By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director
SALEM, Ore. -- Kyra Farr (Bellevue, WA/Newport HS) is a freshman on the Willamette University women's rowing team. Although she's a freshman, she entereed Willamette in the fall of 2015 with significant experience as a coxswain after competing for the Sammamish Rowing Association each of the past three years.
Farr made the transition to collegiate rowing very quickly and smoothly, which allowed her to become Willamette's coxswain on the women's varsity eight ... and she has succeeded in her role.
It's not typical for a freshman coxswain to be so effective with a varsity crew, but for Farr and the Bearcats it has worked perfectly.
"She showed up on the first day eager and excited to be part of Willamette and dived right into being on the team with enthusiasm," Head Coach Reba Knickerbocker said. "As a coxswain, she got right to work sitting in the varsity boat, working hard to develop herself into a collegiate coxswain."
Farr said that she started her time with the Bearcats by joining many of her new teammates in helping teach the novices about rowing. After a couple of weeks of developing the novices, it was time for Farr to practice with the varsity.
"Once we got into practices that was when I really got to know people more," Farr said. "I was in the varsity boat right away. I was really welcomed by the team. I got enveloped into their family."
Before long, Farr was making steady progress with the varsity crew.
"She has done a fantastic job bringing the first varsity boat together, improving their competitiveness and supplying the leadership that only an experienced coxswain can," Knickerbocker commented.
Farr gained her experience as a coxswain with the Sammamish club team.
"As soon as I started competitively, on the second day, the coach said 'Kyra, can you cox?' and I've always stayed in the cox seat," Farr said.
With several other rowing teams in the greater Seattle area, Farr and her teammates had plenty of competition during regattas. The primary season included races nearly every weekend from mid-March through mid-May. Farr was the coxswain for a variety of eights and fours at Sammamish.
"It was pretty much local competition," Farr noted. "We had one regatta in Canada each year, the Brentwood Regatta. It's a really competitive region."
The Brentwood Regatta at the Brentwood College School in British Columbia is a huge junior rowing event. It includes 1,600 rowers and coaches each season.
According to Farr, all of the club rowing experience was valuable.
"It taught me how to cox," she said. "We had a coxswain coach for awhile, and she was really good."
It was through the coxswain coach at Sammamish that Farr learned to record her races. By creating audio tapes, she has a way to review her efforts as she works to improve her skills as a coxswain. And she can listen to the tapes with Knickerbocker when they meet throughout the season.
Farr also learned about time management during her three years with the Sammamish Rowing Association. "We had practices for three hours after school every day. And we would miss classes sometimes for competition."
The club included athletes from three or four school districts. According to Farr, it was up to the athletes to arrange with their teachers how they would complete homework and other assignments.
Farr managed to balance her rowing and academic obligations. On the water, she helped Sammamish crews place in the top three at several local and regional regattas. She also was successful as a student at Newport High School in Washington.
"I didn't know that Willamette University existed until Coach K (Knickerbocker) called me," Farr said. "I was looking for a small liberal arts college ... and it has really fit the bill."
She has started to consider which academic major she will pursue.
"I went in thinking probably an English major, but since I've gotten here, I'm leaning a bit toward Civic Communication and Media, or maybe both, but I haven't decided yet."
As a coxswain, she has developed the skills needed to lead rowers toward common goals, while knowing when to have one or two rowers adjust their efforts. She is responsible for determining the stroke rate and making sure that the boat is steered correctly. Since she faces the direction the boat is moving -- and the rowers do not -- she has the best view to determine strategy.
"I meet with Coach K once a week, and we have a boat meeting before each regatta. We establish plans for the start, the race and the sprint to the finish," Farr said. "I've gotten a lot better at calling the technical stuff. The meetings with Coach K have really helped."
Knickerbocker, a former coxswain, is well suited to teach and coach Farr and novice coxswain Laura Polkinghorn (Fr., Camino, CA/El Dorado HS). Knickerbocker also is aware of how much information the coxswain gains during a race that the coach may not be able to notice.
"Since the coxswain is the coach's eyes and ears in the boat, crew coaches work slightly differently with coxswains than they do with rowers," Knickerbocker noted. " We both (Knickerbocker and Farr) want to draw the same thing out of the rowers physically and technically, but as the coxswain, she has a very different view of the boat than I do. And she can feel what is happening in the boat, which is incredibly valuable feedback that I can't give the rowers from the coaching launch."
Farr and Knickerbocker have noticed great improvement by the Bearcats this year.
"We are getting so much faster. It's so exciting," Farr said. "It's been great to see their improvement."
"Having Kyra in the boat helps the rowers to relax and focus on the difficult physical work that is their job," Knockerbocker said. "As a coxswain, Kyra knows when to ask for more from her rowers, and the rowers know they can count on her to do the strategic thinking and be their eyes during a race.
"Kyra also does a great job of balancing between being in charge while on the water and being a teammate, friend and classmate," Knickerbocker added. "This is not always an easy balance for coxswains to achieve, but Kyra is very good at it.
Now it's time for the Bearcats to take on their Northwest Conference rivals at the NWC Championship Regatta at Vancouver Lake in Vancouver, Washington, on Sunday, April 24. Willamette will compete against regional opposition at the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Regatta at Lake Natoma in Gold River, California, on Saturday, April 30 and Sunday, May 1.
"I'm really excited to see the other boats this weekend (at the NWC Regatta)," Farr said. "We've got than one chance. It's going to be the first time that we've faced all of the local crews at once."