JL Spotlight: Kateryna Maistrenko
Kateryna (Katya) Maistrenko grew up around rowing. Her mom and dad both represented their countries in the 1988 and 1972 Olympics, respectively. They built and operated a large rowing center in Ukraine, while Katya grew up. It was only natural that she started rowing when she was just 9 years old. Throughout her rowing career, Katya has rowed on the Ukrainian National Team, as well as for an NCAA Division I school in Washington. She was in the US when the war broke out in Ukraine. She found comfort by continuing to train on the water while also fundraising to support the people of Ukraine.
JL Racing: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Katya Maistrenko: My name is Katya Maistrenko and I was born and raised in Kyiv Ukraine. I grew up with parents that were professional rowers back in the day, and my parents have built the biggest rowing center in Ukraine, so I pretty much grew up between Olympians.
JL: How and when did you become involved in rowing?
Katya: I remember like it was yesterday. I was 9 years old and my dad said "I think you are ready" because I used to be a swimmer so I got in a boat and I fell in love. I mean I was bad but in my mind I was Mahé Drysdale.
JL: What made rowing special to you? Why did you stick with the sport?
Katya: Rowing is such an incredible sport in a way you have be very dedicated and disciplined for it. Early morning practices were definitely challenging because I had to go to classes right after, but sunrises were so rewarding. Some people would say that rowing is a repetitive sport, but it has so much to it. But if you open your heart and listen to the water you become part of the movement, so the boat actually becomes part of you. Whenever I close my eyes, I hear how the boat goes underneath me and I get my distance per stoke - that’s always so exciting to me.
JL: At the beginning of your rowing career, what were your goals?
Katya: Since I was a kid, I knew I want to be an Olympian and be the best in what I do, but when I went to college in America, I actually realized I want to be much more an athlete. I couldn’t be multiple things so that’s why I decided to pursue STEM degree and row because it’s pretty much all my life. I don’t believe in obstacles; I believe in people because we only can be called humans when we love what we do and share with others.
JL: What motivated you to reach your goals?
Katya: Motivation is a very unreliable value because that’s just not enough. I think rowing is a sport where you have to adjust stuff all the time and keep pushing no matter what. I’ve been injected and tragically lost my coach right before my biggest races so I couldn’t even be in a boat without tears. But I knew that rowing is an answer to all the problems, so you just get in a boat and switch off and enjoy it.
JL: Is there a time in your rowing career that you have felt the most proud, or any accomplishments that you would like to share?
Katya: I have won many international regattas and stroked a collegiate D1 team at NCAA’s, but the most memorable was my race for Ukraine when my coxswain made a call that pretty much gave me another second wind.
JL: Why did you decide to move to the United States?
Katya: I never thought I would end up living in America because I wanted to come back to Ukraine and train for the Paris Olympics and help my family with the rowing training center and help kids to explore the sport and make it more meaningful. But sometimes life brings new chapters into your life, and I wasn’t ready to be alone in US while all my family is family at the war, but I decided to act here and single-handedly led a funds drive that gathered $800k+ for the welfare of Ukrainian people ravaged by war.
JL: Where were you when the war broke out in Ukraine? How did this affect you and your training?
Katya: I was in Pullman, WA on the WSU campus. I was doing homework and my dad called and said: “Katya, the war started, and we love you so much. We made decision to stay and help, please don’t get angry with our decision and do everything in your power to help home, love you, I have to run.” I didn’t miss a day of training because I wanted to be an example what’s it’s like never give up. I kept inspiring people and told them love will overcome any obstacles.
JL: Is there something you have learned in recent months that can apply to rowing?
Katya: To all my younger rowers, I would definitely need to have a goal and be consistent because sometimes rowing can save you from going crazy.
JL: What are your current goals?
Katya: I am actually going to Canadian Henley and I'm so excited about that because that’s one of the prettiest courses. I love that place because it reminds me of home plus due to active shelling and bombing I lost all my medals and trophies so I have to bring some hardware again.
JL: Is there anything else you would like the rowing community to know?
Katya: I just want to say thank you for rowing and to all rowers in the world please never give up and keep make miracles come true. Love and believe in what you do and don’t be afraid to give all that I have cause it’s very rewarding and fulfilling. I feel like I just want to bring love and passion to peoples live and make a world better place.
Although Katya has finished her big fundraiser, she has started another fundraiser to help support the Ukrainian National Team. "The hard days are the best because that's when champions are made, so if you push through, you can push through anything," she states in her fundraiser description.
The Men's Support Ukraine Unisuit and the Women's Support Ukraine Unisuit are now available on JL Athletics. A portion of sales of this unisuit will be donated to the UN Crisis Relief Fund and covers free racing gear for the Ukrainian National Team and Ukrainian National Paralympic Team. Donations to UN Crisis Relief go towards the United Nation’s efforts to fund immediate rapid-response aid when disasters strike and critical work in humanitarian crises around the world. In this case, the Ukraine crisis.