1. What inspired you to go to your first rowing practice; was there anything memorable about it?
I showed up to my first rowing practice as a walk-on at MIT because I was encouraged by multiple people. I had a teaching assistant in a summer program and a couple of friends in the summer program as well, and they were kind of like aggressive in trying to get people during the activities fair. So that's how I ended up showing to my first rowing practice at MIT. I had been a volleyball player in high school, and I was very tall for a Puerto Rican, but I wasn't that tall to play middle blocker at MIT, so I wasn't going to try and walk on to the volleyball team there.
I showed up to row with the lightweight team at MIT at the beginning. I remember that they first taught us the stroke on the erg for a few weeks, and then the first time that we were going to go out on the water that's the first time that I realized that people row backwards. I don't think I had conceptualized that while sitting on the erg. I remember going to the boat and being like, "Oh wow, okay, so like we row the other way."
Another thing that was memorable to me is that we had a winter training in Florida that first year as well. They needed a coxswain for a practice. And like I happened to still fit in the seat, and they put me in a coxswain seat. And that's when I first realized that the coxswain actually steers the boat, they don't just yell at the rowers.
2. Was there a practice, race or other event when you fell in love with the sport, or when you knew you might not be too bad at rowing? When you thought you could make the national team?
It was a series of events. I was on the lightweight team at MIT, and it was the erg scores at the beginning where I was realizing I wasn't too bad. By the time I finished my first year as a lightweight, I probably had like the second fastest erg score on the team, including the varsity rowers. So, I had some idea that I wasn't too bad at it.
But also, right after my first year, I met the Puerto Rico Rowing Federation during my winter vacation, and I went to train with them just to check it out for like a week or so. Then I came back the summer after my first year of college, and that's when I started. They had a national team back then, but it was all guys and me. Obviously, I didn't know what I was doing in the single, which is the only thing they had here for me to row, but whenever we did erg workouts and things like that it kind of showed that at least I had the discipline and the stamina to do it. That's when they started mentioning things like I could go and represent Puerto Rico internationally.
This was in the summer of 2013 and in the following year, 2014, they said I could go and try and qualify for the Pan American Games or row at the Central American Caribbean Games. I was training with these people two times per day all summer. I think that was part of the motivation I had to really take up a notch my level of training. That influenced me to switch from being a lightweight rower to being an open weight rower, because they said 'if you want to have an opportunity to represent Puerto Rico, you have to do it in the single because we don't really have a partner for you. Your best chance is to do it in the open weight category if you ever wanted to consider making it to the Olympics.'
Even then, for the Central American Caribbean Games, they didn't have lightweight rowing either. The first step I took was to switch teams from the lightweight to the openweight team when I started my sophomore year at MIT. From there I kept trying to add more and more to my training. The openweight team trained in the morning instead of the afternoon like the lightweight team, so I started using my afternoons to try and pick up a single on my own.
I think after training with the Puerto Rican team for a summer, and the fact that there was really no other female doing it, at least I would get the chance to be the single sculler. So, in 2014, they started sending me to competitions and to training camps that the International Rowing Federation had.
I think one disadvantage of this was that they didn't have like a lot of experience sending people to international competitions at the beginning, so I went to my first world rowing championships when I was 19. I think this was a little bit to my disadvantage because I never really got to sit next to people my age at that time.
In 2014 they said, we would like you to go try and represent Puerto Rico in the qualifiers for the Toronto Pan American Games. So that was my first competition for Puerto Rico.
2019 World Champs
3. Best race/practice, worst race/practice?
In terms of my best competition as a whole, it was the America's Olympic qualification regatta in March. I was mentally the strongest there, and I was technically the best rower that I've been because I've been working with the coach that I currently have, Francisco Viacava at Miami International Rowhouse.
The first day of competition, in the heat, I raced against the Paraguayan rower (Ale Alonso), she got first, and I got second. That was my best race.
My worst experience competing was the Central American Caribbean Games in 2018. They were in Barranquilla, Colombia, and they only had a final because the conditions were so bad that they cut everything into just one final. It was a terrible race, the winning time of the race was 9:15!
I got fifth, it was terrible. I was supposed to get a medal in that race because the people that I lost to, I beat them by a lot a few months later at the qualifier for the Pan American Games. It was a terrible race for me, but honestly, I think I learned a lot from it. And since that race I've really made an effort to get really good at rowing in choppy water. And I feel like compared to the average rower I could probably handle bad conditions better than the average. So that probably should help me in Tokyo.
4. Best/Anything you've done in the sport no one knows about?
The best thing I've done is to become the first female to qualify to row in the Olympics for Puerto Rico in rowing. I don't know if a lot of people know that I tried to qualify for the Rio Olympics, and I missed qualifying by one spot. I did that while I was about to graduate from MIT and trying to get into med school at the same time. It was probably a bad idea to try and do so many things at the same time.
5. Any/Most important advice for young rowers?
I think if you really want to do something in rowing then you should, I think you should trust that you can do it and somehow find people who care about this goal, whatever goal you set for yourself, as much as you do. Create your own path, and don't get frustrated if your path doesn't look exactly the same as everyone else's does.
Especially coming from a system that's different from the system in the US, and trying to do this for a system that basically didn't exist because there was no one going to the Olympics for Puerto Rico in rowing since the 1980s, and who was a man!
Don't give up. Keep doing it and build your own path, and trust the process, really. Trusting the process is a huge one.
Birthplace: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Current Residence: Miami, Florida
Club Affiliation: Miami International RowHouse
Began Rowing: September 2012
Date of Birth: August 5, 1994
Height: 5' 10"
High School: Academia San José High School (2012)
Undergraduate Education: MIT (2016)
Graduate Education: Stanford University School of Medicine
Training Location: Miami International RowHouse
Current Coach: Francisco Viacava
National Teams: PUR W1x 2014 - 2021. Central America and Caribbean Games (2014, 2018), Panamerican Games (2019), World Rowing Championships (2014, 2015, 2018, 2019), Olympics (2021)
International Results: 5th at the Panamerican Games, 5th and 4th at the Central America and Caribbean Games, Finals C/D at the 2018/2019 World Rowing Championships
National Results: Record holder for the W1x 2000m and Women's open 2000m erg. Rowing Athlete of the year 2014-2020.
Personal: Biological Engineer, Medical Student, First Puerto Rican Woman Olympic Rower, Salsa Dancer, Beach Lover, Foodie...
Toro Arana (center) rowed in the only MIT V8 to medal at the Patriot League champs