By Erin Dunne, UD Athletics Media Relations Student Intern

For the average rower, life is anything but ordinary. Four a.m. wake up calls, grueling practices on ice-laden waters, and seemingly endless pieces on the rowing machine are all testaments to a rower’s dedication and passion for a sport that culminates in a barely seven-minute race come race day.

For Kate Sneddon, a rower-turned-coxswain on the Blue Hens rowing team, the busy practice schedule and exhaustive workouts are just one small part of her daily battle. Her everyday ups and downs involve much more.

At the age of two Sneddon was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetically transmitted disease that targets the lungs and digestive systems, attacking the cells that produce mucus, sweat and digestive juices. Those with cystic fibrosis are prone to frequent infections, have difficulty absorbing basic nutrients, and may need to use physical exercise as means of keeping their body healthy.

“Rowing helps to expand her airways. If you are going at a higher respiratory rate, then you have to open up those airways. But the fluid around her lungs is thick, so it’s harder for her to open the balloon of her lungs,” said Dr. Andrew Reisman, UD assistant athletics director for sports medicine. “For her to get the ability to exchange oxygen is a little bit harder than for the average person.”

According to Reisman, those diagnosed with cystic fibrosis have a life expectancy of 30 to 40 years, as it is a degenerative disease that worsens with time. Sneddon takes an average of 25 pills a day and spends time on different breathing machines several times a day to keep her body healthy.

But you won’t catch Sneddon dwelling on that fact.

For Sneddon, cystic fibrosis is a part of who she is, and she seizes every opportunity that arises to challenge herself. It is a small piece of her story that doesn’t hinder her from going to school, pushing herself in sports, and making the most out of her life with a positive attitude.

“If you’re not positive, you fail,” Sneddon says. “You have to be that type of person. I don’t understand the mentality of letting it all go.”

Teammate Samantha Noel comments on this mentality of her teammate by saying, “It’s not how she has to be, but it’s what her personality is. It’s who she chooses to be.”

Her commitment to a Division I team is not taken for granted either, further solidifying the positivity with which Sneddon embraces her role as a coxswain.

“Day in and day out she’s just given so much to this team, with a serious condition and not letting it get to her,” remarked Blue Hen head coach Kevin Gruber. “The girls respect her. It’s impressive how she’s just living her life and doing her thing. She’s been a rock for us for two and a half years.”

“She’s got so much more on her plate than we remember; she has crew and school, just like we do, but then we remember she’s dealing with a medical condition that flares up all the time and won’t go away or get any easier,” fellow rower Megan Kirby stated. “We forget that because she comes to practice ready to go with a smile on her face, making her jokes, and with her positive attitude.”

Her ability to maintain a positive attitude as Delaware’s only student-athlete with cystic fibrosis impresses her fellow athletes and doctors alike.

“She doesn’t let anything stop her. If she has a will, she will do it,” explained Reisman. “She has done a remarkable job of keeping herself in the proper mindset through the process. She maintains a great attitude and a great spirit and a high level of function, and that’s the great thing about her.”

Though a coxswain is not required to do every physical workout the rower must do, Sneddon still prioritizes working out to keep her body healthy. Just last year, against her doctor’s expectations, Sneddon ran the New York City half marathon under a team that raised money for the Boomer Esiason Foundation, a team that raises money to fight cystic fibrosis.

Sneddon, who runs for enjoyment, said she was having difficulty running even a mile prior to training. When she approached her doctor about the trouble she was having, she was crushed to hear that a mile was simply her baseline fitness because of the toll cystic fibrosis was taking on her body.

She was told it would never be any better. Sneddon decided that this would not be adequate; she was not willing to let her body go into a downward spiral so she signed up, trained for, and completed her first half marathon.

Not being able to do what she loves because of the disease that overtakes her body is an idea that Sneddon refuses to accept.

“I almost like when people tell me I can’t, because when people tell me that, I’m going to do it,” she remarks with a smile.