Aug. 9, 2010
SEATTLE - The feeling still hasn't worn off. World champion. Kerry Simmonds figured she might let it sink in for a while.
Simmonds is now back on campus after a summer in Belarus at the U23 Championships, where the senior and her teammates from USRowing dominated the field to capture a gold medal. But she still has vivid memories of her experience in Eastern Europe, one that included long waits at the border, exotic cuisine and a reunion with fellow Huskies halfway across the world.
"To race on the international level, that was awesome," Simmonds said. "It's cool that it went that well for the first time. It's just ... it's hard to describe, but it's really awesome to represent your country and race against the world."
More importantly, Simmonds returns to Washington recharged and seasoned with international experience. It's the perfect combination to bolster for a varsity boat losing a pair of key senior contributors going into the 2010-11 season. Simmonds, a quiet personality who leads by example, now has the gravitas to take on a bigger role on the Huskies team.
The Huskies program prides itself on preparing student-athletes to succeed internationally. Simmonds had a leg up on other rowers trying out for U23s because of her experience in the pair, a boat Washington uses to train its athletes in the fall. A pair boat requires meticulous technique and fitness, and when the selection workouts were announced in Chula Vista, Calif., (a 6K erg test followed by a pair matrix), Simmonds quickly was able to distinguish herself. If it weren't for her pair experience, Simmonds simply said she wouldn't have made the team.
Another reason women's coach and rowing director Bob Ernst encourages his athletes to test for international selection is the teaching his Huskies receive with their respective countries coaches. For Simmonds, her experience with USRowing offered her plenty of technical feedback to bring back to Conibear Shellhouse.
"This is my first time having a coach not from the Washington program. I think it's a really good thing for rowers to do," Simmonds said. "It was definitely an honor to be at the camp and rowing with those girls who are at the tops of their programs across the nation, and then getting coached by the likes by Anne Kakela, Linda Muri and (Olympic coach) Tom Terhaar."
Simmonds wasn't quite sure how much USA's win resonated back home until she returned to the States and her cell phone exploded with congratulatory texts, voice mails and emails.
She's come a long way since arriving at Washington from San Diego, having never touched an oar. She was a consummate multi-sport athlete at Torrey Pines High School (basketball, cross-country & track), but her original plan was to focus on school and enjoy the college experience. On a tour of UW, however, it was suggested that since Simmonds was tall (6-1) she should try out for crew.
So when Simmonds returned home to San Diego, she and her mother (Karen) rented a pair and took it out for a spin. Despite a harrowing experience on the water, the seeds of interest were sown. Simmonds' background is similar to that of the recently graduated Adrienne Martelli, a former walk-on from University Place, Wash. Martelli had a multi-sport background at Curtis High School (including basketball/cross-country) and rose in rank with the Huskies, taking over as captain her senior season in 2010. Martelli won a silver medal at the U23 Championships last year, and is currently training with USRowing's elite team.
Of course, this is of no coincidence to Simmonds.
"She's my mentor," Simmonds said. "We even have the same major and everything. So I definitely feel like I'm her little shadow sometimes."
Now it's time for Simmonds to carve her own legacy on Montlake. She's spending the rest of the summer here in Washington, working out to maintain the fitness she developed with USRowing. And Simmonds has another year of U23 eligibility as well, so she'll have an opportunity to defend her gold medal next summer in Amsterdam. In the meantime, she'll continue to work on making the Huskies a dominant force in the Pac-10 and graduating with a degree in biology.
"I'm just pumped now to bring it in the fall," Simmonds said. "And take girls with me."