Kerry Maher, Class of 2007
By Ashley Edmonds
You wouldn’t know from just a glance that 22-year-old University of Virginia rower Kerry Maher is Canadian.
“I know it sounds silly, but it really is different being an international student from Canada,” she said. “The lifestyle here in the U.S. is completely different, and people often don’t realize that you really are far away from home. There are economic differences between U.Va. and home, in addition to the cultural fast-pace of the U.S.”
A third-year, Maher came to U.Va. from Welland, Ontario, to row for the University’s elite women’s varsity rowing team. She was one of the team’s three captains this season. Initially, U.Va. was not on the list of colleges that Maher was considering, but she decided to visit a high school friend who was already a member of the team. Once on Grounds, she didn’t want to leave. “It’s kind of like what I would assume finding your spouse is like,” said Maher of her decision to attend U.Va. “You just know.”
Maher remembers vividly her first major victory in college rowing. “In 2004 as a first-year, our varsity 4+ boat won the NCAA Championships with a boat made up entirely of first-years, with the exception of our coxswain,” she said. “That’s one of those races that I’ll never forget.”
Maher has overcome numerous obstacles as a U.Va. rower. After rowing at the under-23 World Championships last year, microfractures in her ribs kept her out of competition for two months. “That injury was particularly frustrating,” said Maher. “You feel like it’s never going to get better, because one day it will be improving and the next day it’s bad again.” Severe migraines during her first year hindered her ability to practice and had doctors worried that a brain tumor might be present. But no tumor was found.
Ever the optimist, Maher sees those injuries as learning experiences. “No matter how I perform – academically or athletically – it’s not going to change how others perceive me or who I am as a person,” she said. “I’ve dealt with a ton of injuries and have always come out on the better side of them. I’ve learned that you can’t let failure define who you are nor can you be afraid of it.
“I hope that I’ve shown people that when things don’t go exactly as planned, that you can pick up and be as strong as you once were – and even if you can’t, that it’s not the end of the world.”
Maher’s victories on the water illustrate only a part of her engaging persona. She is a music major who sings, plays the piano and plays the flute. There’s no such thing as a typical day, she said, but she generally is up and on the water by 6 or 6:30 a.m. After a strenuous morning practice, it’s off to a full day of classes, sometimes without even a chance to go home and change after a morning on the water.
“And you thought that the days of being the “smelly kid” in class ended in elementary school,” she joked.
The team also lifts weights together at night twice a week and on Saturdays. Regattas are typically on weekends, meaning that Maher must often finish all of her schoolwork for the week by Wednesday before traveling to the competitions.
A member of the ACC Honor Roll in 2005, Maher credits U.Va.’s Athletic Department’s efforts to support athletes’ classroom endeavors and life as a “normal” student.
“Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to go to U.Va., and then I’ll hear some negative things about the administrations of some of the other teams that we row against,” she said. “At U.Va., the athletic department really works to create a strong core – they are concerned with far more than their athletes just being strong and fast. The coaches, staff and administration work to make sure that we are happy, healthy and successful, too.”
Maher manages to balance her hectic rowing schedule with a “typical” student class schedule and numerous extracurricular activities. She is a mentor in U.Va.’s Day in the Life program, spending time with a local Charlottesville high school junior. In addition, she is on the council of the Student Athlete Mentoring Program, a member of Athletes in Action, a Christian organization for athletes, and is active in the service organization F.O.R.C.E. – Fighting, Overcoming and Responding to Cancer Everywhere. Maher acknowledges the challenges that face student-athletes at U.Va.
“Finding the time to get things done and searching for that perfect balance is difficult,” said Maher. “It’s hard to make it work sometimes when there’s homework to be done and all you really want to do is sit around and talk to your friends.”
Not that she’s complaining. “There’s such a strong bond and sense of community here,” she said. “If you run into someone outside of Charlottesville [who attended] U.Va., you know you’ll be taken care of. I love the deep connection to history and traditions here and how U.Va. has stuck to the principles that Jefferson founded it on.”
2006 by the Rector and Visitors