Grace Noble Kathleen is one of Uganda's athletes already qualified for the Olympics Credit: Courtesy

Grace Kathleen Noble, 25, made history by becoming the first Ugandan rower to qualify for the much treasured Olympics that will take place in the Japanese city of Tokyo.

A biologist by profession, Noble is currently based in Salt Lake City – Utah in the United States of America (USA).

Noble is multi-faceted having represented Uganda at the Swimming World Championship (2012), she also played competitive volleyball, squash, badminton and basketball.

In an exclusive interview with Kawowo Sports, Noble talks about her personal life, family, education, her multi-tasking role in sports and most importantly how she is preparing for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

Grace Kathleen Noble adjusts the boat Oar

Kawowo Sports: Greetings Noble, who are you?

Kathleen Noble:  I am a 25 year old athlete. I was born in Kiwoko, Luweero and raised in Kampala but my family currently lives in Lubowa, off the Kampala – Entebbe Highway.  I am currently living in Salt Lake City Utah, United States of America. I am also a biologist.

Kawowo Sports: Take us through your journey through the sports sphere.

Kathleen Noble: I have always loved sports. Growing up I did a lot of swimming and I have been swimming since I was three years old. I swam competitively all through primary and secondary school. In 2012 I represented Uganda in the Swimming World Championships in Istanbul and made a national record for 50m Butterfly. This was the highlight of my swimming career. I really enjoyed traveling with my teammates, meeting world class swimmers and competing at such a high level. In secondary school I also played volleyball competitively. Other sports I enjoyed include squash, badminton and basketball. I am also a rower.

Kawowo Sports: When and how did you start rowing?

Kathleen Noble: I started rowing in 2014 at University. I attended Princeton which has a fantastic rowing program. During my first year of university, my roommate was on the rowing team. She loved it so much I thought I should give it a go. I joined the team because I missed competitive sport. Besides, I wanted to make more friends and liked the idea of being outside on the water every day.

Kawowo Sports: Describe your typical day

Kathleen Noble: On a typical day in the USA, I wake up at 6:30am and go to the gym. I work out till about 8:45 am. After the gym, I eat breakfast and go to work at the Schiffman Lab in the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Our lab investigates the mechanisms by which animals, such as elephants, resist cancer. We are trying to harness these mechanisms to make therapies for humans. If it is a Monday, Wednesday or Friday then I will leave work early and join Utah Crew for their rowing practice from 4pm – 6pm. After practice I return home for dinner. Most evening I spend hanging out with my boyfriend reading, chatting, watching The Expanse on Netflix or, if it’s a Monday, playing basketball. Then I go to bed before 10pm. That is a typical day for me.

Kawowo Sports: You recently made history by becoming the first Ugandan rower to qualify for the Olympics, how was the feeling?

Kathleen Noble:  It was an amazing experience. The first few days in Tunisia at the qualifiers were tough. The weather was very bad with a lot of wind and waves which made it almost impossible to row with any kind of speed. I had never rowed on such rough water and was nervous. Fortunately the weather improved for the race days. Though even then it was not perfect. Qualifying for the Olympics was very exciting. I knew when I won the B final that I had qualified and gave me an amazing feeling of relief, gratitude and excitement. To compete at the Olympics is a great achievement and a great honor. Beyond racing, I had a wonderful time at the qualifiers in Tunisia. I got to spend some quality time with rower Douglas (Kisalirwe) and coach Rodrick (Muhumuza). I got to explore Tunis, go to the beach and make new friends. All round a wonderful experience!

Grace Noble Kathleen smiles with her boat in Tunis after the Africa Rowing Regatta Credit: Courtesy

Kawowo Sports:  Tokyo 2020 Olympics are around the corner. Take us through your training regime.

Kathleen Noble: I am preparing for the Olympics by training hard. I do 8 – 10 training sessions per week while also working full time in a research laboratory. There are not many people that row in Salt Lake City but I have found a training home with a high school team called Utah Crew. They have been very kind to me, allowing me to borrow a boat and join them for their training sessions. The Utah Crew coaches, Ahsan and Linda Iqubal, have taken me on and are helping me create a training plan as well as coaching me on technique. Because it is winter here now it is hard to row on the water so most of my training is indoors. I spend a lot of time on the erg (indoor rowing machine) as well as biking and doing weights.

Kawowo Sports: How unique is the rowing sport?

Kathleen Noble: Rowing is a sport that allows an athlete to push themselves to the absolute limit. Rowing is one of the most physically demanding sports there is and there is a lot of satisfaction in being strong and fast. I also love being outside on the water. I have enjoyed many beautiful moments rowing whether that was at Princeton in the autumn or on Lake Victoria in the early morning or here in Salt Lake in front of the mountains.

Grace Kathleen Noble (middle) during the recent visit to Uganda at Hotel Africana, Kampala

Kawowo Sports: What are some of the challenges you have encountered in the rowing sport?

Kathleen Noble: Rowing at a competitive level is tough. By that I mean it is very physically and mentally demanding. This is one of the things I love about it but also a great challenge. In Uganda specifically I would say that lack of equipment and poor governance have been big challenges. Rowing is an expensive sport. To buy boats and oars and ergs, this is expensive. Sometimes the Ugandan rowing federation receives donations from clubs or companies in other countries but we cannot import the equipment because of lack of funds to pay import tax. For the last four months we had a number of ergs and oars that were donated to Uganda but were stuck at the airport because we lacked funds for taxes. Fortunately just this past week the government supported rowing.

Kawowo Sports: What could be the some of the remedies?

Kathleen Noble: I think better governance and better equipment are key to the development of rowing in Uganda. Furthermore, I think to develop rowing in Uganda more people need to know about the sport and have the chance to try it.

Kawowo Sports: What is next in line for you?

Kathleen Noble: The future I hope holds adventure. In the coming times ahead, I am excited to improve as an athlete, mature as an individual, build relationships and compete in the 2020 Olympics.

A playful Kathleen standing by water Rapids
Noble Kathleen somersaults during the leisure time

David Isabirye is a senior staff writer for Kawowo Sports where he covers most of the major events.

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