Not everyone takes the conventional path to success when it comes to life or sports. For me, the path I took to become a scholarshipped Division I athlete was anything but conventional.

After tearing my ACL playing soccer at age 14, I was forced to move on to non-contact sports.  I joined the track team my freshman year of high school, and although I always enjoyed competing, I was never truly passionate about the sport itself. I managed to achieve some moderate success within the team, but I never moved past district races. Even though I always worked hard, I never really had the passionate drive that I saw from some of my teammates.

I was all over the place when I graduated high school. At the time I felt limited in my options, so I enrolled in a local community college in Southern California, Orange Coast College.  One of the reasons I was drawn to OCC specifically, was cost.  My parents generously offered to help me pay for a two-year degree, but beyond that, it was on me to pay for my education. I made it my goal to first get my Associate’s Degree at OCC and then to move on to a four-year university. I was thinking of a few local options, but I had always dreamed of going to an out of state university and I wasn’t quite ready to settle.

When I first enrolled at OCC, I was tired of the grind of high school sports and figured the break would be good for me. However, without the community of a team, I soon felt alone and depressed. I just wasn’t myself without the structure of a sport.

After my first year, I was ready for a change. A family friend had rowed for OCC, so she suggested that I try out for the team. At the time I didn’t know much about rowing and hardly even considered it a sport. Once I heard that we would have to practice at 5:30 AM every day, I was even less interested.

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Even though I had my reservations, I figured that I had nothing to lose and so I might as well give it a shot. I drove to the first practice thinking that if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to come back. When I arrived at the boathouse early, doubts and fears crept into my mind and I turned the car back on and drove away. Halfway through my drive home, I remembered that I promised myself I would give it a chance at least. I was desperate for meaning and direction in my life, so I reluctantly returned to the boathouse and took a chance on rowing.

To my knowledge, OCC is one of the only community colleges with a rowing program. As a program, they welcome experienced rowers, but as I soon realized, they truly excel at taking women with zero experience and turning them into competitive college athletes. I felt immediately comfortable on the team, not only because my coaches were approachable and supportive, but also because my teammates were in exactly the same position.

After two months of rowing with the novice team, my coach moved me up to the varsity squad. This was the first time that I felt like someone saw something in me and I was ready to work hard for her. Although being picked was an amazing feeling, I was now expected to jump the learning curve and adhere to a much higher level of performance. I eagerly accepted the challenge and grew to love pushing myself both on and off the water.

It was difficult to balance the schedule of a collegiate athlete with a minimum wage job and a full-time student course load, but my newfound passion drove me to excel in all areas of my life.

Being a part of the varsity team was a new world for me. I saw girls in their second year being recruited to some of the top universities in the nation, and that sparked in me a drive to achieve the same level of success. My second year at OCC, I was named co-captain of the varsity team, and I was starting to see the possibility of transferring. I woke up at 4:30 AM, 6 days a week so that I could do extra workouts before shoving off the dock at 6. Completely changing my eating habits and applying myself academically, I started accomplishing goals incrementally and improved my times.

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Even with all of my hard work, the recruitment process did not come easy. I reached out to multiple schools mid-October of my second year through cold emails and calls, but it was difficult to capture their attention. Many never emailed me back at all, while some coaches were kind enough to call and tell me that I just wasn’t the type of rower that they were looking for.

Then Fordham found me.

Fordham contacted my coach because they had recruited an OCC rower before who turned out to be a success, and they wanted to know if my coach had any other rowers to recommend. After exhibiting a strong work ethic and dedication, I was honored to discover that I was the one my coach suggested.

I was extremely excited to be contacted by Fordham about a scholarship, but the initial offers were too low. In rowing, it is uncommon for athletes to receive a full scholarship, so I didn’t think I could afford to attend the university. My recruiter, Katie Lane, gave me some goals to work on for the rest of the year, explaining that if these goals were met, we could renegotiate the offer.

By the end of the year, I was named Oarswoman of the Year for OCC and received the Wilbur C. Scholarship award for academic achievement. On top of these accomplishments, I had also achieved the goals set out for me by Fordham.

Following my season, Katie negotiated a new offer that was extremely generous but still not enough to make attending a private school feasible without any other help. I was terrified that all the hours I had put into this goal would end up not being enough, and my dream of attending a 4-year university as a Division I athlete would ultimately be unattainable.

Just as I started to lose hope, Katie told me that she had pulled some strings and could give me the offer that I needed. After my long road from high school, I was finally going to attend an esteemed out of state university in one of the greatest cities in the world.

After two years at Fordham, I have loved every minute of it. Coming into school, I was slotted for the second boat with a partial, albeit generous, scholarship. After hours of work in the boat, I have moved to the first boat and earned a full scholarship. No matter what the challenge is: being moved from port to starboard side of the boat, rowing through injuries, or competing in awful weather conditions, I know that I can reach any goal I set for myself.

It may have taken me a little bit longer than others and I absolutely did not take the conventional path, but I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish.  I’ve rowed with a sprained rib, a slipped disk in my back, a shoulder strain, and blisters so bad that my hands bled, but I wouldn’t change a minute of it. Every snap of the finish, every sunrise, every moment we cross a finish line, I am grateful for a sport that unlocked the person I am today.

If you truly want to find the greatest parts of you, keep working until you find your passion.  Everyone finds theirs in different places, but I know that I found mine on the water.

Kara Ramsey | Contributor

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