For Sarah Dougherty, success on the water means little without her teammates.
“We couldn’t do it without each other,” Dougherty said.
What is it about the group she trained with every day that makes rowing for Washington so special?
“The women in this program push each other so hard out on the water and on the ergs and, when we’re not working hard, we’re best friends, sisters, teammates,” she said. “That contrast between pushing ourselves so hard, but doing it to make each other better is what makes us a great program. I don’t think the bond and sisterhood we have here can be found anywhere else in the country.”
When Dougherty thinks about the person she has become over the course of four years at Washington, she credits those around her.
“They have developed me into a better leader, a better person, a better friend and a better athlete,” she said. “I would not be half the person I am without them.”
“It’s been a lot of hard work emotionally and physically,” she said. “It’s always about how we can be better. It’s never just accepting something. We always try to create a higher standard each and every day.”
As much as the program has meant to Dougherty, when she was younger she never planned on a future in rowing.
During her senior year at Kentlake High School in Kent, Wash., Dougherty went into the state swimming championships looking to impress college coaches. Things didn’t go according to plan.
As she was comforted by her mom, one of Washington’s Rowing coaches approached the teenager to ask if she was interested in a future in collegiate rowing.
“I gave him a little bit of sass,” Dougherty said with a smile, looking back on that moment.
Then she gave the idea some thought. She went to a practice. She made a decision. She found the teammates she now considers family.
“It has been amazing,” she said. “It’s a little hard to explain, because we’ve been through a lot as a team the past four years.”
In June 2016, Sarah was named to the Pocock All-America first team by the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association and the first-team All-Pac-12. She also earned an invitation to the U.S. National Team under-23 camp this summer. She hopes to have a career as a professional rower and to one day compete in the Olympics which is fitting since her teammates voted Sarah “most likely to win an Olympic medal.” Sarah graduated with a degree in Sociology in June.
By Mason Kelley, GoHuskies.com
Karlé Pittsinger always planned on competing at Washington, but in high school, she expected that college career to involve a shot put and a discus.
After all, she did win a state championship in the shot put at Chelan High School.
But the summer before she made the transition to college, the track and field standout had a change of heart.
“I had been throwing for a really long time and I was a bit burned out,” Pittsinger said. “I wanted to come to college and try something new. I just kind of had some major life-changing decisions with regards to what makes me happy, what gets me up in the morning.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to follow your gut instincts.”
After making the decision to put track and field in her past, Pittsinger planned on spending her college years as a student at Washington. But, while she needed a change, she still had a desire to compete.
A family friend suggested she inquire about joining the university’s rowing program. At the time, Pittsinger knew little about the sport. But she had a flier and showed up for a tryout.
“The first day I was so scared,” she said. “Everyone was really tall, and everyone looked like they had so much experience. But there were girls just like me who had never rowed before.”
Now a sophomore, Pittsinger said joining the rowing team was the “best decision I’ve ever made.”
Now in her second season, the walk-on has built bonds with teammates she will be “friends with forever.”
It didn’t take long for Pittsinger to pick up rowing. Her competitive nature helped her figure things out quickly. However, it is one thing to pick up the technique. It is another thing entirely to master it.
“You’re always learning,” she said. “I still don’t know what I’m doing, honestly. It’s kind of a crazy sport, because it’s the same motion continuously, but there are all these nuances and you’re always learning.”
Things are going well so far.
“Karlé was a powerful athlete in high school and we are just repurposing that raw power into rowing,” Washington women’s coach Conor Bullis said. “She is competitive, talented and works hard. She has done a great job of using those characteristics to become a great rower and a big part of our team.”
Now that Pittsinger has become a contributor to the program, “It’s just a constant battle to learn and improve your fitness,” she said.
People always ask the rower if she misses track and field. She still has fond memories of her high school days competing in the discus and shot put, but “I’m so happy where I’m at now. Nothing really compares to this.”
She needed a change. She found what she was looking for.
“We evolve and we change,” she said. “When you can realize what’s in your gut and go for it, that’s a pretty awesome thing.”
‘If people say it’s really difficult, then I will probably like it.’
“Dani is awesome. She is the hardest-working athlete I think I’ve ever coached, ever,” says women’s crew head coach Bob Ernst. “She’s naturally gifted and she’s very, very bright.”
Team captain Dani Olson is a sixth-generation Husky who hails from outside of Manitowoc, WI. She played soccer and volleyball in high school and was a three-time state powerlifting competitor. But she had never rowed before.
“She’s learned how to row really well here,” Ernst continued. “She leads by example. She’s really strong. She’s really fit. She’s committed to the team and she’s brought a lot of leadership to the boat and tons of power.”
In addition to becoming a rowing powerhouse in her four years at Washington, Olson is a Specialist in the National Guard, active in her sorority, and a biochemistry major studying pre-med. This summer she helped fight wildfires with her National Guard unit in Eastern Washington.
Although quite humble, Olson admits to playing to her strengths. She’s a power rower, a power multi-tasker and an all-around powerhouse, or “Wonder Woman” as Ernst says.
We sat down with Olson at Conibear Shellhouse the day before fall quarter started to find out how she balances it all and what’s she’s most excited about in her last year. Here are excerpts from our interview.
Q. How did you decide to try out for rowing?
A. I heard rowing was really difficult so that kind of piqued my interest. I like a good challenge. I like to do hard things. If people say it’s really difficult then I will probably like it. I decided to try out and it was just a really good fit for me.
Q. What do you like most about rowing for Washington? Least?
I love the water here—Lake Washington and Lake Union. Seeing the city of Seattle from the water is just the most breathtaking view and especially at 6 a.m. The water is flat and when the boat is going well you’re just flying. Rowing is all sensory – your system is turned on. You’re working hard. Your adrenalin is pumping, you feel the wind in your face and it’s just the best feeling.
I like the erg the least. That to me is the most mentally challenging thing I’ve ever done. I’ve done CrossFit, jujitsu, and a lot of mind-based sports. But the erg constantly giving you feedback and seeing every stroke – is so draining. But it’s taught me to keep my head down and just do the work.
Q. How do you balance it all?
A. Some times are worse than others. It’s hard to make the choice between I need to study and I need to sleep for practice. But it’s been kind of a fluid learning thing. I just try my best to keep the perspective that not one test is going to break my GPA and if I keep in touch with my professors they’re pretty understanding. I’m lucky to be in a National Guard unit that supports rowing and they’re really proud of me. My sorority sisters come to all of my races and are very supportive. I think having people in my life who really care about what I’m doing makes it so much easier for me to do the things I’ve done.
Q. Where do you think you got your work ethic?
A. Growing up we moved around a lot which is funny because my father’s a doctor and you wouldn’t think you would move a lot but I’ve always been overly competitive. My friends were my teammates. I would compete all the time with the people I was closest to. I’d want my friend’s spot more than anything. I was looking for someone to validate my performance or make me feel like I was doing the right thing, on the right path. As I got older I realized it was more for me than anything. I thrive in tough, harsh environments. I like to be in the grit of things and see if I can pull myself out.
Q. How did you decide you wanted to be a doctor?
A. My father is an orthopedic surgeon so I’ve been in surgery, I’ve been in a cadaver lab with him and we did some hip and knee replacements. I’m really interested in trauma surgery. I had someone really close to me die in a car accident and the trauma surgeons were not up to par. That resulted in him dying and that was really hard for me. I’d like to be more proactive in that field and change the mentality of a doctor that’s been up for 48 hours and is delirious and can’t make good decisions.
Q. What are your favorite classes?
A. I love organic chemistry. I’m a bio-chemistry major with a nutrition minor. I really enjoy my nutrition classes. I’m taking a class this fall on food policy that I’m really excited about.
Q. What are you most proud of with regard to your rowing career at Washington?
A. I’m really happy to see the change in my teammates. As captain I was able to build them up and watch them grow. Maybe it’s because I planted the seed and gave them that little word of encouragement and that’s what made them blossom. I like to think that the strength of our team this year stemmed from that.
Q. How would your teammates describe you?
A. I hope they would describe me as passionate and someone who has a lot of grace. I really try to be humble as well. I’m more interested in the team doing well and less about myself doing well. Whatever’s going to make the team the fastest, if that means I have to be in the JV I don’t care. I will race as hard as I can no matter what boat I’m in as long as we take down Ohio this year. We are going for #1.
Q. What’s it going to take to be #1?
A. It’s going to take a lot of pain and it’s going to take committing to a weight training program to build the strength on our team. I try to show people what it’s going to take. I train maybe more than the average person. I go to CrossFit and lift six days a week.
Q. What are you most looking forward to in your senior year?
A. One of the things I’m really passionate about is changing our nutrition focus to an “eat to perform” mentality. I really want to change the female athlete mentality from ‘I need to be this weight and I need to look good’ to being strong. It’s really empowering when women can stop looking at the scale and look at their performance and feel proud of themselves no matter what weight they are. I think our performance will increase exponentially.