March 17, 2008
"To me, being a Coug means always being a Coug."
These words are the mindset of senior coxswain and women's rowing co-captain, Kelly O'Brien, a 5-foot-1 California native.
During her rowing career at Washington State University, O'Brien has led the varsity eight to a 10th place finish at the Head of the Charles as well as a 2006 Apple Cup victory over cross-state rival, Washington. Even more impressive, however, O'Brien and the 2006 varsity eight boat made history when it placed second at the Pacific-10 Championships and recorded a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Championships, the highest national placing by a women's program in WSU history.
As a coxswain it is O'Brien's responsibility to steer the boat as well as motivate her team.
"To be a coxswain, you have to be able to be a leader in and out of the boat," O'Brien said. "A big part of the job is setting the mood of the boat. If the boat is a little too nervous at the starting line, you have to be able to take hold of the reins and loosen the girls up a little bit to get them excited to be there. On the other hand, if they aren't focused enough you have to bring it in and remind them why we're here."
O'Brien also said that a coxswain has to be able to take the brunt of people's attitudes.
"If someone is having a bad day, you are the one that has to go up and tell them `it's okay, you'll get through this,'" O'Brien said.
As a team captain, O'Brien takes her coxswain duties one step further.
"As a captain, I am an example and if anyone needs to reference how we should be acting and how passionate we should be about our team, then they can look to me," O'Brien said.
To be the strongest leader she can be, O'Brien takes it upon herself to familiarize herself with the course before every race.
"I really need to know what I have to do logistically going up and down the course," O'Brien said. "I go over that as well as a race plan that we've developed so I know where in the race we're going to step it up a notch."
As O'Brien enters her final season as a Cougar her goal is for the team to have fun while staying positive.
"I want to know that I gave my all and pushed the girls as hard as I could to give their all," O'Brien said. "Obviously I'd like to go to Nationals, but as long as the journey is good, I think the end result will be a reflection of that."
O'Brien attended high school at Granite Bay, Calif., where she rowed on some of the very courses she competes on today.
"My first Pac-10 Championships and first San Diego Crew Classic really stick out in my mind as instances I will remember because I raced on that course in high school and had the opportunity to race there at a higher level, which was a lot of fun."
O'Brien's parents, Michael and Janice, still live in California and have supported their daughter as well as the rest of the team when the Cougars travel south for competition.
"Luckily the Pac-10 Championships are on my high school course so my mom and dad have both helped organize our rowing tent there," O'Brien said. "They barbeque, organize the food and are really supportive. My little sister has come out for many of my races as well."
When O'Brien is not hitting the books or on the water, she enjoys any and all the Cougar sporting events she can.
"I watch the games with the soccer and cross-country women," O'Brien said. "I live with three volleyball players so I go to all of those games that I can as well as anything else sport related."
After graduation, O'Brien, a hospitality business management major, will begin interviewing with hotel companies and hopefully find a career in sales or convention services. Being in Pullman is one thing the senior is really going to miss.
"I will obviously miss my team, but all the girls are pretty young so I will be able to come back next year and see everyone. I am really going to miss the Pullman atmosphere and `Go Cougs' attitude the most," O'Brien said.
So far in the 2007-08 campaign, O'Brien and the varsity eight Washington State University rowers have outstroked the competition at the Head of the Oklahoma, Head of the Spokane and Head of the Lake as well as dominating its home regatta, the Head of the Snake held at Wawawai Landing. The Cougars will kick off the spring season March 22 with class day races followed by a match-up in Spokane against Gonzaga March 29. This season's combination of returning experience from team leaders such as O'Brien and the young enthusiasm of a promising freshman class should make the 2008 racing season an exciting one for Washington State women's rowing.