Rowing and sewing: Gophers rower makes masks to help fight pandemic

Gophers rower Natalie Stratton has donated over 40 masks to help fight COVID-19.

<p>Courtesy of University of Minnesota athletics. </p>

Courtesy of University of Minnesota athletics. 

Nolan O'Hara

After the Gophers rowing team’s season was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic, senior Natalie Stratton picked up a new hobby. 

Looking for a way to contribute in a difficult time without wanting to put anyone at risk, Stratton taught herself how to sew and began making masks for local hospitals. She is making both masks that can be converted into N95’s as well as traditional masks, depending on the individual hospital’s needs. 

“The process is relatively simple,” she said. “Some masks I make have an actual pocket where you can put a filter in if it be needed. Other masks are a little simpler, and they’re simply just the two pieces of fabric.” 

Stratton was not a “master sewer” when she started, so she enlisted the help of her mom who made quilts when she was growing up. For the first few, it was a slow process, but now, it only takes her about 15-20 minutes per mask. It wasn’t long before Stratton made her first 40, which were all donated to the children’s hospital in Milwaukee.

And Stratton isn’t stopping at 40 masks. She’s continuing to sew for hospitals in the Twin Cities area, including the Masonic Children’s Hospital in Fairview where she volunteers. 

“The reality is, I don’t think our situation will be ending particularly soon. So my plan is to continue making masks for as long as they’re needed,” Stratton said. “The problem that I’m running into now is just obtaining the supplies to make them.” 

Stratton has a personal connection to the health care industry, having wanted to be a physician since she was a kid. Along with volunteering at the children’s hospital, she also does research at the Masonic Cancer Center. And, along with sewing masks, she’s currently applying to medical schools, hoping get accepted during the next cycle.

“I can’t remember not wanting to be a physician. That’s always kind of been the goal,” she said. 

Rowing head coach Alicea Strodel first heard Stratton had been making masks through the University’s athletics communications department, despite speaking with her on the phone two days earlier. As a first-year coach of the program, Strodel said Stratton’s maturity stuck out right away and that Stratton is someone who’s never looking for accolades. Strodel wasn’t surprised she found a unique and productive way to fill her time.

“I think she really just saw a need,” Strodel said. “And knowing that she’s pre-med and has intent of going on to medical school, this kind of is in line with that and shows how much she cares.” 

Stratton is continuing to show how much she cares with each mask, doing what she can to help provide for a healthcare industry dealing with a shortage of supplies. 

“This is somewhat near and dear to my heart. I hope that it does have an impact,” Stratton said.