Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Texas alum Kate Knifton reflects on rowing career, spine surgery scare

Courtesy of Texas Athletics

As a young girl, Kate Knifton would watch her dad row. A former Texas alum who competed on club and national teams after college, Knifton’s dad encouraged her to follow in his footsteps. But before she began rowing herself, Knifton was a dancer for most of her life. 

As she finished her freshman year of high school, Knifton realized she wanted to try something new. 

“I just had been doing dance for so long, but I wasn’t really as excited about it anymore,” Knifton said. 

Around this time, Knifton got a job working on the dock at the Texas Rowing Center — the same dock that would change her life and push her into the water.

“I saw the rowers and was super inspired by them,” Knifton said. “Just seeing a bunch of people that were tall women, like me, inspired me to want to try the sport.”

Knifton joined the Texas Rowing Center’s novice team in her sophomore year of high school. She would join the 2017 and 2018 U.S. Rowing Junior National Teams from there. 

She described the team’s initial atmosphere as friendly and respectful, signaling she was right where she needed to be.   

“From the second I got there, everyone was just so welcoming,” Knifton said. “There was just such a mutual respect and appreciation for each other that I think was really unique, and I noticed it right away.”

When Knifton arrived at the Forty Acres as a freshman, she helped the Longhorns place second at the NCAA Championship with a time of 6:07.971. In May 2019, the two-time NCAA National Champion helped Texas claim their fifth straight Big 12 Rowing Championship. 

Knifton’s remaining undergraduate seasons saw two more Big 12 Championships in 2021 and 2022 and a Grand Final victory at the NCAA Championship in 2021 with a time of 6:17.387.

But Knifton’s streak was cut short in Jan. 2022 of her senior season. Knifton herniated a disk in her lower back, resulting in nerve problems in her leg and ultimately forcing her to undergo spine surgery in Oct. 2022. The experience left her wondering if she would ever be able to row again. 

“It was definitely scary,” Knifton said. “Not having any answers and feeling like at any point my rowing career could be over, and I didn’t really have any closure with it.”

With physical therapy, a new mindset and encouragement from her coach, Knifton returned to the sport she loved in just a few months. 

“The most important thing I learned, which sounds so cheesy, but you really just have to believe in yourself,” Knifton said. “One thing my coach has said to me that I really remember … If you believe that you’re getting better with your injury, your body actually starts to listen to you and respond.”

Now, Knifton is being named to the College Sports Communicators Academic All-America Teams, an honor given to student-athletes who maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher and play at least half of their games. 

“I definitely have always valued academics, and that’s one of the reasons I chose to come to Texas,” Knifton said. “So, I definitely really appreciate that UT has made me feel set up for success after sports.”

As a recent graduate, Knifton still seeks inspiration from her father in her studies while also finding time to polish her rowing skills.  

“I’ve always been inspired by my dad,” Knifton said. “He’s a business owner, and I am interested in doing something business related and maybe starting my own business one day or doing something in marketing.”

Knifton is currently partaking in the U.S. Rowing Olympic Events Selection Camp in New Jersey for a chance to represent the United States at the 2023 World Rowing Championships this September. 

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About the Contributor
Aakriti Singla, General Sports Reporter
Aakriti is a sophomore majoring in biology and minoring in journalism from Dallas, Texas. Currently, she covers the women's tennis beat as a general sports reporter and previously worked in the social media department. She loves the Dallas Cowboys.