Many may think that Husky athletics is on the mind of all UW coaches and athletes 24/7. For most, this is actually true. Many athletes say they have little downtime outside of their sport, but at the same time cannot imagine their lives without it.
However, very few are fortunate enough to be able to work a job or play a sport that they love while also chasing other dreams and fulfilling other passions. Rose Baker is one of these lucky ones. Not only is she fortunate enough to work for such a great program as the strength and conditioning coach for the UW women's soccer, men's and women's tennis, women's golf and football teams, she is also able to follow her other passion - rugby player. Though it takes great dedication, she succeeds in balancing all her various roles in life - coach, athlete, daughter and friend.
After talking to her for even just a few minutes, it is clear that two words prominently describe Baker - strength and commitment. She is equally as committed to her job as she is to the second most important part of her life, rugby. She sees her job at UW not just as a job, but she gets to know each athlete individually so that she can better help them be their best. Most important to her job is "just being here in the weight room, designing their weight-training programs, individualizing their workouts, spending lots of time with them out on the field, out on the tennis court, doing conditioning and fitness training."
Baker grew up in rural Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. She did not know a single soul in Seattle, but she "threw everything in [her] car, grabbed [her] dog, and drove out" when the opportunity for an internship at UW became available in August 2003. From that internship came a full-time position, the one she currently holds, and she feels very thankful to still be at Washington, working in a field where "people tend to move around every three or four years, just testing out different places." "The fact that it just feels kind of like a family" is the reason she has decided to make her home here in Seattle for the past seven years. She also enjoys living in Washington State because she "loves getting out into the mountains" and participating in activities like hiking, climbing, and snowshoeing.
She played softball, basketball, and volleyball in high school and missed the competitive atmosphere of organized sports when she got to college. As a sophomore in college, she "heard about the club rugby team and I thought I'd check it out. I went to the first practice and was hooked from that point on." She is now part of a women's club team called the Seattle Rugby Breakers, a very competitive Division I club team, and most of her time outside of work is spent practicing and competing on the team. "It's a pretty big time commitment," she says. "It's pretty much a year-round sport except for the months of December and January. Then we have our spring season from February to May. In the fall, our regular, big, competitive season starts in August and runs until November. So, that's a big part of my life - practicing two days a week, a game almost every weekend during the season." The other teams in their conference are all along the west coast, from Portland to Northern California, to Phoenix and San Diego, meaning that they travel quite a bit for games, especially during the regular season.
One may wonder, with all that is involved with both working with Husky athletes and being heavily involved with rugby, how she is able to balance both work and play. She attributes her ability to balance the two to the fact that her "coworkers have been very supportive in those occasional times when I do have to leave." She says that she's "lucky [to] have coaches that are extremely supportive of my rugby career where they're like `You've got a play-off game, go ahead and do what you have to do'." However, it is actually amazing how well her involvement with rugby generally fits in to her work schedule.
"I get here at about 6 a.m. and leave at about 6 p.m., go straight to practice at 6:30 p.m., and am at practice until about 8:30 p.m. So, the practice doesn't really conflict at all and then games are usually on Saturdays, which is usually my day off here."
Rugby and her work as a coach at UW actually have a type of yin and yang quality in that they both compliment and feed off of each other. The fact that she stays in shape for her job helps her in staying more in shape for the rugby season. "The Seattle Rugby Breakers, they're very competitive in the Women's Division I, so needing to be in shape, to have to go through practices, to work out outside of those practices, it really does help me continue to relate to what my athletes go through." She also says that her athletes and coaches "think it's kind of a cool thing for me to have going on on the outside." At the same time, the fact that she plays competitive rugby gives her more credence with her players. "I think athletes are able to just respect you that much more when it's not just you telling them what to do, but they know you go through it and you know how to stay fit yourself."
She has had some incredible memories so far, both working with Husky athletes and playing competitive Division I club rugby. One of her favorite recent memories of working as a UW coach is the women's soccer team's run to the Elite 8 this fall. "The dynamics of the team and the chemistry and effort that those girls put in all year round [is amazing]. This past summer, spending a lot of time with them early in the morning, out on the east end running, and then just to see all that culminate into them reaching the Elite 8. Also, getting to travel with them and be there for the wins against teams like Irvine. It's just a really perfect example of what hard work can lead to, so that definitely ranks up there." She also mentions excitement in some of the other sports she works with saying that "Football getting back to a bowl game; I've never been here when football's gone to a bowl game, so it's going to be a lot of fun. It'll be interesting to see how that kind of changes things for us. Tennis is continually competitive, so every May and June I get to look forward to seeing how far those kids can go."
One of her favorite recent memories of playing rugby was this past season when her team beat an incredible club team from Northern Virginia, appropriately called NOVA, in the Elite 8 to send them to the Final 4. "We were a team that everyone kind of looked over and they were already aiming their sights at being in the Final 4. They were a really big team, fast team, strong team that no one really expected us to do anything with. We just showed up and gave one of the best team efforts that I've ever been a part of. Everybody literally had to pick themselves up off the field, drag themselves off the field when that game was over. Everybody left everything out there and then to have that result in the win for us is really special."
Her commitment to the athletes and to the university is apparent, especially to those who matter to her most - the Husky athletes and coaches she works with every day. Women's soccer senior captain Kendyl Pele says about Baker "All that I can say is that she is one of the biggest factors in our success. What she has done to prepare us physically has been instrumental, but her positive attitude and belief in us has made a huge difference in our team's mentality. Because she never gave up on us, we were forced to never give up on ourselves. Someone like that is just irreplaceable." Pele expresses the sense of commitment Baker has to the teams and the way she goes above and beyond saying that Baker "stayed with us all summer and trained us at 6:30 a.m. every day, just because she wanted us to get better."
Women's soccer head coach Lesle Gallimore expresses the same sentiments as Pele and sums up Baker's importance to the student-athletes and coaches saying that "Rose Baker is as vital to our staff as any of our coaches, me included. She has physically and mentally helped positively transform many of the athletes on our team. Her work ethic is second to none; her willingness to learn as much as she can about each individual on our team and to learn about the sport of soccer has been absolutely paramount to our success since she has been here. We'd be dead in the water without her."