Previously an avid soccer player, Smith took what he thought would be a quick break after he broke his foot during a match. Rowing would soon capture his heart. Smith said, “Rowing has been a special part of my father’s side of the family and my father found SRA online and suggested that I have a go at it. Initially I only treated rowing as a stand-in until my foot healed and then I thought I’d go back to soccer. But it was after I completed fall season of my novice year that I decided trying something new could be good for me, and it was the best decision I have ever made to this day.”
Smith embraced the rowing culture and became captain for the Experienced Men’s Team for the 2017/2018 season. The sport instilled confidence and discipline in Smith, but also had plenty of other benefits. He added, “I have nothing but amazing things to say about SRA and the community it has created for me. The friends and connections I have made during my time there cannot be matched by anything else. My experience as a rower for SRA couldn’t have been as great as it was without the coaches and teammates I worked with.” Even though he had nothing but amazing things to say about his team, that didn’t mean he always had perfect days.
One of the races he took part in turned out to be one of his favorite memories. In 2017 his teammates had their hearts set on winning regionals. They put up a good fight but didn’t quite have enough to win. The following year things had changed. Smith described being a part of a truly special boat. He said, “The trust that ran through that boat was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. To know that my teammates trusted my performance as much as I trusted theirs made our chemistry that much stronger. Sure enough, as race day came, we obliterated the grand final and became 2018 Northwest Regional Champions in the Varsity 8+. That memory is truly something special for me.”
Rowing benefitted Smith in many ways. He commented on how his fitness and overall well being improved from his involvement in the sport. Additionally, he feels special from his part in crew (rowing) culture that not many people are familiar with. Rowing tends to be a niche sport so being a part of a rowing team often makes an athlete feel unique. Although he also juggled band involvement starting in sixth grade, he quit to focus his time more on rowing since it became so important in his life.
As a dedicated student and athlete, it is clear Smith puts one hundred percent effort into his passions. Rowing gave him strong friendships and a fiery passion for athletics. He also loves returning to the boathouse to catch up with new and old rowers as well as offer his advice to younger rowers. Around Christmas break he rode in a launch with Coach Dennis Ferrer for an entire practice just to watch and support his old team. He made sure to add a message for SRA rowers, “reach out to me if you have any questions at all or if you simply want to catch up and talk. I’ll always look for an excuse to come down to SRA and see how the teams are doing. If those of you reading this have an interest in rowing or know someone who has an interest in rowing, I highly encourage you to start rowing and learn at SRA. There’s no better team for it.”
There were too many positives during her time at SRA for McKown to count, but she said one of the initial things she loved about rowing was the newness and unique aspect of the sport. As a novice she learned that the rest of the athletes came from different schools and lived in different towns. As novices none of them had ever rowed before so the excitement of a new experience in a new place with new people was invigorating. McKown commented that rowing, “was a complete separation from everything that I was used to and in many ways, tired of.”
Additionally, the sport helped her navigate and cope with tragedy. After her novice season, McKown’s dad was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away shortly before her senior year of high school. “Rowing was critical to how I moved through those two years to graduation. It was a complete reversal where the mental was in control of the physical- much the opposite of my Dad's situation. It was something in which I had complete control, and was something where I was learning something new every day- all while being surrounded by good things,” she said.
Following high school, McKown went on to attend Boston University from 2000-2004 while majoring in Anthropology. Even though she enjoyed rowing, she did not let it become a factor in where she attended college. However, once at Boston University, the allure of the Charles River running through campus made rowing hard to resist. She said, “I walked-on, and ended up rowing all four years in the 1st Novice 8+/Varsity 8+. I got to compete at NCAAs both freshman and junior year when we qualified, rowed at Women's Henley and Royal Henley in England my senior year, and was Team Captain my junior and senior years as well as MVP my senior year.” Evidently rowing worked out quite well for McKown in her collegiate experience.
Once she graduated, McKown biked home from Boston. She says that somewhere around Montana she received a call from the then executive director at SRA, Gretchen Frederick, asking if she was interested in a coaching job. With no other post-graduate plans McKown happily accepted and began her first job with SRA as a coach. She joked, “My first day coaching was as an assistant to Marcy Chartier with the 5am Masters. It was a blast. Anything with Marcy Chartier is a blast. And Patrick and Marc, of course.” (Patrick and Marc are well known rowers with the 5am group.)
With experience on both sides of the oar, McKown couldn’t name one favorite memory. Instead she reflected on the power of community and the extraordinary people she met and interacted with at the boathouse on a daily basis. For her- favorite memories centered around people. A killer sunrise with Mount Rainier in the backdrop tended to be at the top of the list as well.
McKown worked other jobs and volunteer positions after her coaching stint and is now a full time mom of two children, Sanna who is four, and Toren who is two. She and her husband, Tom, married in 2011. She jokes that her current job responsibilities include picking up strewn Legos and making mac and cheese. However, she has and still is enjoying an active life of travel, mountaineering, bicycle tours, backpacking, skiing, trail running, and hiking.
Thank you Kara for your lasting impact and legacy at Sammamish Rowing! We look forward to watching you crush your goals like you always have.