Three months passed and my mom still thought that every day after school I was going to basketball, but instead I was training and rowing on the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, PA. When my mom found out she was not very happy with me, but I expected that. I wanted to prove so badly that it was worth it and I wanted her to trust me and let me follow what my heart was telling me. I knew it would pay off in the end.
I loved the sport, it gave me an identity. I had the drive to excel in it. Everything was great until one day I found out how expensive it was to row at my school. That was a big bummer to find out. In the three months that I was rowing in secrecy, I was already the fastest girl in Pittsburgh at that time. Deep down though, I knew couldn't keep going because I knew it would burden my parents to have to try and support me. My mom is a full time nurse, and my dad is disabled from a terrible spinal infection so the income level just wasn't enough to support all five kids. My mom was super busy trying to make ends meet and raise five kids so I knew I couldn’t burden her by asking her to help me.
With that being said, I owe a huge amount to my dad. Even when we didn't have the best relationship, he fundraised almost every penny for me just so I could keep going. He drove me to every race, and sold every lottery ticket calendar for me so I could just focus on training. He made sure I had a good breakfast and food to keep me fueled every single day, and looking back there is no way I could have done it without his support. I never thanked him for it, so I hope he reads this. There were times he didn't even have money for gas to get me to practice, but somehow he always came through. He loved watching me cross that finish line and saw how much it meant to me that he was there. He never missed a thing.
Seeing how involved my family was getting with my sport, I decided that if I was going to row, I needed to be the best. I owed my family that. I was going to be the best. I felt deep down that if any high school girl deserved to get a scholarship, it was me. My family was not the richest, so my only solution to get myself an education was a full athletic scholarship. I knew I could get what I needed. I would practice before practice, and I would practice after practice. I basically ate, slept, and rowed throughout my high school career. I worked so hard for my goal. Sometimes I wanted to give up, but I knew I had the potential for greatness and I wanted my family to have something to be proud of. I wanted to be known for something too. Being overshadowed by older siblings because they are very well accomplished people can be demotivating. “How can I ever be like them?” I would always ask myself that. Rowing was the only thing I had to prove to myself that I too, was a great person. I too was worth watching. I wanted my parents to be as proud of me as they were of my brothers.
It was all finally worth it when I had colleges from everywhere wanting to talk to me. I remember crying once I got off the phone with the first college coach who was trying to recruit me. It was like holy cow, I might actually get to go to college! I did it! His name was Jim Lister, the Duke recruiter at the time. Of course I told him yes to an official visit. (I still miss you Jim)
Which brings me to how I got to Duke. All I truly remember about that official was that everything was blue, the coaches were crazy, and the team was awesome. Also, Katie Duke is my nickname so going to Duke would just be a hilarious coincidence. The head coach told me if I rowed for her I wouldn't have to worry about money. So right then and there I shook her hand and joined her team, all without my mom knowing- I really like to hide things from my mom apparently. But, here I am four years later. My family is very proud of me, and I have one season left to get Duke to NCAA's. Hard work does pay off, and being true to yourself is the only way you’ll get far in life!
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Dukovich - It is the hardest sport hands down. I don't care what anyone else says. If people think I am kidding, they can go sit on a erg for 4x20 minutes and then tell me again how easy rowing is. This sport is like no other. You train for months for one race- but getting to cross that finish line with the eight other girls who gave you everything they had is more special than winning any Super Bowl, World Series, the lottery, or Justin Bieber tickets. Seriously, it's an unbelievable feeling. Pain, hard work, teamwork, blood, sweat, tears. What is there not to like?
row2k - How has this season gone with the new coaching staff, and what are your goals for the spring?
Dukovich - College rowing is rough. For three years I was on a team that didn't really have high goals set, and I felt like everything I worked for in high school was put to waste. The girls I worked with were amazing young women, and I always felt so terrible we couldn’t win more and get what we all so much deserved. I was very frustrated with how the team used to operate. I saw how much we put into the sport and how disappointed those women were with not getting any real reward. I wanted to win, and I wanted to be my best self. I cannot stand watching other people pass me on a race course. I wanted to quit so incredibly bad, but again, I couldn't afford school so I had to stay and row for my education.
Luckily, this year we have a whole new coaching staff. The team works the way I always wanted it to. I wish that our alumni could see what Duke Rowing is becoming. I cannot even express in words how incredibly thankful I am that the new coaches came in and gave this team a whole new meaning to rowing and wanting to win. I know that finally we as a team have the full potential of getting what we deserve and no one but ourselves can stand in the way. The Duke rowing team has never been so fit, and we have never been so hungry for competing and winning. Thank you Megan Cooke- Carcagno, Chuck Rodosky, and Chase Graham. You lit a fire under my butt. You guys rock!
row2k - Your coach mentioned you have a Duke tattoo? What are the details on that?
Dukovich - Yes- I do have a tattoo with our team motto on it. My mom doesn't know about it, but I guess she will now after reading this. It says "trust the process" and it has a bald eagle flying beside it. It's on my rib cage. I wanted the eagle next to the motto because there are two bald eagles that live on our practice lake, and every morning I get to see them fly and it reminds me just how amazing life and the sport of rowing can be. I chose "trust the process" because my head coach says it all the time, and when anything terrible happens to me it plays throughout my head and it makes me realize that stress is a useless emotion. Like when I'm about to puke from an erg test and my coach tells me to trust the process, I know that somewhere in the future the pain I am presently experiencing will be worth it. Don't sweat the petty things! If you can take another stroke, take it.
row2k - What are some of your interests away from the boathouse?
Dukovich - I have too many interests to even mention. I love animals, I love nature, I love acting, I love romance, and I love having a good time. I am studying Earth and Ocean Science at Duke and I have no idea what I am doing after graduation. All I know is, I want to do something out of the ordinary and be the best I can be. If I end up living in a tent, so be it. If I end up living in a mansion, so be it. As long as I am happy and surrounded by the people I love, I can say that I lived a good life.