By Catie Staszak
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – At 8 years old, Katie Guest had Missy Franklin-esque dreams of swimming her way to Olympic glory in events like the 200m individual medley. Her parents thought she was born to swim. After all, her father was a successful competitive swimmer at Ridley College.
However, it turned out she needed to look a little farther back in her family tree to find her true Olympic calling.
In 1929, Guest’s great-grandfather Jack Guest, Sr. won a silver medal for Canada in men’s double sculls (2x) at the Amsterdam Olympics. Her grandfather, Jack Guest, Jr., attended the University of Pennsylvania on a full rowing scholarship and would have competed in the 1952 Olympics had he not suffered a back injury that required surgery.
Six decades later, 20-year-old Katie Guest – “Little Guest” – is a collegiate rower at the University of Miami and continues the Guest rowing tradition. She takes the six-seat on the port side of the team’s 1st-Varsity 8+ boat, a crew that earned a silver medal at this year’s Head of the Hooch regatta in Tennessee and was fourth in the ACC Championships last spring. Her early success stirs up memories of the achievements of her familial predecessors.
“I like to say that the Guest rowing tradition just skipped a generation,” Guest said. “My family always joked that I had the Guest characteristics – big feet, long legs, really tall – and when I did a beginner rowing camp, I fell in love with it. It became my world.”
Guest’s ascent up the rowing ranks was pretty swift. In high school, she rowed for the Don Rowing Club in Mississauga, Ontario, about a half-hour from her hometown of Toronto. After winning the 2010 Central Ontario Regatta, catching the eyes of many college coaches, Guest had her pick of schools, but ultimately she chose Miami for the opportunity to be “a founder” of a rowing team that was largely restructured when head coach Andrew Carter took over in 2009.
“She had a character that I saw through interviewing her that I was definitely looking for,” Carter recalled. “We just hit it off.”
But Guest’s journey hasn’t all been smooth sailing. In fact, she battles injury on a daily basis. In 2011, Guest missed the entire fall season after injuring her right shoulder in a summer singles race in Canada. Doctors diagnosed her with multi-directional instability (MDI), which means her joints have a general looseness that can cause her shoulder to dislocate easily. Guest still isn’t healed, but she rows through the pain anyway, even though some doctors suggested she stop rowing completely.
“I’m on a pain management program,” Guest said. “It’s a day-by-day thing. I have to show my team that I can do it and that I’m going to help them win.”
Her tenacity has earned her the utmost respect of her teammates.
“Katie’s fearless and selfless,” said Hannah Hawks, Katie’s teammate and the 2012 ACC Freshman of the Year. “I want to be in her boat at the starting line because I know that she’s going to give it all that she has until she’s literally ripping her shoulder out of its socket for her team and for her coach.”
Six days a week, Guest participates in three separate practices. At 5:55 a.m. each day, she is on a bus to Miami Beach for on-water practice. Weight training and a second practice on land follow in the afternoon, followed by a final hour of cardio. From dawn to dusk, she pushes herself physically and mentally, but she does it all with a smile.
“You do it to race,” Guest said. “It’s the most exhilarating thing in your life, but it’s also the most painful thing. You hate it but you love it, and the love is only one percent more than the hate. But the one percent makes all the difference in the world.”
It’s that one percent that keeps Guest going - that, and a still strong desire for Olympic glory, just like the Guests before her.