Throwback Thursday: Risa Petty

Jan. 12, 2012

Risa Petty (Rowing) 1996-2000
Petty, now Risa Kearn was one of the first stand-out rowers coach Rob Catloth and his program had. Petty was made an immediate impact on the team during her freshman year, which was only the second season in program history.Petty continued her successon the waterduring her upperclassmen years, as she helped lead KU to a big win at the IRA’s her junior year, which was also the first of her two years as team captain. The Lawrence native can still be found in her hometown,working in bodywork and massage therapy.

How did you get started in competitive rowing?
“I actually grew up playing softball and when I was getting ready to graduate high school, I decided I wanted to go to KU. Unfortunately I was not going to be able to play softball at KU, but I could have at some smaller schools. My neighbor knew somebody whose daughter rowed at Kansas before it was a varsity sport, so I called Rob (Catloth), the summer between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college. He just told me to show up on a specific day and try out.”

What was it like becoming familiar with a sport at an older age?
“It was a lot of fun, because it was not like I was trying to make it with a whole bunch of professional rowers. We had a huge group of girls who had never rowed before, so with everybody learning at the same time, it made it feel possible and not like you were being thrown in the boat with a bunch of pros. It was really not that intimidating and actually a lot of fun.”

What would you consider the highlight of your rowing career?
“My junior year we won the IRA’s (Regatta), which was really pretty cool to win a major event at the end of a year. That set us up well for following year, which was our senior season. We won some pretty good races that year too, but I would say it was neat to be there from pretty much the beginning of the program. I got there the second year it was a varsity sport and by the time I graduated we were ranked, so that was pretty special.”

You were a captain during your junior and senior years, how was it to be viewed as a leader of so many other teammates?
“It was diffidently nice to be recognized by my teammates, because it was voted on by the team obviously. There was another teammate of mine who was brought up to varsity with me during our freshman year, and she was also named captain the same years I was. So it was kind of cool that we both made it together. As for me, I was very much a lead by example kind of person and was not a vocal, sort of rah, rah type of captain. But it was very neat to be able to use some of my leadership and organizational skills to help the team and be kind of a liaison to Rob.”

Were you surprised with some of your success so early on in your career?
“Yeah, I was kind of surprised at how quickly I picked up rowing. Since we are all in a boat together there is not a lot of individual ways to show what you can do, other than on a rowing machine. That’s why there were always competitions on them, so we would do testing, which was the only way you could prove what you’re doing. I was randomly really good at the rowing machine, so it was kind of fun to be able to be good at something like that in two short years.”

Rowers are known for getting up early to train… on average what time did your alarm clock go off, when you were a student athlete?
“We used to practice at the lake (Clinton) sometimes, so that would take a good 20 minutes to get out there. So I think I would get up at about 5:15 or 5:20, but a lot of times you would wake up before then with the fear of god in you, that you would miss your alarm. You did not want to be late for practice, because that would be awful. If you were, your whole boat would not be able to get out of the water. I knew some people (on the team), that were really bad at getting up early, who would set multiple alarms that were away from their bed. So I would get up at about 5:15 a.m., and sometimes we would carpool together, pick up our friends and try to be on the water by six.”

1998-99 team captainsHow challenging was juggling athletics with academics?
“It definitely took a lot of focus and discipline, that’s for sure. I would sometimes tend to procrastinate, so I would end up with a lot of late nights, followed by early practices. My major (social welfare and human development) had classes primarily on one or two days a week, so I would end up being in class from about 8-4, and then would go straight back to practice again. It was pretty much practice, class, practice and then go home and do homework. So it was pretty taxing, but looking back on it, I am really proud that I made it through.”

What do you think of the new boathouse that was dedicated to the program a few years ago?
“When we first toured it at the opening (in 2009), it was a mixture of being so happy and relieved that the building was finally there, with a sense of jealousy, because of how much fun my group of teammates would have had at that place. We would have been able to do our homework together and cook dinner together because we had a kitchen in there. It would have enabled us to be together even more, because we were a real tight knit group. We definitely made the best of what we had, but I can only imagine how much fun it is to have such a great place to meet and be able to do school things as well as rowing things together.”

Do you still keep in contact with any teammates that you had when you went to school at KU?
“Oh definitely, my senior year we had eleven seniors and about half of us regularly get together at least once a year. Branching out to some of the other classes, I am really good friends with several girls, younger than I was, so there is a good online family where we get updates on people. There is generally a really positive feeling between all the classes and they we try to give each other support. We have actually been talking about getting into a race because the current team has been going to Head of the Hooch (Oklahoma City), instead of a race in Boston. We want to get an alumni boat together and get our old slow selves into a boat for fun and do another race. Hopefully in the next couple of years, we can make that happen and that will become a tradition for some of the alums.”

What did you do after graduation and the completion of your rowing career?
“Well my undergraduate degree was in social welfare and human development, so after working for a year, I just decided I needed to not be in an office setting, and went off to join AmeriCorps for a couple of years. While involved in that organization, I was able to do some hands on things outside and decided that I wanted to go into a non-traditional profession.”

You now are in that non-traditional profession you speak of. How did you first become interested in the massage therapy profession?
“With all my athletic background and working in the weight room, I was really interested in the whole thing and learning about the body, so I decided to go to massage school. After working as a massage therapist for a couple of years, I decided I wanted to become a rolfer, which is another form of body work. I have been doing that for a few years now and I just love it.”

“There is a group of us that have an office downtown called Kinetikos, which was actually started by a friend of mine who also went to KU. It is really great to be able to help people that are either physically in pain or just need to feel their best. Either way I get to work with people every day in a setting that is really relaxed and be creative in the process.”

You recently got married to a K-State grad. How does the intrastate rivalry play out at home?
“Well to be fair, he has one degree from K-State and his most recent degree is from KU, so he is really a KU grad. At least that is what he claims because he does not claim K-State. We have a 15 month old son and there is no purple in his wardrobe, although we do have one relative down in Texas that had a daughter who went to Baylor. So they sent us a Baylor outfit and we had to put it on, take one picture and he has not worn that since!”

Throwback Thursday Archive Page:

Petty (Kern) and her husbandThe Kern family