A year ago, Natalie O’Hare, then a sophomore, was on her way to becoming a first-team All-Wesco setter for the Jackson volleyball team. She hadn’t been at the sport long. She started playing in middle school and her skills developed quickly.
She had a similar experience when she took up rowing a little less than a year ago. Both her skill and her love of the sport grew rapidly.
So much so that this past spring she played club volleyball and rowed in the same season, but conflicting schedules this fall forced her to make a choice.
Despite being an accomplished volleyball player, O’Hare chose to go with her new-found love and dedicated herself to crew.
“I thought about it for a while,” she said of her decision to row, “it was pretty hard.”
Padraic McGovern is the director of the Everett Rowing Association — the club O’Hare rows for — and has seen other athletes forced to make similar decisions. It’s not something he takes lightly.
“We try to give all the athletes down here the best experience possible, and some of the athletes really take to it and they come to that decision on their own,” McGovern said. “I certainly respect (their decision). I think everybody that is serious about this sport has made choices and I am very aware of the thought that goes into that — the deep amount of thought and the courage that it takes.
“It’s a courageous decision to do something that you’ve done for a really long time and something that you’ve been a really accomplished athlete at and to make a change like that, it’s admirable and courageous.”
O’Hare’s teammates and coaches at Jackson were sad to see her go, but supported her decision.
“I think everyone on the team wishes her well,” Jackson head coach Mindy Staudinger said. “She found crew and she really enjoys it and the honest reaction was, ‘We’re glad you have something that you’re really passionate about and we wish you well and we’re happy that you found something that you really love to do.’”
O’Hare was in eighth grade when her older sister Emily first tried crew. O’Hare joined her sister on the water one day and slowly got hooked.
“I just like the feeling when you’re on the water,” O’Hare said. “It’s like no other for me.
“I love rowing in the morning because usually the water is really nice and the sun is coming up. It’s just really calm.”
McGovern shares O’Hare’s sentiments and said he thinks O’Hare fell in love with sport’s finer qualities.
“The motion of the sport I think is intriguing,” McGovern said. “When you get out on the boat and you’re doing it correctly, you feel like you’re both doing all the work, but doing none of the work. You’re both anonymous, but also an integral part of this living thing that’s flying across the water. It’s really an amazing feeling. It’s very intense and it’s personal.”
O’Hare and her sister both found success on the water.
“Natalie and her sister, they share a lot of traits,” McGovern said. “They are both extremely strong, extremely tough and they are both extremely driven.”
That drive has helped O’Hare become one of the top girls in McGovern’s program in less than a year. There are 24 girls in the varsity division and they are divided into three groups of eight based on skill level. O’Hare is in the top group.
McGovern said her rapid improvement isn’t something you see every day. “It’s above average and it’s on par with some of the best athletes that have come (through) the program,” he said.
O’Hare’s first competitive event of the year in an ERA shell was the Row for the Cure exhibition on Sept. 21. Her boat placed second out of 10 competitors. Most recently, O’Hare and her teammates competed Sunday at the Tail of the Lake in Seattle, placing fifth out of seven boats.
The same qualities that made O’Hare an exceptional setter for Staudinger are the same qualities that have helped her become one of McGovern’s top rowers.
“She’s driven, she’s very cerebral and she’s extremely focused,” McGovern said. “I think she takes to the technical nature of it, but then I think she takes to the physical nature of it. I think the different aspects of the sport just appeal to those powerful aspects of her personality.”
O’Hare said she’s loves being on the water because it gives her the opportunity to push herself every day.
“With other sports, you can get to a certain point and you’ve reached the max,” O’Hare said. “With crew, you never really have a max. Once you’ve reached your best, that doesn’t become your best the next day. That’s your mediocre that next day. You can always just push yourself and get faster and get stronger.
“There’s no limit to it.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.