Olympic rower, collegiate coach Amy Fuller Kearney dies at 54

 March 12, 2023

Sad news emerged from the world of collegiate sports this weekend when it was learned that champion female rowing legend Amy Fuller Kearney died Saturday at the age of 54, as Row2K.com reports.

The outlet noted that Kearney had been battling illness for quite some time, and according to a 2021 article in the (UCLA) Daily Bruin, the renowned rower and coach was suffering from breast cancer.

Rowing legend remembered

As Row2K explained, Kearney was considered “one of the greats” of the sport of rowing, having walked onto the team during her sophomore year at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB).

Quickly establishing herself as a standout, in just one year, Kearney earned a spot on the 1989 U.S. World Championship team and ultimately went on to compete in three different summer Olympic Games and eight World Championships in total.

Kearney took home a silver medal in the 1992 Olympics and eight World Championship medals throughout her career, was named the US Rowing Female Athlete of the Year in 1993 and was a finalist for the Sullivan Award in 1995 – an honor given to the top amateur athlete in the nation.

In 2010, Kearney was recognized for her tremendous contributions to the sport she loved by way of her induction into the National Rowing Hall of Fame.

Lengthy coaching career

Upon her graduation from UCSB, Kearney swiftly changed gears and moved into the realm of coaching, and it was not long before she was the head coach at her alma mater.

In addition to her time at the helm of UCSB's team, Kearney also coached the rowing squads at the University of Tennessee, San Diego State University, and Stanford University before landing at UCLA, where she spent 20 years as head coach.

While in the lead at UCLA, Kearney took the rowing team to its first NCAA championship and earned herself the honor of Pac-12 co-Coach of the Year.

In the summer of 2021, as the Daily Bruin noted, Kearney stepped down from her head coaching post to become a senior advisor within the Athletic Department at the university – a role that would afford her the flexibility necessary to concentrate on her cancer diagnosis.

Groundbreaking athlete, coach mourned

Ed Hewitt of Row2K.com offered his recollections of Kearney, noting, “Amy was a force – intense, committed, relentless and a blast to be around in my experience on the teams we were on early in her career and as well when Row2k started later in her rowing career, and then throughout her coaching career.”

“[S]he is already deeply missed by the legions of rowers and (I think especially) the decade+ of teammates who loved her,” Hewitt added.

The esteem in which Kearney was held by those she worked with in the sport of rowing was made evident when she announced her decision to step down as UCLA's head coach, with then-team member Jane DiLauro noting in the aforementioned Daily Bruin piece, “Amy's definitely been a message or signal for just absolute tenacity and grit.”

“She really attacks everything with 100%, and I think she really instilled in all the athletes the importance of not only being competitive but believing in yourself. Whether it's the entire team or an individual, she really just unites everyone with that competitive energy,” DiLauro added, paying Kearney perhaps the finest tribute an athlete-turned-coach could hope to receive.

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