Jayhawk Insider: Working her way to the top
Seven years, thousands of meters rowed and countless minutes of hard work put in has all led up to one final Big 12 Championship for senior rower Kristen Underhill.
Underhill never imagined that her rowing career would take her to where she is now. After years of putting everything she has into being the best student-athlete she could possibly be, Underhill still looks back to the day when rowing became a possibility.
Unlike most student-athletes at her level, Underhill had not spent most of her life perfecting the perfect stroke, but playing a completely different sport: soccer. Underhill didn’t pick up rowing until her sophomore year of high school when she decided to hang up her soccer cleats.
Being reluctant at first and being ready to go through the motions, Underhill didn’t know if she wanted take on a whole new sport after leaving the only other sport she knew.
However, things didn’t take long to turn around for Underhill as it only took one practice to change her mind about rowing – a sport she would end up absolutely loving.
"I loved it from the very beginning. I never thought it would lead to this, but I'm really glad that it did."
Underhill put everything she had into her newfound love of rowing with the Westerville Crew team, competing at the U.S. Rowing Club National Championships and placing third at the Midwest Rowing Championships in the Petite Final of the Varsity Eight.
Part of the appeal of rowing to Underhill was the team dynamic and how the entire team has to be one cohesive unit. Eight people need to be in sync and working together as one.
“You can find dynamics of teams that need to work together everywhere, but with rowing you need to work together and be together as one,” said Underhill. “When you get that feeling of everyone doing it together at the same time, there’s nothing like it.”
It wasn’t until a couple years into rowing and starting to get noticed by universities that Underhill began to realize she could continue her new passion at the collegiate level.
Underhill had a pick of schools, but was set on the type of program she wanted to spend the next four years with. She wanted the environment where she would continue to grow in as much as she could.
“Being able to work up to being good on the erg and water was important to me, I’ve worked so hard and wanted to keep it going,” said Underhill.
Underhill found that place where she could go up against other student-athletes at a competitive level and has spent the last three years working her way up to the Jayhawks’ top-two boats. Over her years at Kansas, Underhill has competed in several boats, but earning a seat as one of the top rowers at Kansas wasn’t easy for the senior.
"Kristen has had, by far, her best year as a senior," said head coach Carrie Cook-Callen. "We could tell she came into the fall with a little extra motivation and a little more preparation."
Going in with the same enthusiasm and determination after all these years hasn’t been easy, but Underhill credits her teammates for helping her through the incredible amount of work and time she has put in.
“You can’t really beat them or do the sport without them,” said Underhill. “Emotionally, mentally and physically, you need a support system and that is the best thing this sport has had to offer.”
With over 60 teammates, Underhill is never short on the amount of support she will receive in her last couple weeks of rowing while she continues to work hard to close out the last seven years on top.
“Growing into the sport, you have to work for everything you get, nothing is ever just given to you. It’s crazy that seven years is almost done.” said Underhill
Hoping to finish strong and nearing the end of her collegiate career, Underhill is working hard to leave a legacy with this program and leave her name somewhere in the boathouse.
“It’s exciting to see her do things that she has never done before in terms of pulling erg scores and being in lineups she hasn’t been in previously,” said Cook-Callen. “We’d love for her to continue these next couple weeks to really close out a special senior season.”
The years of hard work have paid off for Underhill as her best season to date comes to an end. With only her last Big 12 Championship remaining, Underhill is prepared to leave it all out on the water.