Behind the steely competitor in Katelynn Rowe is a support structure stretching across state lines
Rachel Stevenson would love to make it to Santa Rosa High School today for the Redwood Empire Area Track and Field Championships, but a prior commitment will cause her to miss the important meet.
After all, Del Norte High senior Katelynn Rowe will be competing in what is likely the penultimate meet in a decorated track and field career. Stevenson, a Naval Reserve officer and medical school student at Touro University in Vallejo, was in high school in Libby, Mont., when she started babysitting young Katelynn. She remains close to Katelynn and her parents, Rob and Ida Rowe, to this day.
"It's always exciting to follow her in the papers and see how she's doing," Stevenson says of Katelynn.
Katelynn is a member of the Warriors' girls 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter relay teams. She also runs the 300-meter hurdles and the 400 meters, with an occasional cameo in the long jump just to mix things up.
She is ranked 10th in the California Interscholastic Federation North Coast Section in the 300 hurdles (her season-best time is 47.36 seconds); sophomore teammate Kayla Costello is ranked eighth (46.98). Katelynn shares the glory of the sprint relays with her sister, Del Norte freshman Rachel Rowe; Costello; freshman Maddie Critz, in the 4x100 relay; and freshman Joely Tynes, in the 4x400 relay. (Katelynn has earned three White Stars in relay events her sophomore and junior seasons.)
But the 400 is all hers. The concept behind the event is simple: one lap to run in an all-out sprint. There is not enough room to make tactical adjustments or adjust one's speed to the competition.
Katelynn earned a White Star in the event in 2012 and ran a lifetime personal record of 58.84 seconds in the event at the Grants Pass (Ore.) Rotary Invitational on May 4. The time is the 16th-best in the NCS this season.
"It's a hate/love relationship with the 400," Katelynn says. "After I (set a) PR, I'm like, I love this race."
To Stevenson, the traits that make Katelynn such a good sprinter - able to kick into a high gear and go all-out for a grueling lap - have been present since Katelynn's infancy.
"She was very independent, very strong-willed," Stevenson says. "She knew what she wanted and she was going to get it."
Stevenson remembers helping Katelynn, then a toddler, collect eggs from the Rowe family's chicken coop and bringing them to the steps of the Rowe home in Libby.
"Put the eggs in the house," Stevenson remembers telling Katelynn.
She didn't want to. Stevenson asked again. Katelynn responded by taking the eggs and stepping on them, breaking them all.
"What are you going to do about it?" she asked Stevenson.
Finding their way
"The snow is pretty much all I remember," Katelynn says of Libby, a town of 2,628 in northwestern Montana.
Still, Libby is more to the Rowe family than just the birthplace of Katelynn and younger sister Rachel, or a stopover on some extended journey. It's the place where her parents obtained spiritual guidance and learned about starting a family.
Rob and Ida Rowe were both serving in the Air Force - he as an aircraft mechanic, she as an aircraft electrician - when they met at Beale Air Force Base in Marysville, Calif., in 19XX. After leaving the Air Force, the two worked at Beale as contracted employees of Lockheed Martin until 19XX, when the contract wasn't renewed.
"We hopped in the truck pretty much looking for adventure," Rob says.
They made their way north to Libby, nestled between the Cabinet Mountains and the Kootenai River. On July 2, 1995, a bundle of joy christened Katelynn Marissa Rowe made her way into the world.
Rob recalls a "bearded dude in a flannel shirt" visiting Ida's hospital room before she gave birth.
"We started talking about life in general," Rob says. "We were at a time in our lives when we really needed to hear what he had to say."
The man was an assistant pastor with the Libby Baptist Church. The Rowe family became regular attendees and volunteers at church functions.
"We were in the middle of nowhere without any connections," Rob says. "The church family took us under their wing."
The Rowe family left Libby when Katelynn was 5, living in Brookings for a year before moving to Smith River. The family became active within the Smith River Baptist Church, with Katelynn and Rachel attending Sunday school.
"We knew she was going to be fast when we played Sunday School games in the (church) gym," Rob says. "She outran everybody - girls, boys, older kids."
'She doesn't like to lose'
"I'm naturally kind of shy," Katelynn says, but her record of involvement would not suggest this. She is the vice-president of the 4-H club and the vice-president of the Del Norte High School chapter of the Future Farmers of America. She raises and sells pigs at the family home; the money she has raised went toward her first car.
"I love their personalities," Katelynn says of her pigs. "They're just crazy and silly. They're kind of like dogs. They'll follow you around."
Katelynn is also the president of Del Norte High's chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, honoring the beliefs that her parents have bestowed upon her.
"At first, (church) was just something we did - the family thing," she says. "By freshman year, it started to become my own. I wanted to be on my own and not do what everyone else does - drinking, smoking pot."
The only senior girl on the track and field team, Katelynn has earned the nickname "Mama Rowe" for her supervisory role with younger teammates. It is a tease - the 17-year-old as prudish schoolmarm - and a badge of honor.
"She's a really good leader," her sister Rachel says. "She helps girls out with events, teaches them (technique and tactics)."
Katelynn's headstrong nature remains intact. She burns internally when Rachel gets better grades - "She'll rub it in my face," Katelynn says - or beats her in cards, but she resolves to do better. It irks her that people confuse her for Rachel or Kayla Costello during races. (All three girls are slender and long-limbed, and about the same height. The resemblance is such that Rob has accidentally filmed Costello in a race Katelynn participated in.)
"In relays, Katelynn will be running and people are yelling, 'Go Rachel!'" Rachel says. "She'll say, 'Why can't people call Rachel Katelynn?'"
Perhaps the only thing Katelynn has less tolerance for is finishing second. She did so four times (in the 400, the 300 hurdles and both sprint relays) at the White Star meet May 10 in Fortuna. Great results in a challenging quartet of events.
But not White Stars.
"She doesn't like to lose," Costello says. "She's not mad (when she does); she just says, 'I'm going to work harder next time.'"
Looking toward college
Two years ago, Katelynn accompanied members of the Smith River Baptist Church on a mission trip to a small town in Mexico, south of Tijuana. Katelynn assisted in digging a hole for a septic tank and encouraging community members to attend church services. The experience left her with an appreciation for what she had back home.
"It really changed her life," Ida says. "That's when God spoke to her about helping kids."
Katelynn's intent to become a pediatrician has been further calcified through the trials and tribulations of her brother. Robby Rowe, 11, suffers from Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Katelynn and Rachel, Ida notes, are as quick to tease and play with him as they are to comfort him in times of pain.
"Robby's my baby," Katelynn says. "He can be a little punk sometimes, but I still love him. He's part of why I wanted to become a pediatrician - I hated to see him hurting and I couldn't do anything about it."
Katelynn's higher education starts in the fall at American River College in Sacramento, where she will run track. She hopes to attend a four-year university on a track scholarship.
To do so, she must leave her secure and familiar world in Del Norte County - her friends, her school, her church and her home. Life as she knows it will be over.
"I'm really nervous about leaving home," she says.
"I have so much I can do in the future. The whole world is in my hands. I can choose what path I want to take."
Reach Robert Husseman at email@example.com.