May 17, 2012
SEATTLE - Throughout her childhood it appeared as if Kirstyn Goodger was programmed to excel at water sports. The adventurous Kiwi is adapt at sailing, spear fishing, snorkeling and free diving, all activities she honed growing up on the coastal town of Auckland, New Zealand.
So it should be of no shock that when Goodger tried rowing in high school it was a natural fit. She's rode the wave of the sport to the New Zealand Junior National Team and now to Seattle as a member of the Husky varsity eight.
As she wraps up her second year at Washington, Goodger has infused the Huskies with a competitive verve that has the team surging towards next week's NCAA Championships in West Mercer, N.J. A major part of the reason the Huskies were able to lock down a second-place finish at the Pac-12 Championships came via a bronze-medal performance by the varsity, which was four inches off silver in a dramatic photo finish with USC.
"It was a bit of a dog fight the whole way down," Goodger said, recalling the race. "But the girls did such a great job of being focused, fighting all the way down the course. The finish wasn't a matter of one crew being faster than the other, but who had their strokes in last."
A self-professed tomboy, Goodger competes only to win. And while Goodger prefers actions over words, it quickly became known around Conibear Shellhouse the bare minimum wouldn't be acceptable to her. See, Goodger is the type of athlete who enters the men's crew triathlon (a vomit-inducing combination of a 10k erg, a 10k run and stadium stairs) to enhance her fitness.
She was the only women's rower who did.
"I wanted the mental challenge," Goodger said. "I wanted something to push me." Landing elite-level athletes like Goodger is why Bob Ernst feels confident in promoting the Huskies resurgence. Now five years into his second go-round coaching the UW women's program, Ernst put an emphasis on recruiting, making sure the Huskies had the players to compete against the Brown's, the California's and the Virginia's on the water. With so many women's crew programs nowadays able to offer scholarships, Ernst now has to ensure his scholarships are used on bona fide boat movers. Then he has to beat out the other universities for their services.
"It's a lot about evaluation and identification now," Ernst said. "You need to make sure these athletes have the credentials. There's so much work that goes into recruiting in collegiate rowing."
Yet Ernst was able to luck out with Goodger. That's because the Kiwi sought out the Washington coaching staff after talking with a fellow New Zealand junior rower who was headed to Dartmouth for college, and advised Goodger to pursue collegiate rowing as well. After a few email exchanges Goodger was on a plane bound for Seattle for an official visit.
With athletes like Goodger in the fold, the Huskies have begun to see more success on the water. The UW varsity eight currently has just two seniors - Skye Pearman-Gillman and Erin Lauber - in the boat, which suggests there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Huskies in years to come. Even without a large veteran presence, Goodger likes the collection of personalities in the boat. Seven seat Ruth Whyman isn't shy about delivering harsh criticism. Coxswain Kelsey Jackson is the coach on the water. Bow seat Fiona Gammond provides the necessary levity in tough moments.
"We've really come together as friends and as a crew," Goodger said. "We have everything a good boat needs."
Goodger said she was attracted to Washington for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, she wanted a city by the water. Goodger likes how she can ride her bike five minutes from her apartment to the boathouse, take out a single and navigate the Seattle waterways. But Goodger also saw an opportunity at UW where she could be at the forefront of a turnaround.
"I work best based as the underdog," Goodger said. "That's what pushes me every day to be greater. What I liked about this team is that it had room for development. I wanted to be the person who could say I helped get this team back to where it was." What pushed Goodger to head to the United States was also the opportunity to get a top-notch education. The oceanography major still has designs on a long career with Rowing New Zealand, but wanted the parachute support of a university degree in case she was injured. As Goodger stated, national rowing programs are great until you get hurt.
Goodger has set her goal on competing in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. Rowing New Zealand punches well above its weight on the international stage, but mostly in small boats. The programs wants to add a women's eight for Brazil, and the timeframe comes at an opportunistic time when several veterans will have retired from the sport.
One reason the Kiwis do so well in rowing is the sport's governing body has instilled a culture where the elite and the newcomers all train together on Lake Karapiro, so the young have the example of what it takes to succeed.
"We push ourselves very, very hard," Goodger said. "I think it's an interesting characteristic of being in New Zealand. When you have great athletes on top, it sets the standard. If you want to get to their level, you have to work as hard as they do."
Goodger was thrust into sports early on at the behest of her father Ray, a project manager in Auckland. At first she tried sailing. Then as her teenage years arrived Goodger wanted to choose a sport she could take ownership in. At Saint Kentigern College, Goodger joined a struggling rowing program and eventually helped the school win its first medal at the North Island Championships.
"My dad raised me to be a boatie," Goodger said. "But I did everything, free diving, snorkeling, you name it. If it's summer-orientated and water-orientated, I love it. It's a part of me."
Her competitive drive is a defining personality trait off the water as well. Goodger is particularly irked by macho behavior, and joked that she takes personal satisfaction at beating men at their own sports or games, such as operating a barbecue. Remember, this is the woman whose father once taught her how to drive a tractor-trailer.
"I love taking on challenges," Goodger said.
And as the Huskies embark on their most important challenge of the season, they know athletes like Goodger are the ones who won't shy away from the opportunity.