When Jacqueline Kemp walked on to the Seattle Pacific University women’s rowing team two years ago, she hadn’t rowed a day in her life.
Now, the junior from Burien is the coxswain of the Falcons first varsity eight crew, which recently finished in fifth place in the San Diego Crew Classic final. They faced off against Drexel, Loyola Marymount, San Diego, Sacramento State and Georgetown, all Division I universities.
“Most people think that coxswains are the ones who steer the boat and shout, ‘Row, row, row!’ Yes, we do steer the boat and, yes, we do yell at the rowers. But coxswains do much more than that. We are the coaches in the boat. We have to know all the details and be the brain of the boat while the rowers are the brawn of the boat,” Kemp said.
In the boat while the rowers are rowing, Kemp has a GPS tracker that tells her how fast the boat is going and how many strokes per minute the boat is producing.
If the numbers being produced are not the numbers she wants to see, she has to figure out how to fix the problem before it is too late and they get too far behind to catch up.
“We have to develop very keen senses toward the boat and need an extensive knowledge of rowing technique,” said Kemp
It’s a big responsibility, and Kemp had three years to learn it all, walking onto the team in head coach Andrew Derrick’s first year.
“Since it was Coach’s first year, he was looking for people fresh to the sport. He taught me everything I know,” said Kemp.
Kemp may have partially joined the team because of what her sister said to her before arriving on campus, “You could make a good coxswain. You just have to be small, loud and bossy.” She has since learned that the role isn’t only about being bossy. Kemp knows the plan for the race and needs to help the rowers execute it, but she needs to listen to the rowers’ feedback so she can do that effectively.
“When I’m in the boat, I’m not supposed to be friends with the rowers. … I have to hold them accountable to themselves. We each have developed a mutual respect for each other. Anybody could get into a coxswain’s seat and shout commands or hold the rowers accountable to their speed. But the rowers don’t just want someone to yell at them. They need someone to trust — and that trust starts outside of the boat,” said Kemp.
In rowing, there are both boats of four rowers and boats of eight rowers.
In each race, the teams begin at the same point in the water, and whoever can go 2000 meters the fastest wins. It’s a sport that takes lots of dedication and hard work, including 5:30 a.m. practices, rain or shine.
“It truly is the ultimate team sport. I’ve played a lot of sports in my life, but nothing compares to rowing. The level of physical and mental exertion and synchronization that rowers have to exhibit is unlike anything else,” said Kemp.
“When all of us athletes spend so many hours every day together, pushing ourselves to our limits both mentally and physically, we develop a bond — we become family.”
In all the races where Falcon crews have participated this year, they have had at least one top three finish. Because of this, Seattle Pacific’s varsity eight crew is ranked second in the west region, and the team is ranked fourth overall in the US Rowing Coaches Poll, only behind Central Oklahoma, Florida Institute of Technology, and UC San Diego.
The goal for Kemp and the rest of the Falcons is to qualify for the NCAA championships.
A good result at the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships, where the Falcons will face tough competition from other teams in Division II, will help them do so. The event takes place on April 27-28 in Gold River, California.
After this, the Falcons will take part in the Windemere Cup at the University of Washington, and travel to Oklahoma, where they will face off against number one ranked Central Oklahoma, among other teams.
Next up are the National Championships, where only six boats of eight and four boats of four get to go.
If the Falcons do qualify, they will travel to Indianapolis, Indiana, where the championships will take place from May 31-June 2.