Woodinville sisters row for Brown University

  • Written by Derek Johnson

Maaike Tiersma paused and seemed delighted by the question. The rower at Brown University was asked what she missed most about her old Woodinville days, and specifically those carpool trips home from the Sammamish Rowing Association.

IMG 0503Keenae and Maaike Tiersma (Courtesy photo) “It was a long haul, let me tell you,” she said. “Honestly, we rowed out of the tiniest little shack. Rats in the rafters, and it rains all the time in Seattle. Five or six of us pile into the car, and immediately all the windows are fogged. We’re huddled in there. I had a 1986 Volvo with bad air circulation. We’d crank the heat all the way to one hundred. Trying to get warmth back into our toes and fingers which were brutally assaulted. It would take twenty minutes before the tingling would return and the windows would clear. Looking back, I miss those car rides!”

The Tiersma sisters, Maaike and Keenae, are light years from those humble beginnings. They reside now in Providence, Rhode Island, at Brown University. It’s the smallest state in the union, at a university founded 218 years before Woodinville became an official city.

“Our coach always jokes with us that we’re from Woodinville, Washington,” Maaike said, “He thinks it’s the most obscure place on earth. He can’t believe that a place would be called Woodin. He says, ‘Do you people live in trees or something?’”

But the Tiersma girls didn’t grow up in trees. If anything, they lived on the water.

Maaike started rowing in the 9th grade, when a neighbor who rowed for UW encouraged her to try. She liked it, and four years later visited Brown University.

“I met with the team,” Maaike said. “And I realized that not only did I love the school but that I loved this team and group of girls who were so committed to this thing in the boat. It motivated me to decide to row for university.”

Back home in Woodinville, her younger sister Keenae was destined to follow big sis two years later. 

“I wasn’t super sure I wanted to do the same,” Keenae said. “But I had the opportunity to visit different schools when Maaike was considering where to go. It helped inform me for my future. When I decided I wanted to row in college, I visited her and saw what an incredible community Brown was and what an incredible community that the crew team was.”

Their time in Providence has been well spent. Brown has won three straight Ivy League titles, and Maaike’s boat won the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta. She described making the final turn on the way to victory.

“The Charles River is truly beautiful,”Maaike said. “The weather can be horrible, but the scenery is prime. You go under six bridges throughout the 5k course. It’s amazing the number of people there. It’s a coxswain’s race, you have to get a really good line. At every bridge, you’ve got people standing above and yelling down at you. So it’s constant noise and energy. You could hear the announcers and everyone was cheering and yelling ‘Bruno!’, which is the school mascot and school cheer.”

With the 2017 rowing season now underway, Maaike has hopes of helping her team win a fourth straight Ivy League Championship. And after Maaike graduates, Kennae will have two more years of her own to help carry the tradition.

But speaking of tradition, nothing provokes it more than the book and movie The Boys in the Boat. It’s the story that celebrated the 1936 U.S. men’s Olympic rowing team. Nine working class boys from the University of Washington who won the gold medal in Hitler’s Germany. 

“That book really resonated with me,” Maaike said. “The description of what it is like to be in a perfectly set boat. To glide along the water and the grueling practices in the morning and afternoon. I appreciated that description but also appreciated that it helped raise awareness for the sport in general.”
“I was happy that someone could so eloquently describe what we do every single day,” Keenae said. “Because it is kind of tough to tell an outsider what is rowing and why we do what we do. The book put it well what it’s like when you have that magic combination ... and seeing all your hard work come through when you cross the finish line in first...

“I know some people in Woodinville began rowing because of the book.”

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