Once A Jayhawk, Always A Jayhawk: Emily (Martin) Carberry
The rowing training room was a one-room cellar, outfitted with one set of weights and rugged equipment. There was a gritty feeling about it; like hard work, blood, sweat and tears were shed there. Drive to the Kansas River where the team practiced. There was a chain-link fence with boats hooked up to it and next to it, two porta-potties. That was it. That was the rowing facility.
Opportunity is there.
The rowing program at the University of Kansas started in 1995 in the midst of Title IX conversations. The University officially sanctioned NCAA Division I women’s rowing as a sport and began offering women scholarships.
An opportunity for women.
Growing up in Wellington, Kansas, it had always been the dream of Emily Carberry, formerly Emily Martin, to attend her state’s flagship university – the University of Kansas. She remembers growing up in a household that faithfully supported the Jayhawks.
During Carberry’s senior year of high school, her interest in KU instantly developed into an eager desire after the University of Kansas spoke to a group of Kansas Scholars she was a part of. However, reality would soon set in, as the cost of attendance was much more than her family could afford. Her dream would have to be put on hold, much like many other high school graduates with similar financial barriers.
Carberry, a well-rounded athlete who participated in every sport her school had to offer, opted for the rational decision to attend a local community college. Butler Community College is located in El Dorado, Kansas, approximately 60 miles northeast of Carberry’s hometown and was the next step for Carberry after she graduated high school. Butler allowed Carberry to pursue her passion for volleyball while attending a more affordable two-year college.
Little did she know, her college volleyball experience would double as an opportunity for a future to further her education.
An opportunity came in the form of a letter from Kansas’ then – rowing recruiting coordinator, Jennifer Myers. Carberry was in her sophomore season at Butler Community College, finishing up a two-year stint as an outside hitter for the Grizzlies, volleyball team. Myers’ letter detailed the rowing program at Kansas and suggested that Carberry take a visit to Lawrence to give the program a look.
Unsure of her plans for the future, the letter could not have come at a more ideal time. Carberry considered the opportunity and gave it a shot. Before deciding on Butler Community College, Carberry had aspirations to attend a four-year university, but knew that financially it was more feasible for her to start at a junior college. The potential for a scholarship with the rowing team at Kansas would be Carberry’s ticket to The University of Kansas. Her dream could be realized, even if she had never touched an oar before.
“Once the opportunity presented itself I thought I would be stupid not to take it,” Carberry said of her rowing scholarship offer.
Having no prior rowing experience, much like the majority of the team, Carberry joined the rowing team as a third-year undergrad. Unlike many others, Carberry had the advantage of not only playing multiple sports in high school, but she had two years of exposure in college athletics.
“I think the main thing was just having two years of college under my belt. It just sort of gave me a little more focus and maturity going in to start something new,” Carberry pointed out. “I feel like I had all sorts of experiences to draw on.”
Regionally speaking, rowing is not as prevalent as other collegiate women’s sports. Typically, women who are recruited for the rowing team do not have any rowing experience. Without previous rowing experience, attractive rowing candidates are generally women who have been successful athletes at the high school or junior college level. KU head coach Rob Catloth birthed the rowing program at the University of Kansas and specializes in training athletes into rowers. Although formal rowing experience is lacked by many, Carberry spoke highly of the bonds that are formed by tackling a sport not everyone is familiar with – together.
“For rowing, I think there is one thing that brings everybody together, and that is the majority of the team is embarking on this new journey together. Most of the girls have not done it before,” Carberry said. “For the most part everyone is figuring it out together, learning from each other and utilizing each rower’s different strengths. There’s something special about doing it together.”
Carberry was especially fond of the bonds she formed with the girls in her boat and on the team. Rowing gave her a group of friends she could count on and be there for, just as they were there for her.
“I felt very much on my own when I came out of high school and went to junior college. When I came to KU, I was a part of the team and I felt like I had a support system,” Carberry explained. “That was very important to me. It was life-changing. People were looking out for me; people were there to help me and be positive influences on my life.”
Carberry explained that rowing is all about synchronization. Everyone in the boat needs to be on the same page and have the same built-up endurance as the next athlete. When rowing is done well, it should look effortless and efficient.
“When you’re in a boat everyone’s body has to be doing the same thing at the exact same time. You know that we can’t get anywhere without each other. The next girl’s heart is beating just as hard as yours is and she is hurting just like you are, but you are doing it together, literally in every sense of the word,” Carberry expressed.
Having this support system through the tough trials of early morning practices, less than ideal weather conditions and little public recognition may have been the key to Carberry’s successes during her three years on the rowing team.
During her time with Kansas rowing, Carberry served as team captain her senior season and was a member of the First Varsity Eight boat in every race her junior and senior seasons. One of her fondest memories took place in her senior season on the Varsity Eight boat at the NCAA South-Central Regionals where the team set a school record in the 2,000-meter race. Carberry was also named the team’s Most Improved Oarswoman following the 2008 season.
In January 2009, during Carberry’s final season, the Kansas Rowing Boathouse was completed. The boathouse symbolized new opportunities for the rowers. A facility to train at and a place for the team to call home, the boathouse also served as an area to gather, provided a place to study and offered an opportunity to shower after practice.
“The boathouse is going to be there forever and it is really the lighthouse for the program. You can train there, you can study there, you can get clean before and after class,” Carberry went on. “It gives the team a home base and gives ownership of the program. It was like the school was saying to the program, ‘We see you. We support you. We want you to have success.'”
The boathouse was a more than a step up for the team, which previously trained on campus and then drove to practices on the Kansas River. The only shelter the team considered during rain or snow was a small park pavilion with no walls. The 14,000-square foot boathouse now sits on the Kansas River, making it a one-stop-shop for workouts, practice and gathering.
The boathouse was something Carberry and the program had wanted for a long time, even if she only got to enjoy it for a short season as a member of the team.
As Carberry’s graduation approached she had considered graduate school, but wasn’t exactly keen on the idea until an opportunity presented itself in the parking lot of Wagnon Athletic Center.
Classes were wrapping up and Carberry was finishing up her finals when she ran into Coach Catloth. He asked her what she planned to do after she graduated, and suggested she take a graduate assistantship with the rowing team under him. Carberry took the opportunity to have graduate school paid for while working as an assistant coach. During her graduate studies, Carberry met her husband, Kevin Carberry, who was working for the Kansas football team as a graduate assistant.
After graduate school, the rowing recruiting coordinator and assistant coaching job opened up, upon which Catloth proposed Carberry apply. Carberry got the job under Catloth and went on to coach for a year on staff until her fiancé’s job relocated the couple to Texas.
And now, in 2016, Carberry has moved again. She is living in Washington D.C. and thriving in her corporate job as a program coordinator for The Container Store, operating and training a group of 200 professional organizers and handling contractor relations.
“Now, as life goes on, you’re sort of stuck in an office all day. So a lot times on a beautiful sunny day, I just think about being out on the water with my friends and working together,” Carberry reminisced.
Although her time may be up in terms of rowing, her opportunities for success are still flourishing. And Carberry believes that she has being a Jayhawk to thank for that.
“When I think about my time there, I just feel lucky. I feel like so many things in my life would be different if I hadn’t have gone to KU. It was the turning point. Not that things were going bad, but they were just going okay. I feel like it was really the catalyst for the rest of my life,” Carberry concluded.
The University of Kansas has given her a fair chance at opportunities, but it was in Carberry’s hands to take them. A scholarship. A team. A degree. Graduate school. A job. A husband. A family. An opportunity.
“Kansas will always be home to me and that won’t ever change,” Carberry said.
Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk.