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.