Olympian and Oceanographer

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An oceanography alumnus competed at the 2021 summer Olympics! Kirstyn Goodger graduated from the School of Oceanography in 2014. While attending the University of Washington, Kirstyn was on the women’s rowing team. She competed all four years and as a student athlete she also completed her senior thesis within the oceanography department. This summer she made the New Zealand National team and got the opportunity to travel with them to the Tokyo Olympics. The New Zealand Woman's 8+, her teams boat, won a silver medal. This amazing alumnus is doing incredible things seven years later.

--Interview Fall 2021 by Lauren Bayne, UW Oceanography class of 2022


Congratulations on making it to the 2021 Olympics!! How was this experience and what was the most amazing part for you?

The experience was amazing! I feel like doing it during a pandemic almost made it more memorable as wearing a mask in 40 degree heat is pretty unforgettable. My favourite part was the people. The Japanese were so kind and caring. The atmosphere felt like we were all champions to them. Also meeting other athletes from my home country was also a highlight. I think because our family and friends couldn't be there we all supported and connected with each other. 


What was it like preparing for the Olympics? 

A Lot of hard work! The couple of weeks in NZ before leaving for Tokyo felt pretty relentless in terms of training. I didn't realize how exhausted I was until reflecting back on it now. I remember coming home and not being able to get off the couch except to eat and to go back to training. 


How did you get into rowing to begin with and what motivates you to continue competing? 

I got into rowing when I was about 15 in high school. I always loved competitive sports, in particular water sports. Most of the sports I played before then my parents picked for me but rowing was the first one I picked for myself and I feel like that's why it stuck. It felt like my own. 

What motivates me to keep going is probably the lifestyle; I love being on the water everyday, I love feeling strong and fit and I love being able to nap during the day and justify it because rest is a huge part of our job haha!


What has your time since graduating from the University of Washington looked like?

It hasn't been easy or smooth and involved a bit of moving around. I definitely faced some challenges both with finding a job in my field and breaking into the Rowing New Zealand elite squad. It took me 3 years post graduating to get into the team, and during the time i worked in hospitality down in Blenheim to pay the bills as I couldn't find a ocean related job, and then after about 1.5 years and an achilles rupture forcing me to move back to Auckland I got a job as a coastal scientist, but then soon after I made the NZ elite team so had to move to Cambridge and sideline my dream job for my other dream. 


How was your time as a Husky balancing both school and rowing? What else did you do in your time at UW?

To begin with I wasn't very good at it all, freshman year was a struggle and I actually had to retake CHEM 142. But by the end of it, I had a pretty amazing process and knew what worked for me--which allowed me during my first quarter of my senior year to row, work two campus jobs, take 18 credits which included upper math, engineering and ocean papers and achieve my first ever dean's list. I would say rowing did suffer a little bit as I was only getting 5 hours of sleep but I still managed to perform on the water. 

During my time at UW I attended plenty of fun social events and I still remember how cool it was to be a Senior in Seattle the year the Seahawks won the superbowl! I loved staying for summer school as well. I would take one paper, row and work part time and when I wasn't working I would bike to my favorite swim spots on Lake Washington with my friends. Another summer highlight would definitely be the July 4th fireworks show at Gasworks. I've never seen a fireworks show that good in my life!


What did you study for your senior thesis and how was this process for you? Have you done any more coastal science since you have graduated?

My thesis was on the surfability of waves. I loved my topic which made it easy to study and write about. The process was great. I felt so supported by my peers and the oceanography staff. Due to rowing I did have to collect the data on my own in NZ and Tahiti over Christmas break. It was pretty scary borrowing the expensive equipment I needed and I actually lost the pressure sensor at one point in Tahiti as it ripped from my safety line due to the force of the waves, but luckily I'm a confident freediver it took about 30 minutes of scouring the reef but I found it! 

As mentioned before, I actually got a job as a coastal scientist at an engineering firm in NZ called Beca. I loved my job and the people there. I learned so much there and hope to return once I finish rowing. 


What was your motivation for studying coastal science and what was your favorite part of this academic experience?

I grew up near the ocean and spent summer holidays on boats seeing my dad spearfish, fish and waterski. I knew exactly what I wanted to study when I came to UW and never looked back. As I got further into the oceanography degree and started thinking about where I wanted to go afterwards, I saw things like Kelly Slater designing his wave pool which I thought was amazing and would have loved to be involved in a project like that so I moved towards physical oceanography like waves, coasts etc. My favourite part of the academic experience was being a part of the oceanography department. I loved that I knew everyone in my graduating class. Also--fun fact--my fellow classmate Kevin Simans and I designed and started the ocean department sashes that graduates wear now! I got the idea as I saw the geologists had them, as they were a small group too, and I thought it would be cool if we had one to remember our time and stand out in the crowd of graduates. I thought our degree was by far the coolest. Every year I see the pictures of the graduates wearing the sash. It makes me so happy to see that it has become a tradition. 


What is some advice as an Olympian and oceanographer that you can give students and athletes?

Enjoy all the moments, as it will be over before you know it! Being a college student is still one of the funnest times of my life! So be present and try not to worry/stress too much. If you're a kind and honest person and you work hard things will have a way of working out. Enjoy spending time and making memories with your classmates. Stay up late studying and laughing together eating Mexican takeaways. Also do not graduate without trying the breakfast burrito and scones from Agua Verde! That got me through some pretty tough days.