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My mother and father built our house in 1985 and named it “Katrina’s Cape.” My dad did all the drafting and hand-built everything, board by board, pour by pour. But when my parents got divorced, we ended up moving around a lot. At 16, I got my first job at Taco Bell. Once I got my first paycheck, I felt the hunger for working and I tried to get as many hours as I could. I found that my work teammates became more like family and it ended up being a place where I could feel like I belonged.
I moved out at 17 because my parents were at war with each other. I fit my entire life into my 1986 Toyota Celica. I stayed at friends’ houses, lived out of my car and took naps in there between work and school. Once I graduated, I went to Cape Cod with my boyfriend’s family and worked three jobs to save money for college.
I worked 40 hours a week in high school, so I didn’t have time for sports. But when I was a sophomore at UMass Lowell, the men’s team recruited me as a coxswain. I went to my first 5 a.m. practice and the women’s novice coach immediately poached me, and I started training with the women’s team. She looked at me and said, “You're a rower.” It came naturally.
When you have mentors who make you feel like you can do this, that's inspiring. I had spent a whole period of my life basically being kicked out. I wanted to have self-confidence and drive, but it's hard sometimes without sports. My coach motivated us to feel like we were Olympians. She was great at getting people to challenge themselves to the best they could be, and she advocated for me in so many ways. Having people like her helped me become more self-driven and motivated. When you're young and don't have good family support, you don't feel it. With rowing, she saw something and made me feel confidence in myself. That turned rowing from a passion into a way of life for me.
When you have mentors who make you feel like you can do this, that's inspiring.
The mantras in building are similar to rowing. Everything I had been living up to the moment I heard about Suffolk — being part of a team, being accountable, the idea of controlled chaos — transferred to construction. I was fascinated. I have mentors here who have taught me everything. It’s overwhelming, and I feel a lot of gratitude for that.
So, now construction is a vocation that’s turned into a passion. My husband, who is a union carpenter, and I bought a house four years ago. We’re raising our two teenagers there and we’re spending our free time remodeling the house. I’m doing my own wiring and plumbing — we're really living and breathing construction.
It was always a dream to own my own home. Now I’m the one drafting the plans and building it board by board, just like my daddy did.
Katrina Walther has worked at Suffolk for the last 12 years. She’s returned to her Mill City roots as a superintendent on our Lowell High School project.
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