Boat Race 2017: Kirsten Van Fossen's studious nature embraces rowing spirit at Cambridge University
Parmigiani Spirit Award winner sees academic passion stem from rowing
Balancing the demands of academia and rowing has always been a demanding challenge for students at Cambridge University.
But Kirsten Van Fossen is probably the standard bearer on perfecting the art at Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club.
The 25-year-old American is in her second year with the club, having missed out last year after research for her PhD in engineering took her back to the States.
And it was in her first year in 2015 that she won the Parmigiani Spirit Award, which recognises university rowers worldwide who demonstrate the core values of rowing in their social, academic and sporting life.
Having studied engineering at Harvard University, Van Fossen earned a fellowship to pursue water engineering research at the University of Sao Paulo, completing a masters’ thesis on the point of use drinking water purification.
And at St John’s College, she is now studying how the food industry can be redesigned to deliver health nutrition and improve public health – an interest that was partly fuelled by her rowing career.
“It was really special, and I was honoured to receive the award,” said Van Fossen. “I think it had to do with the subject matter of my studies and my interests around food sustainability and probably also had something to do with the fact that I’ve rowed now for 10 years.
“I sit within an industrial sustainability group at the institute for manufacturing and I’m interested in how entrepreneurial organisations are building up businesses that contribute to more sustainable healthy food systems.
“Here we have a nutritionist come in and talk to us about what sort of foods we should be eating that fuel our performance. This passion of mine is something that grew out of rowing.
“I found that when I consumed a healthier diet it really positively influenced my performance so this is something that I discovered when I was an undergraduate rowing at Harvard. I wanted to see why it’s so difficult for everyone to adopt a healthier diet and how we can make it easier for people to adopt healthier diets.”
Van Fossen has a long history in rowing, having taken up the sport at Moorestown Rowing Club and going on to race in the US quad at the World Junior Championships in Austria in 2008.
Having been part of the victorious lightweight crew over 2K in 2015, and taking last year out, she has been with the openweight crew this year and will be in the reserve Blondie crew on Sunday, April 2.
“The openweight race is the full Boat Race course, 8K, so it’s a new challenge to race the longer course so that’s why I’ve come back – to race the full Boat Race course on the Tideway,” she said.
“I keep kicking myself for taking last year out because it was the wrong time to take a year out, it’s a very competitive group this year.”
She added: “It’s great though, this is what you want.”