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Cyclone represents Division III NCAA athletics

Mills College senior Kirin Khan is a rower with nine years of experience under her belt, but as of June 2009, she has a new title: Student Athletic Representative of the Association of Division III Independence.

Kirin Khan and team members practice Feb. 18 at Briones Reservoir in Orinda, located 20 minutes from the Mills campus. (Alixandra Greenman)

Khan was selected to represent all student athletes in Division III sports, acting as a liaison between all Independence schools and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

“I can’t have a business card because my title is so long,” said Khan, an economics major.

As the acting representative, Khan must vote on changes and issues that affect Division III NCAA athletics. She is the only student representative for the Association of Independence.

Mills is not part of a sports conference, but is instead part of the Association of Independence schools. Due to the minimal number of Division III schools in our region, there is not enough competing schools to make a conference.

The Association of Independence schools is made up of 14 colleges and universities each with a small student population, which ranks them below conference standards. Being part of the Association gives small schools what some consider to be an equal opportunity in the collegiate athletic world.

“Conferences are for big schools to compete against each other, and the Association is for the smaller schools to compete against each other,” said Khan.

According to Athletic Director Themy Adachi, Khan is the first athlete from Mills to sit on the NCAA Committee.

“It is really incredible for Kirin to move so rapidly in the NCAA,” said Adachi.

Besides acting as the Association’s representative, Khan is on the Minority Opportunities and Interest Committee for the NCAA. She is the only student athlete to hold a chair on the committee.

Khan was also nominated by the National Student Athlete Committee (SAC) to be part of the Management Council for the NCAA, and is also the only student athlete on that council. The Management Council is the second highest-ranking committee in NCAA athletics, according to Adachi.

Each school has its own Student Athlete Committee, which asks its student athletes’ opinions pertaining to sports issues, and then reports back to the Division III NCAA. Part of Khan’s duty as the representative for the Association of Independence is to call all other schools in the association to gather their opinions.

On top of holding a chair on multiple councils and committees, Khan has participated in the making of two videos discussing hot topics for the NCAA, which will ultimately be presented to legislation.

“The second video talked about getting the word out about what Division III is and what we do,” said Khan.

Most often, Division III teams are assumed to be made up of average athletes. In reality, a Division III athletic program is based on not offering athletes scholarships, along with the school’s geographical location and the school’s student population.

“Division III schools are where students who pursue multiple interests go,” said Carrie Davis, Head Crew Coach. “At a Division I school, you have time for academics, your sport and that is it. You can’t actively be involved in society. Division I and Division III athletes do the same exact things. The athletes here are no different than the kids at Stanford.”

“Division III athletes become Olympians and professionals,” said Khan. “But, the vast majority of Division III athletes aren’t going into professional sports.”

Khan began her athletic career in 2001 at the University of Southern California. After dropping out, Khan came to Mills and decided to row again.

“I came back to crew. I’m glad I did. It has helped me get through some hard times. It made me take care of myself at times when I might not have,” said Khan.

Though crew has helped Khan maintain a positive lifestyle, she is critical of the sport’s history. While acting as the Division III representative, Khan’s goal is to change the ideals behind it all.

“Rowing is a white upper-class sport. It’s a rich sport. Historically it is a discriminatory sport,” said Khan. “I want to change the perception of athletes and who they are. I want to be representative of my skill. When people think about crew, I don’t want them to see a face, but the act of rowing.”

Taking notice of Khan’s efforts, Adachi said, “Kirin understands what it takes to be a good athlete. She understands the benefit of pushing yourself, gaining confidence to know one can do anything you set yourself up for.”

Most people who know Khan say that one of her biggest strengths is that she does not take things for granted.

“When you see women in their 40s, 50s and 60s in athletics, you know they have been through some tough stuff to get there,” said Khan. “They have paved the way for us to compete in sports. The drive, intensity and passion for rowing has crept up on me. Now I ask myself, ‘How far can you go today? How much can you push today?’”

Davis said she is inspired by Khan’s intense devotion to athletics.

“She has tenacity. She is outspoken and courageous and a team needs that. The way she handles and speaks about situations has an impact,” said Davis. “Kirin tackles her challenges with a spirit of empowerment. Everyone has challenges, but with her it’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s hard, but because it’s hard I’m going to thrive.’”

But like everyone, Khan is not immune to life’s struggles.

“When things seem to fall apart I go to Haas. Even if you’re not on their team any of the coaches will talk to you,” said Khan. “I have never felt so cared about. These are the people I’m closest to on campus. They are the people who have had my back for all these years. I am honored they would go all the way with me.”

Humbled by the experience she has gained while being the representative, Khan said, “For them to think I could represent the whole school is tremendous.”2