It was 1985 when Sue McKain’s husband stumbled across the Corinthian Yacht Club newsletter that had an announcement. The newsletter stated that any woman who wanted to learn to row could show up at the University of Washington boathouse and learn. The women would then have the opportunity to race in the Opening Day Regatta against women who belonged to other yacht clubs. McKain took the opportunity and was coached by Dick Erickson for three months. “That got me hooked,” McKain said.
Before her personal start in rowing in 1985, McKain was already familiar with the sport. Her dad rowed at the University of California, Berkeley in 1931 as a Freshman. When his family moved to Los Angeles, he was on the first men’s crew team at UCLA. He was in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics trials in a coxed four. McKain’s father had a whole album dedicated to rowing photos. She remembers thumbing through the album often. “I was always fascinated by the sport,” she said.
Before coming to row for Sammamish Rowing Association (SRA) in 2015, McKain had rowed many years starting with Conibear, Seattle Yacht Club and Montlake Rowing Club. Her early days of rowing took her on many adventures including Masters FISA regattas in Scotland, France, and Italy. Just like her dad she has a thick album dedicated to preserving the memories of her ongoing rowing career. Inside were photos from practices and races, poems written by her teammates about the sport, posters from renowned regattas, crew comics, news articles, and even more precious pieces of memorabilia.
When McKain retired, she no longer had to row with a group early in the morning. Her 4:30am alarms were now in the past, and she was hoping to join a new team. That’s when Paul Harvey suggested SRA. “He and I rowed together when he was part of Ancient Mariners and I was part of the Seattle Yacht Team. He said I had to come to SRA,” McKain added.
It wasn’t only friendships and good memories that the sport gave McKain. Rowing was a way for her to keep her mind off three cancer diagnoses. McKain had skin cancer a few years ago and just this past year went through treatments for breast and thyroid cancer. Thankfully McKain is currently cancer free and still rowing! “Life doesn’t stop,” she said when discussing how she got through her treatments. “You need to have something to look forward to. Rowing provided that.”
Every day she continues to make new memories, but one of her favorite rowing memories was at the 2016 San Diego Crew Classic. “It flew by,” she said. “It was such a great row. I felt that moment where it seems so easy even though you’re working so hard. We would've won it if it wasn’t for the Chinook’s composite boat! We still felt great about getting second place. The common focus, common excitement, common support where we all trusted each other was amazing.”