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Panther grad excels for K-State rowing team
Kuhlman earns Most Inspirational Athlete award
Jessica Kuhlman


The co-captain for Kansas State’s rowing team started as a walk-on candidate, uncertain of her future.
Five years later, Great Bend’s Jessica Kuhlman is a K-State record-holder who has been named Most Inspirational Athlete. She has traveled across the country competing for Kansas State University’s rowing team.
“Rowing is by the far the most challenging sport I have ever participated in,” she said. “It is the definition of teamwork. Everyone has to be moving in complete synchronization. When we do, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Her favorite memory was being a part of the varsity 4 boat that captured first place at Conference USA, becoming the first K-State boat to accomplish the feat.
She’s learned a lot about herself and how much she could achieve. She earned Kansas State’s Most Inspirational Athlete at the Powercat Choice Awards following her comeback from a broken collarbone when she was struck by a vehicle jogging in a crosswalk in 2013.
“It’s fun realizing deep inside of me how far I could push myself,” she said. “I’ve found a sport that I’m passionate about that has opened my eyes. It’s just complete joy when you cross that finish line. It makes every repetition worth it when you rally together and succeed as a team. I’ve pulled together with my teammates and developed some of the best friendships I’ve ever had.”
The daughter of James and Debbie Kuhlman walked on at Kansas State following 2011 graduation at Great Bend High School, where she competed in basketball, swimming and cross country.
“Walking on was a scary experience due to the uncertainty it brought,” she said. “Starting school as a freshman and walking onto a team full of strangers was a little scary. But once I started to meet all of my teammates and form long-lasting friendships I knew I made the right decision.”
The 5-foot-11 Kuhlman fit the profile to try out for K-State’s rowing team that relies on homegrown athletes who play high school volleyball, basketball or swim.
“They recruit tall, athletic girls who are good students. The height gives you more leverage. The longer a stroke you make, the more power you generate,” she said. “It was a good fit.”
Kuhlman gradually improved all her weightlifting testing and excelled in the 2-kilometer timing. Weight training is conducted two or three times a week with time on the water in the mornings at Tuttle Creek Lake when the wind is under 15 mph.
“We’re evaluated on a combination of factors. One of the main components we’re tested on is your technique in the water,” she said. “The girls who develop that pristine technique and see mental and physical improvement are rewarded for their work.”
She broke the K-State 2-kilometer timing record her first year while learning the regimen of training. In her first season of competing in the novice division, the novice 8 boat earned a trip to the San Diego Crew Classic with the varsity KSU boats.
Her third season was delayed when she fractured her left collarbone and sprained an ankle. She missed valuable training time while her collarbone healed. When she returned, she broke her 2K record and completed the first sub seven-minute time in KSU history. Her varsity 4 boat won a gold medal at the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association championship.
Her fourth season she was honored as K-State’s Most Inspirational Athlete for her amazing recovery and breaking her own 2K rowing record six months after the accident. She competed on the varsity 4 boat and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology in 2015.
She serves as a co-captain with Madi Haney as a graduate student in gerontology. She has earned Big 12 and Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association academic honors.
K-State’s team competes in varsity 8 boats and varsity 4 boats. The lead rower is the stroke of the boat. The team is coached by a coxswain, who directs the rowers.
“Developing the stroke of the boat requires confidence and rhythm,” she said. “The coxswain is the coach on the water who boosts morale and barks orders. They earn their respect.”
Rowers and coxswain vie for spots on varsity 8 and varsity 4 boats. Rowers can be shifted until a set lineup is determined after a two-week rowing camp in Austin, Texas.
“It’s all about earning a seat and putting the girls who work the best together,” she said. “I’ve always raced better in the fours.”
She has cherished her time with teammates and enjoyed traveling to meets.
“Being part of rowing has been an amazing experience,” she said. “You go through excruciating pain in training and five minutes later, you’re laughing about it. Being a team captain has taught me to develop as a vocal leader and pick teammates up. I’ve learned to be myself — be patient and kind and loving to a diverse group of girls. I’ve grown into a mature and well-rounded person.”