Falcon alumni floats from novice rower to varsity athlete

Gonzaga University junior rower Kale Reichersamer (left) during a winter practice.

When Kale Reichersamer graduated from South Whidbey High School in 2014, his heart was set on becoming a college athlete. In what capacity, however, was a bit of a conundrum.

Having competed in football, basketball and track and field for the Falcons, it seemed logical to pursue one of them. Then he found out about Gonzaga University’s rowing program. His home has been the water ever since.

Reichersamer is currently a varsity rower for the Bulldogs. Like countless other collegiate athletes, the junior must balance a rigorous workout and practice schedule with his studies and whatever time is left over. But, this is the path he’s always wanted, he said.

“I felt called to continue sports,” Reichersamer said. “It’s amazing. It’s hard to describe. I love it.”

He is also one of two Falcon alumni who are currently competing in a Division I program, the other being Seattle University track and field athlete Maia Sparkman. Reichersamer was a three-sport athlete for the Falcons, but he shined at two; he was a state competitor in track and field and was an all-Cascade Conference receiver.

During his workouts in preparation for the season, Reichersamer would hit the rowing machine at Island Athletic Club. Though he did keep track of his times on the machine, it was more about cardio than anything else, Reichersamer said.

“I had zero clue what I was doing back then,” Reichersamer said.

He mulled over his options of playing football at California Lutheran University or running track and field at the University of South Florida, but preferred a university with more prestigious academics. Reichersamer was later accepted into Gonzaga. He looked over the sports list at the school and discovered they had a rowing team. Though he had minor experience in the sport, he gave Bulldog assistant coach Mark Voorhees a call and set up a visit. While in Spokane, Reichersamer met with head coach Dan Gehn and discussed his previous times on the rowing machine and his experience. He landed a preferred walk-on and was among other recruited incoming freshmen vying for a spot on the squad.

Gehn said that it’s not uncommon for the Bulldogs to bring in what they consider to be “novice” rowers.

“Our team consists of about 50 percent of the guys having some sort of high school experience and the other 50 percent we pull off campus,” Gehn said. “That’s how we get a good number of guys.”

There was still a high chance of failure during tryouts, Reichersamer said. Those who didn’t have what it takes were told not to return. Though his form was raw, Reichersamer showed strong work ethic and a solid aerobic system, Rehn said. Day-by-day, Reichersamer slowly asserted himself. He finished with the fifth highest time in his freshman class during a 2,000-meter time trial. The tryouts were conducted indoors in a weight-training facility.

“That’s what got me ahead,” Reichersamer said.

Having secured a spot on the team, Reichersamer then hit the water. That’s when his inexperience showed, he said.

“When we got to the water, it showed how little experience I had before,” Reichersamer said. “It was a completely different ballpark.”

Rehn said that Reichersamer picked things up pretty quickly, and that he goes against the mold of a prototypical rower. The Bulldogs typically look for athletes who are 6 feet, 2 inches or taller. It was his work ethic and mental toughness that set him apart, Gehn said.

“He’s not the biggest guy we’ve had on the team,” Gehn said. “He’s a very hard worker and very dedicated and a really good team member.”

Reichersamer competes on one of the Bulldogs’ three varsity teams, which consist of eight rowers to a boat. Working in unison is a key factor to success, he said, and a good rapport with teammates can pay dividends. Practice and competition are almost always exhausting. On a typical school day, he wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and goes to practice until 8:30 a.m. He then attends a couple of classes before heading to a mid-day workout, which consists of weight training or work on the rowing machine. He then attends more classes and completes whatever coursework he has left on his plate. The rowing season begins in September and lasts until May or June, depending on if the team qualifies for nationals. Temperatures become frigid during the winter months, making the sport all the more difficult. Pushing his body to its limits is something Reichersamer considers to be a blessing and a curse.

“The sport of rowing requires you to push your body to its exertion limit,” Reichersamer said. “It’s something to look forward to even if it’s the most exhausting thing ever.”

In addition to his work ethic and other attributes, Gehn commended Reichersamer for his work with high schoolers in the area. Reichersamer is involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Gonzaga and volunteers as a YoungLife leader at North Central High School in Spokane.