Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk: Nikia Rosenberger-Weber
At the University of Kansas, there have been numerous student-athletes who have left their mark on their respective sports. When it comes to rowing, a small-town Kansas girl will forever be remembered for her dedication to the sport.
In the late 1990s, Nikia Rosenberger-Weber instantly fell in love with the University of Kansas the moment she stepped foot on campus. Although she was offered an academic scholarship at Kansas State University, the Jayhawk culture on top of Mount Oread made her feel right at home.
“I picked the University of Kansas after going on a campus visit,” Rosenberger said. “I fell in love with it and it felt like it was the place where I was supposed to be.”
Rosenberger, who grew up on a family farm in the small town of Troy, Kan., knew the meaning of hard work for as long as she can remember. Taking care of her family’s horses, hogs and cattle while staying involved in athletics taught her the principles of hard work and responsibility. Those same values proved to contribute to her success while rowing three years for the Jayhawks from 1997-2000.
“It taught me the values of hard work and responsibility,” Rosenberger said. “It definitely impacted how hard I worked at sports too. It just comes naturally when you’re raised that way, and I was expected to work hard in everything I did.”
It was during the first few weeks on campus that Rosenberger caught a glimpse of the sport that she would soon fall in love with. Having an athletic background and wanting to become involved in campus activities, Rosenberger gathered information about the Kansas rowing/crew team. She became a member of the crew team her freshman year (1995), and realized she enjoyed it so much that she wanted to become a member of the official women’s rowing team. As a result of her success on the crew team and growing love for the sport, during her sophomore year (1996), Rosenberger met with head coach Rob Catloth and earned a spot as the coxswain on the women’s rowing team.
The coxswain position on a rowing team is a lot like the captain of a ship. They steer the boat and coordinate the power and rhythm of the team. Being such an important position, Rosenberger had to earn the trust of each team member in order to become a successful coxswain. She showed off her small town roots as she displayed her toughness and work ethic toward her teammates, which was not an easy task in the beginning.
“That first spring semester, the team actually went to Rob (Catloth) and wanted me out of the boat I was racing in,” Rosenberger said. “I was very different from all of the other coxswain they had previously had because I pushed them very hard.”
As the team began to practice with each other day in and day out, they began to trust Rosenberger and adjusted to her new style as the coxswain. They could now focus solely on working as a team in the boat.
“After getting through that, we all came to the realization that I was there to make them fast and it wasn’t about anyone’s feelings, or trying to hurt feelings; my job was to make them fast,” Rosenberger said. “It got to be where they depended on me because I was in charge of what was going on in the race.”
During her senior campaign (1999), Rosenberger’s leadership as the coxswain proved to help the Jayhawks as they raced against some of the toughest competition in the Knecht Cup in Camden, N.J. The Jayhawks raced against a handful of Ivy League schools where rowing is a huge tradition. Rosenberger remembers being ridiculed by opposing teams, as well as their parents, as a result of being from Kansas, which at the time, had little rowing tradition compared to those Ivy League schools.
“During our first heat, our coach overheard some parents of another team calling us the ‘ruby red slipper girls’ and other things about us, much like the teams had,” Rosenberger said.
The adversity the Jayhawks faced in the Knecht Cup brought Rosenberger and her teammates even closer together as they dominated the competition. Each member of her crew knew they had a job to do in order to accomplish their goal, and it was Rosenberger that led them through each race.
“We won every heat, semifinal and final by open water. We had so much fun that weekend and made a huge statement to others about what rowing in Kansas was all about,” Rosenberger said. “We all had our job to do and nobody was in a tighter or closer bunch than those girls on my team because we relied on each other so much to do our own part.”
As the coxswain for the Jayhawks, Rosenberger commanded the boat and her teammates at all times. She is arguably the best coxswain in the history of Kansas rowing as she collected the postseason outstanding coxswain award during each of her three seasons for the Jayhawks (1997-2000). To this day, Rosenberger is the first and only rower to receive the outstanding coxswain honors in three-consecutive seasons.
After she received the honor for her third straight year, the coxswain award was renamed the Nikia Rosenberger Outstanding Coxswain award in 2000. Looking back on her career, Rosenberger is grateful to have earned the award in the first place.
“Winning the award, even before it was named after me, was a huge honor,” Rosenberger said. “When they named it after me I was blown away. It still blows me away to know what I did really mattered.”
Rosenberger currently lives on a farm about a mile away from where she grew up in Troy, Kan. She is happily married with two children and is involved in pharmaceutical sales. When she is not busy selling pharmaceutical products, she can be found coaching her daughter’s softball team as well as working on her farm.
“Currently I work for Merck, it’s a pharmaceutical company. I do pharmaceutical sales that cover northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas,” Rosenberger said. “I coach my daughter’s softball team and my husband coaches my son’s baseball team, so we’re both very active with our kids sports.”
As an active member of the K Club, Rosenberger is still involved in the Jayhawk community. She travels back to Lawrence in order to catch up with old teammates during various sporting events.
“There is a group of us that started going back the last few years to the K Club weekend,” Rosenberger said. “I’m only an hour and a half away from Lawrence, so I go back to a lot of ballgames and see the girls there. Whenever I hit the bridge and pull across the Kansas River I feel like I am home.”
Before attending the University of Kansas, rowing was an unknown sport for this small-town Kansas girl. But it turned out to be more than a sport, as it was a way to become involved in the Jayhawk community and create relationships that will last a lifetime.
Rosenberger’s name will always be displayed in the rowing boathouse located on the Kansas River. Although there is a new outstanding coxswain award winner after each rowing season, Rosenberger’s legacy will forever be remembered for her time spent in a Crimson and Blue uniform.
Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk.