Late-comer to the sport provides power for the Minnesota rowing program

Junior Catherine Casey began rowing during a semester abroad in 2003.

Emily Wickstrom

Many Minnesota athletes arrive on campus specifically to participate in a sport.

But Catherine Casey’s path to the Gophers’ rowing team was different.

In the past year, Casey has transformed from a hesitant walk-on to nearly cementing herself in place on a varsity boat.

Casey was in the dark about the intricacies of rowing until fall of 2003 when a trip to Lancaster, England, sparked her interest.

While abroad, she joined a club rowing team.

“It was a really fun way for me to experience (rowing) for the first time,” Casey said. “They put you in a boat and showed you the basics.”

But that experience was not enough to convince Casey to compete for the Gophers’ after transferring to Minnesota from Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Instead, Casey was won over by assistant coach John Flynn. He convinced her to check out the team as part of an on-campus recruiting campaign, she said.

And even though Casey had limited rowing experience, Minnesota coach Wendy Davis still said she was impressed.

“She came in here with very, very little knowledge,” Davis said, “but a ton of potential.”

Casey spent most of last season on the novice team, improving her skills and learning how to race.

But she was doing so well with the novices that Davis moved her into the Second Varsity Eight boat in May for the South/Central Region Sprints, the Gophers’ biggest race of the season.

“That’s what caused us to say she was ready to move up,” Davis said. “She was advancing that much.

“That’s a scary thing to move up for the last race – she handled the pressure really well.”

Casey said she hopes the work she did in this past summer can help Minnesota work toward its biggest goal – to qualify for the NCAA Championships.

Along with about 12 of her teammates, Casey competed for the Minneapolis Rowing Club for three months, gaining

valuable racing time and experience. And her fellow rowers have taken notice of her progress.

“(Rowing with the Minneapolis Rowing Club) is really going to pay off for her,” junior captain Cheryl Wick said. “Already she’s come in and challenged all of us (on varsity).”

Davis agrees, saying that Casey is doing “everything she can possibly do in body and mind” to get better, and will likely be on a varsity boat in the spring season.

Unsure at first about rowing, Casey said now she can’t imagine her life without it.

“I think it found her more than she found rowing,” Wick said.