Jan. 13, 2010
SEATTLE - Competition defines Kayleigh Mack's personality. The Washington rower possesses an almost manic drive to fashion herself as one of the program's premier rowers.
But that tendency isn't limited to her on-the-water activities. Mack is also the type of person who wants to win everything she does. You name it; she'll want to beat you.
As the Huskies attempt to rebound from their 7th-place finish at the NCAAs last year, Mack has embraced a leadership role within the team this season. In her mind, there's too much at stake with the history of women's rowing at Washington to allow her team a similar year in 2010.
"Last year was a hard year to get through. We all had really high hopes where we were going to finish," Mack said. "And the NCAAs wasn't what we wanted. But it definitely created a bigger stronger drive for what we wanted this year. Personally, it pushed me really hard this summer and into the fall."
Over those summer months, the Seattle native worked exclusively in the pair as part of her participation in Northwest Development Camp. Hours and hours spent in the pair improved her fitness and honed her stroke, propelling her fully charged into the fall. Pair rowing is an essential tradition to Washington, namely because of the way it develops strong rowers. As women's coach and rowing director Bob Ernst is fond of saying: "Ergs don't float, but pairs do."
That statement is particularly important to Mack, because she's unable to train on the indoor rowing machine. An arm injury two years ago prevents her from erging, so Mack instead trains on a stationary bicycle that measures her work output, mirroring the same workouts the team does on the machines. Considering the erg is such an instrumental metric in evaluating rowers, Mack admittedly has more pressure on her to produce on the water.
"She definitely has other skills that set you apart," Ernst said. "In our program, a higher priority than the ergometer is how you can row in a pair. (Mack) is really, really good in a pair, especially in the bow seat...The ergometer teaches us who is fit and who is motivated. But so does a pair."
Mack is so good in the pair that she's lost just one pair race, which is the system Washington uses to separate its rowers during the fall. In fact, Ernst will use Mack as the "variable," in pair racing, meaning he can judge another rower's fitness by putting them into the pair with the senior and noting the difference in times.
Not being able to erg will likely hurt Mack's national team aspirations, but she's determined not to let it stall her goals. The sociology major also wants to get into coaching, but with one caveat - she refuses to work at another school. She's become so ingrained in the fabric of Washington rowing that it would be nearly impossible to detach from the culture here.
"I have friends who row for teams all across the country, and nobody has tradition like we do," Mack said. "No one has a boathouse (Conibear) like we do. And you're reminded of it all the time with the oars, the pictures everywhere. You breathe it every day."
Mack considers the UW program to be her family, a strong bond formed after a family tragedy changed her life prior to enrolling at Washington. While at Roosevelt High School, Mack lost her father, Bob, in a tragic accident. At first, Mack struggled to cope with her emotions and her decision to row collegiately, but the strong bonds she formed inside the crew program have helped her fill the vacuum.
"The friends I have here and the support system I have here have been incredible," Mack said.
As the years have passed since the tragedy, Mack has matured within the program as well. The senior is one of the more vocal leaders on the team, and she's not one to accept a mediocre practice or training session. Everything her team does has designs of succeeding in June, when the team will race in the NCAA Championships at Lake Natoma in Sacramento, Calif. Whenever the team does a piece on the water, the goal the next day is to better it. They attach the same philosophy to their work in the gym.
"She's a tough kid," Ernst said. "About as tough as they come."