Revered Rowing Coach Surprised With a $1 Million Endowment

May 25, 2023 By Mike Mather, Mike Mather,

It takes some craftiness to put one over on Kevin Sauer.

After all, Sauer started coaching University of Virginia rowers during the Reagan administration back when a dozen eggs cost 65 cents. In more than three decades of coaching, thousands of athletes, including future Olympians, have powered boats across water for him. His résumé is stocked with hundreds of wins and dozens of championships. And his current rowers are once again the Atlantic Coast Conference champions, heading into this weekend’s NCAA women’s rowing championships.

So you might think at this point in his 35-year career, he’s seen it all. But then came a seemingly innocuous luncheon that ended with an oversized check with a lot of numbers on it. And a completely stunned coach.

The UVA women’s rowing team recently presented Sauer with a $1 million endowment to benefit the program. The endowment was kickstarted with a $250,000 donation from a former member of the men’s rowing club, then bolstered with donations from more than 360 alumni, parents and well-wishers.

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A few stand at the front of the room presenting the check
Coaches, rowers and parents quietly reached out to hundreds of alumni and supporters to raise money for an endowment in Sauer’s name. The effort was jumpstarted by a $250,000 donation from a former member of the men’s club team. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Some of the alumni donations came from rowers on club teams Sauer never coached; some came from athletes he coached only a semester. That, according to associate head coach Kelsie Chaudoin, speaks to Sauer’s impact on the sport, the program and all of its athletes.

“He just cares about people,” said Chaudoin, who secretly helped organize the fund drive. “He has always put the person before the athlete. He shows his care and concern in his actions every day.”

Chaudoin said the donors came from the full span of Sauer’s career in Virginia, from its early and more recreational roots to supporters of its current powerhouse varsity squads.

Sauer, who began coaching at Virginia in the late 1980s, initially oversaw club programs – for men first, then for both men and women. When the women’s program upgraded to varsity status in 1995, that became Sauer’s full-time job. Along the way, he’s left an impression on scores of student-athletes, from those who participated just briefly to others who became Olympic champions.

Head coach and check presenter holding check

The endowment will go to further improving UVA’s already successful women’s rowing team. Rowers past and present, including former Olympians, have credited Sauer with building a program that changed their lives. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)



The donation that totaled $1,009,984 will fund the Kevin Sauer Fund for Excellence in Women’s Rowing and will be used to further improve the already successful program.

Chaudoin rowed for Sauer from 2004 to ’08. When she rejoined the program as a coach many years later, she said nothing had changed – and she meant that in the best possible way.

“He still has the same energy now as then, and he still cares just as much about the athletes,” Chaudoin said. “It was the same culture.”

Lisa Brown, mother of UVA rower and team co-captain Larkin Brown, said that team culture helped shape her daughter’s four years at the University.

“I could see it in her maturity and watching her grow in her leadership,” Brown said of her daughter. “You know when you look back at something and say, ‘That couldn’t have gone any better?’ Well, that’s how we feel about her four years at UVA. It couldn’t have gone better.”

Group photo of team and supporters
With the support of more than 300 founding donors, fundraising organizers hope this first effort will be the start of an ongoing campaign to boost financial support for the rowing program. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

So Brown, with previous fundraising experience, took on the task of reaching out to other parents to see if they would help in the donation drive.

“It was unbelievable,” she said. “It’s not easy to call and ask for money, or to email and ask for money. But the outpouring from the rowing parents was like nothing I have ever seen before. They were all so encouraging and thankful we were doing this.”

Still thrilled by the fundraising success, the Brown family is heading to New Jersey this weekend to cheer on Larkin and her teammates at the Division I women’s rowing championships. Virginia has two eight-person boats in the competition, seeded ninth and 11th, and a four-person team seeded sixth.

Excellence Here Goes Everywhere, To Be Great and Good In All We Do
Excellence Here Goes Everywhere, To Be Great and Good In All We Do

No matter how the team does in the championship, Lisa Brown said a highlight this year will be helping create this endowment for the program. She says she hopes it will be the start of enthusiastic and sustained financial support for a coach and a sport that has meant to much to her daughter. And it’s already off to a great start.

“A million dollars,” Brown said. “How about that?”

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Mike Mather

Managing Editor University Communications