This week's feature is an interview with Virginia junior rower Sam Casto. Casto picked up the sport as a novice at Georgia Tech, and has since transferred to UVa and raced as the USA W1x at the 2014 U23 World Championships, finishing 10th.
row2k - How did you get your start in rowing and how did you find your way to Virginia?
Sam Casto - I started rowing my first year of college at Georgia Tech, where rowing is a club program. The novice coach at the time, Maya Oren, contacted me about giving it a try, and honestly I was a little bored, so I figured it sounded fun and I might as well. I spent the spring of my second year interning and training on my own, which was kind of when I decided that I really liked this sport and wanted to spend more time on it and see if I could get any better. Then that summer I rowed at Vesper which was amazing for me. It was my first time really meeting and training with collegiate rowers from varsity programs from across the country.
I met Virginia coaches Kevin Sauer and Brett Sickler at Club Nationals that summer and then saw Kevin again at Canadian Henley, and that's where we started talking about the possibility of transferring. I knew immediately that if I had the opportunity to row for one of the best programs in the country, that was definitely something I wanted to be a part of. I visited that fall, and if my mind wasn't completely made up before, it definitely was after that. So I transferred here last spring, and it's honestly been the best decision I've ever made.
row2k - What was your athletic background prior to picking up the sport?
Sam Casto - In high school I dabbled a bit in tennis, swimming, and lacrosse, but was never very serious about any of them. I was much more in it for the team aspect, and was usually fairly terrible at the sport itself. So it was probably pretty surprising to family and friends (and to myself also, actually) when I started getting pretty serious about rowing.
row2k - You raced as the W1x this past summer at the U23 World Championships. What was that experience like and what did you learn?
Sam Casto - Racing in Italy at U23 Worlds was absolutely amazing. It was unbelievable, especially going in the single, which made it all the more terrifying, but it was awesome to know that however I did, that was all me. So I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses both racing the single and as an athlete in general. It definitely gave me a lot to work on and I'm looking forward to seeing how I can improve for the future.
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Sam Casto - I think what I love most about rowing is the direct correlation between the work you put in and the results you get out. I really do believe that with rowing, the only limiting factor is the amount of effort you're willing to put in, and that you can truly accomplish anything with this sport if you work for it enough. It's awesome to be able to give yourself a goal, work hard, and get a quantitative measure of improvement, whether it's on the erg or on the water.
Another aspect that I love about rowing is the people. Some of the most inspiring and influential people in my life have been teammates and coaches, and the rowing community in general is so welcoming. I've been surrounded by coaches who are unbelievably generous with their time, and I've been able to erg at boathouses and meet amazing rowers while traveling. Being a part of the rowing community is a remarkably positive experience, and I'm still constantly impressed by the hospitality that's so abundant with this sport.
row2k - What has been your most memorable race so far and why?
Sam Casto - I think the most memorable race for me would be the 2V8 Grand Final at NCAAs last spring. What made that race really special for me wasn't necessarily the outcome, but our mindset. We did end up getting third, which was amazing, but I think what I'll never forget about that race was the feeling at the start line. Everyone in that boat had fought so hard for their seat, and the trust and commitment to one another just increased our determination and drive. Lining up, it just felt like everyone was on the exact same page; we knew we had a chance to do really well, and we were ready to go. There was no trepidation or doubt, there was just a determination and commitment that we were going to race harder than anyone else, and we carried that throughout the entire race.
row2k - How has this season gone, and what are your goals for the spring?
Sam Casto - The season has been great so far! We had a strong fall and showed a lot of speed, and now we're taking the time indoors to build even more. We've had some difficult erg workouts, things that are not only physically challenging, but extremely mentally taxing as well, and it's been awesome to rise to the challenge as a team.
One thing that's really stuck out to me just in the past month is how strong our team dynamic is right now, and I know that's making us all even faster and encouraging us to push the limits every day. Whenever we have team meetings and talk about the spring, the excitement is almost palpable. It's in the back of our minds during every hard workout: this is what we'll need at NCAAs, this is building speed, this is getting us where we want to be. I can't wait to get on the water and start seeing all of our work translate to real boat speed, and I'm so excited to start racing.
row2k - What are you studying at Virginia and do you have any plans yet for after college?
Sam Casto - I'm studying aerospace engineering at Virginia. After college, I'd like to continue to row, and one day I'd really like to coach a collegiate program.