BY CHIP DAVIS
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER, COURTESY OF UCLA ATHLETICS
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Three-time Olympic rower Amy Fuller Kearney died March 11 in Los Angeles from complications of breast cancer. She was 54.
Fuller Kearney coached women’s rowing at UCLA for two decades, from 2001 to the end of the 2020-21 season, during which the program transitioned from club to varsity. The following season, she was named Pac-12 women’s rowing co-coach of the year along with her coxswain and friend from the U.S. National Team, Washington coach Yaz Farooq.
“To call Amy a Trailblazer is an understatement. She thrived on competing at the highest level and knew she wanted to be a coach ever since I’ve known her,” Farooq said. To be able to share that award with her in her last year at UCLA was really special.”
Beyond her accomplishments on the water in both the racing shell and coach’s launch, Fuller Kearney is remembered for being a thoughtful and encouraging mentor and friend to generations of rowers and coaches.
“Fuller was a driving force with a million-watt smile, a kid from California—super laid-back and easygoing—and a ray of sunshine when she came onto the National Team,” Farooq said. “Years later, when I was thinking about going into college coaching, she was my first call. She had so much wisdom and was so generous with it. Amy was such an incredible role model for her athletes, for us as teammates, and for her daughter.”
“Amy was an icon in the rowing world who, over personal gain, chose to spend her livelihood pushing young women to reach their potential,” said Previn Chandraratna, who succeeded Fuller Kearney at UCLA. “Her legendary strength, toughness, and tremendous loyalty to those she loved was an inspiration to us all.”
Fuller Kearney came to rowing in her sophomore year at UC Santa Barbara as a true walk-on and made the U.S. National Team the same year. By 1992, she was an Olympic medalist. She won silver in the four and the eight at the 1993 and 1994 World Championships. USRowing named her Female Athlete of the Year in 1993. In 1995 she became a World Rowing Champion in the eight, the first ever win for the US in that event. She was inducted into the National Rowing Hall of Fame in 2010.
Fuller Kearney was an 11-time U.S. National Team member, a three-time Olympian (1992, 1996, and 2000), and won at both the Lucerne and Henley regattas. She competed as a grinder in the all-women’s 1995 America’s Cup boat America3. Fuller Kearney set the world indoor record on the Concept2 ergometer in 2000 and was a finalist for the 1995 Sullivan Award for most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States.
“When things got really heavy, you could count on Amy to help everyone keep perspective,” recalled Farooq. “From ‘89-‘96 with Hartmut [Buschbacher], we were doing some serious mileage: 50k a day.
“Things can get pretty emotional when everybody’s exhausted, and Amy had this ability to always find something fun to keep it light. She was a notorious prankster.
“Those were the days in Europe when hotel keys were left at the front desk. A few weeks before the ‘92 Olympics we got into Hartmut’s room and short-sheeted his bed. He was so pissed off. We decided we could never let on that we did it. Nobody busted us. It was the stress relief that the team needed. Amy had a gift for knowing how and when to get everyone to laugh and relax.”
Amy Fuller Kearney is survived by her husband, Joe, and daughter, Shannon.