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Kansas Student-Athlete Spotlight: Katherine Young
May 05, 2015
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By Adam Sullivan
Big 12 Campus Correspondent

Looking back on one’s childhood, most adults knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. For some this turned out to be true, for others new passions opened up doors unimaginable. Kansas sophomore Katherine Young is getting to experience both.

Young grew up in St. Louis, Missouri where she began singing and playing the French horn at a young age at church. Music became her passion and led her to dream about her post-college plans.

“I want to join the Marine band and play the French horn,” Young said with excitement. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do since seventh grade.

This drive, ambition and determination has been prevalent in anything Young has put her mind to. She grew up like most kids playing sports as well, but nothing caught her eye. Until high school, music was still her main passion- but all that would change in a meeting during gym class.

“I was in P.E. class when the St. Louis Rowing Club coach used to go recruit at all the local high schools,” Young explained. “He played this video of rowing in the Olympics and brought erg machines. I honestly wasn’t interested at the time, but my friend thought it was really cool and wanted to try it. I told her I’d at least go with her, but I really wasn’t excited about it. I went with her and I ended up falling in love. I quit all my other sports. If you ask any rower that tends to be what happens; rowers always used to be something and then they became rowers.”

With her new passion in full swing, Young began to think about college. Being from the St. Louis area, Young grew up a fan of the University of Missouri and didn’t give KU much of a thought until she scheduled a visit. Like many freshmen coming to Lawrence for the first time, the beauty of campus won their hearts.

“St. Louis is one of the top high school rowing areas in the Midwest so there is a lot of recruiting that goes on there,” stated Young. “I actually got recruited with Madison (Hovis) and we were looking all over the country. I went on my visits and KU was my first one. After it was over I was not as excited about any other visit because I knew I was going to come to KU. Being on campus made me fall in love with the University of Kansas. I think I made a great choice.”

In the summer of 2013, Young moved to Lawrence and began pursuit of both passions to the fullest. She declared herself a French horn major and joined the rowing team, combining two talents and different lifestyles together, and leaving many around her perplexed.

“I’d go to the music halls and they’d jokingly ask, ‘What’s sports?” Young said. “Then you’d go to the rowers and they’d be like ‘What’s music?’ I sort of became the ‘Pocahontas of KU.’”

For Young, dealing with how hard both passsions are she still finds harmony in both. Despite being on opposite sides of the spectrum, Young believes music and rowing are fairly similar.

She’s right. Though one is on the water and one is usually in a classroom or stage setting, both require large amounts of teamwork and dedication. Young credits one ability more than others to achieve success in both hobbies. It’s not extreme athletic ability or being blessed with musical talents, but rather something everybody can be good at - listening.

“I think there are a lot of connections between music and sports, but particularly rowing because it’s such a rhythmic sport and a group ensemble,” Young stated. “With rowing you have to be able to listen to your teammates and to the boat to make sure it’s moving like it should. In music, you can’t play in an ensemble without listening to the people around you.”

The similarities don’t stop there. In fact, they increase on a much larger scale. When comparing the rowing team to a collegiate band, both have a large number of participants, require a tremendous amount of practice and patience and for Young, the similarities even show during practices.

“One of the things we do in rowing is sculpt the workout based on strokes per minute,” Young explained. “When you go up with strokes, it’s just like increasing the tempo with music. If one person’s off on the boat it kind of messes everyone up, just like in music.”

Like many student-athletes, Young believes sports can be a love-hate relationship at times, which is understandable. Most who have a passion about something would tell you even they have ups and downs. It’s part of life. Everything about a certain job or hobby can’t be perfect. Young has found a way around that.

Her equal passion for two hobbies allows Young an opportunity to breathe. Like many college students who deal with stress of studies by going to the gym and working out, if Young is stressed about rowing she heads to the music hall.

“I think music has helped with rowing from just sticking with it, even when you kind of hate it sometimes,” said Young. “If someone told you they loved something 100 percent of the time, they’d be lying. With music I’ll be in the practice room and get frustrated. I’ll feel like I’m no good at it and just be over it. The same thing happens with rowing. I think having two passions makes this a lot easier. If I’m sick of music, I’ll do rowing. When I’m sick of rowing, I’ll go into the practice room and let it out on my French horn.”

This balance helped Young remain focused and successful during her freshman campaign at Kansas. On the water Young was rock solid, competing for the Jayhawks on serval boats during the year. While rowing with the Novice Eight, Young and Kansas claimed victory at the Conference USA Championships. Young earned a second-place finish at the Big 12 Championships racing with the Third Varsity Eight, but one event stood out to her in particular.

Not only was it Young’s first season on campus, but it would be the first time in several years that KU rowing was able to host the Jayhawk Jamboree. The event drew a crowd of more than 2,000 to watch the fall classic rowing event on the Kaw and showed KU rowing was in full force around the Lawrence community. This season again over 2,000 packed the banks of the river to cheer on the Jayhawks at the Jamboree. In addition 200 fans came out to support KU during a scrimmage against Drake and Kansas State, a backing that left Young and her teammates speechless.

“I was shocked when I came here with all the support from the community,” Young said with excitement. “The first Jayhawk Jamboree was insane and then our scrimmage against Drake this season was so neat. We didn’t think going into the scrimmage that too many people would come to watch, but we were stunned there were a lot of people there. It was absolutely great and really fired up the team.”

Supported by a city, university, coaches and teammates, Young has blossomed into quite a rower herself. With the facilities and staff that Kansas provides, learning and improving becomes easier. KU had the Kansas Boathouse built in 2009, a state-of-the art facility that is not only a great practice feature, but also a large recruiting tool for KU rowing. Young experienced the awe of the boathouse first-hand.

“The boathouse is amazing,” stated Young. “The erg facilities are unbelievable. One place I went to visit had their erg machines in a little gym. There was no way I could envision myself spending 20 hours a week in this little gym. At KU we have the palace at Burcham Park. We really have it going on here. It’s the Mercedes Benz of boathouses.”

Though it’s only her sophomore season as a Jayhawk, Young already has her future planned out. After college, she will join the Marine band and play the French horn. People question why she rows if she wants to join the Marines, wondering why she didn’t join the ROTC or another military-related group instead. Young admits ROTC is more military than rowing, but the lessons she’s learned in this program will fit right in with the Marines.

“Not only do I just love to row, but I think rowing will apply to the Marines because it has taught me to push myself harder than I ever imagined,” Young said. “If you look at the Marines, that definition basically sums up the job. Being able to push yourself when you have nothing left, rowing has prepared me for that journey.”
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