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Ukrainian rower finds home at Pocock Rowing Center

Former Washington State rower Kate Maistrenko has found a home away from home, not by choice but by necessity.

SEATTLE — When a world-class facility with world-class resources gets a world-class athlete, the result can be out of this world.

Twenty-two-year-old Kate Maistrenko is one of the best rowers in the world.

In fact, the former Washington State standout is now training for the Olympics and World Championships.

Each morning as the sun rises, Maistrenko takes to Lake Washington to blaze a trail.

Yet for as fast as she goes, her boat is still against a current—all because of the current events on the other side of the world.

"People are dying. My people are dying," she said.

She was born and raised in the capital of Ukraine -- Kyiv.

"The family district where I grew up, basically all the bombs went there. I was like, 'Oh. This is where I went to school. This is where I used to walk. And this is my home,'" said Maistrenko.

Maistrenko's family is still in Ukraine and they've nearly lost everything.

Credit: KING 5 Sports

"You wake up with the thought that you may never see them again. For me, it was a bit hard to accept their decision. I didn't understand why they weren't able to maybe go to Poland. I started realizing a few days later, they would never go. That's their home. They have to protect home," she said.

Her brother's are involved directly in the fight.

"Sometimes proud, but sometimes just sad," Maistrenko said.

Credit: KING 5 Sports

Her dad is 72 years old.

"He helps as a volunteer. It's like, he probably needs some help," Maistrenko said, fighting back tears.

Her mom helps him run their rowing school.

"I never know when they're going to call me. I never know when they're going to have a second," Maistrenko said.

Credit: KING 5 Sports

Both Maistrenko's parents are former Olympians. She wants to follow in their footsteps while also creating her own path.

"In Ukraine, everyone knows my parents and everyone treats me like I'm someone's daughter. I don't want to be someone's daughter," she said.

That's how Maistrenko ended up at Washington State five years ago. 

It's also why she wants to stay in the state of Washington.

"If I don't find a job in three months, see you later, I'll be deported," Maistrenko said, in regards to her struggle to now satisfy her visa. "I'm not able to work unless it correlates with my field and the major that I graduated with."

She's looking for an immigrant-friendly job in her adopted country, while also rowing to represent her native country.

"The fact that she's currently training to hopefully go to Worlds, to hopefully race in one of these national team boats for Ukraine, we want to be a part of that journey with her," Rachel Kehler, a coach at Pocock Rowing Center, said.

Kehler is working hand in hand with Maistrenko's national team coach in Ukraine to devise the best training regimen for her.

"Do I think I'm the most proficient coach out there that should be training a Ukrainian national team rower? Probably not. But I can get her there," Kehler said.

Kehler, who's from Everett, also rowed collegiately at the University of Tennessee.

"We're going to get her connected with a lot of people that want to help her succeed. To me, this is the community she needs to be a part of," she said.

"Could be worse. I could be rowing under the shelling," Maistrenko said.

So while Maistrenko has found a temporary training home, her mind is still on her actual home.

"It's all about being on the national team. She wants to represent Ukraine," Kehler said.

Maistrenko continues to fundraise for displaced Ukrainian National Team athletes and others affected by the war. She said so far she's raised over $800,000.

Credit: KING 5 Sports

Maistrenko, meanwhile, is struggling to survive herself in Seattle.

"Living in Seattle is incredibly expensive and even if you have the best kind of job, I can't afford to live even in a safe building because I need to help home," she said.

Maistrenko's primary duty remains to her country.

It's a duty to row against the current.

"There's something more than just myself," she said. "What can I do to make this world a better place?"

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