This week's interview is with senior Jenny Casson from Tulsa. Casson decided to try and row lightweight last summer and ended up making the Canadian U23 Lightweight Women's 2x that raced to a 7th place finish at the 2016 World Championships.
row2k - How did you get your start in rowing?
Jenny Casson - Following a running injury I had developed from long distance running, it was my little brother and my then high school rowing coach who introduced me to rowing. I was devastated when I was told I could no longer run, and didn't know how I was going to fulfill my competitive need. In the spring of grade 11, the high school rowing coach, Brad Brennan, told me that I should try rowing. My little brother was the first in the family to take to an oar, and after seeing what he got out of it, I wanted to see how I could do. I figured the early mornings must be worth something. To my surprise, I took to it well. The high school environment allowed me to learn and develop a love for the sport really quickly. It became my new outlet for my competitive side, but I had no idea where it would end up taking me.
row2k - You're in your senior year at Tulsa, how did you end up there from Canada?
Jenny Casson - I was recruited in February of my senior year in high school. I ended up here after Kevin Harris, our head coach, flew to Canada to recruit me from Kingston. He told me about the small school environment, the team and what it would be like to be a division one athlete, and I was really taken by what he had to say. I was excited to experience something new.
Tulsa seemed like an ideal place to expand my perspective and surround myself by a completely different environment. On my official visit I came down to the south thinking southern bells and cow farms, and I was welcomed with a whole different southern state than I had imagined. I fell in love with the beauty of the campus and next thing you know I was on the plane to start freshman year.
row2k - You were selected to the CAN U23 LW2x this past summer, how did you end up making that team?
Jenny Casson - Prior to last summer, I had never rowed lightweight and had only ever been on the Canadian CanAmMex team. After CanAmMex I was pretty convinced I was never going to be big and strong enough to make the national team as a heavyweight, but I still had a want to be a part of something bigger. I figured if I changed my diet and training, I could have a shot at lightweight. I didn't really know what I had gotten myself into, but I am pretty hard headed, and I wanted to see if I would be any better at a lighter and more fit weight.
Sure enough I got to weight, did a RADAR series [Canada's Rowing Athlete Development and Ranking system, eds.] and was invited to attend a training camp last February. It was at this camp where I realized that if you are going to row lightweight, you are going to have to scull. Although I spent the week figuring out how to hold two oars instead of one, I still found it stellar to work with and learn from the other girls who were there. Canada's top female rowers surrounded me and all I could do was learn from the best.
After that, I returned to school and began to plan for the future. I was told after my American season was complete, I was to go home and trial to make a time standard rowing a double with Ellen Gleadow (my doubles partner) whom I had never met. It makes me laugh every time I think about how it all went down because I really had zero sculling ability whatsoever. It was pretty brutal to watch, kind of like a bird learning how to fly by falling out of the tree and crashing a couple of times. Ellen is much more experienced and talented than I in sculling. Forever thankful for her patience and help, Ellen helped guide me as I learned to scull. Between her and our insightful and understanding coach, of Brad Brennan, we practiced together for about two weeks and went to the trial ready to throw down what we had. We gave it our all and made the required percentage, and Ellen and I were granted the doubles spot.
row2k - Your crew ended up placing 7th at megaworlds, how was that experience?
Jenny Casson - Megaworlds was nothing short of awesome. It was a privilege to get my lead and represent Canada. As it was both Ellen and my first international regatta, we had everything to prove and nothing to lose. I owed everyone (my coach, my partner and my family) nothing short of my best effort; their support, encouragement and patience deserved my best performance. Unfortunately, I came short of providing one. As it was our first regatta as lightweights, and I did not fully understand the kind of preparation I needed for my body to be able to compete at the highest level at the precise time of our race.
Having to both make weight at different times of the day three to four days in a row presents a whole other series of events. I did not prepare myself efficiently and at the end of the race, my body crashed. I couldn't finish our sprint and I shot our chances at the A-final. I felt as though I had disappointed my teammate and my coach. However, as they had all summer, they were right there to support what had happened and come up with a new plan for the future. It was put behind us and our focus was to knock the B-final out of the water. We went into the B-final fueled and ready to kick it. With Ellen leading the way, we raced the race of our lives and were out to prove our point. We executed our plan and attacked the race like we planned to.
Casson stroking the CAN U23 LW2x
row2k - What did you learn over the summer that has best prepared you for your senior season at Tulsa?
Jenny Casson - Patience is the key and every process takes time. Unfortunately, I am the most impatient person I know. I just like to get the job done as fast and as efficiently as possible. This summer taught me that some things just take time and I need to sit back and enjoy the moment every once in a while, which is a lesson I could not have learned otherwise and is greatly helping me as complete my last year of undergraduate school. It serves more than you know to stop and smell the roses every once in a while!
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Jenny Casson - Oh my goodness isn't that a question! I believe that rowing is a sport that tests the impatient and maddens the sane. There is no such thing as the perfect stroke, yet that is all you are working towards. When rowing, your level of exertion can lie anywhere from simply enjoying a long steady state row, just pacing along as the sun rises and the water sits peacefully as your glide to taking on a race, grabbing that once peaceful water, and counting on it and your power to get you to the line before the rest.
I love rowing because it's so many things in one. It's a stress reliever when you just need to pull, it's a soothing motion for when you want to feel the rhythm and ride. It's as close as you'll ever get to flying, as you propel yourself along the water leaving nothing behind but you're the effort you put in.
row2k - How has this season gone so far and what are your goals for the spring for yourself and the team?
Jenny Casson - The season is going well for us here at Tulsa. We are gaining speed and working together to become the best team we can become. Our team is built up of a lot of different personalities, and every girl plays a different role on the team. From the first boat to the last boat, everyone in every position is important for the program. We're a pretty small team size wise, so we emphasize what we have in our stroke and establish ourselves as a very fit and hardworking bunch. Our team captains, Hannah Vissers and Maria Gearing, are our leaders who guide us through hard pieces as our team works cohesively to put in our best efforts and get the work done. Our goals for the spring is to take what we have, work on our weaker areas and come out with a bang come conference. We all want that (conference) ring by spring!
row2k - What are you studying at Tulsa, and do you have any plans yet for after university?
Jenny Casson - My major at TU is exercise and sport science. Although I enjoy the sciences and what I have learned through my major, I am headed down a new path following graduation. I plan on returning to Canada and attending law school while continuing to row for the Canadian national team. Next year I will be applying to the University of Western Law program, to attend part time and be able to train in London, Ontario at the training center there. I am eager to continue school in Canada and continue rowing at a high level. Thankfully, my current four years and a DI student have taught me that if managed correctly, this can be done, and I have nothing but excitement towards the future!