This week's college preview interview is with Princeton senior lightweight Caroline Clark. row2k chats with Caroline on being a lightweight rower at Princeton and about the challenges of competitive rowing while being legally deaf.
row2k: Why did you decide to attend Princeton and what was your athletic background in high school?
Caroline Clark: I decided to attend Princeton because it was an incredible opportunity not only to attend an institution with top tier academics, but with a great rowing program. Princeton is an unique place in that it also has a really strong focus on the undergraduate experience. It also has a beautiful campus and strong alumni connections. But most importantly, I loved the people who I have met here, ranging from professors to fellow members of my class.
My mother also went to Princeton (1978), and growing up I had the chance to hear stories about her times at Princeton, and its unique traditions. Of course, I was thrilled when I got in and immediately knew that I would become a tiger! I am also even more lucky that my sister (2013) and two stepbrothers (2010 and 2014) attend Princeton with me as well.
I started rowing sophomore year of high school for Nor Cal rowing in Redwood City, California. My personal highlight from my high school career was winning the gold medal at Lightweight Fours event at the National Championships 2007. I loved the sport and knew I wanted to have a chance to row for Princeton. Finally, rowing as a sport truly teaches valuable life lessons of discipline, commitment, and sportsmanship. I knew I wanted to continue to be in that environment.
row2k: You're legally deaf, to what extent can you hear and what types of challenges does rowing present for you?
Caroline Clark: I am profoundly deaf, and I wear two cochlear implants. Cochlear implants are basically a technology that allows for a deaf person to hear. With them on, I hear about 80% of what a normal person would hear. I feel very lucky to be able to have such an opportunity to use such a technology.
I do experience some challenges with cochlear implants with rowing. First, sometimes I don't catch everything the coxswain says, so at times I do have a delay in switching to a new drill. Second, the implants themselves get a little banged up with the intense training, so I have to replace them more often than the average customer. But these drawbacks are not significant because I know the drills so well that these delays are not common, and I am extra careful with the cochlear implants!
When I was diagnosed with being deaf at age two, my parents were told that in all probability I wouldn't learn how to talk. But they believed in me and taught me how to talk. Their support and faith in me in addition to the support of my speech therapists, audiologists, and teachers have all made it possible for me to excel at Princeton and to communicate with my peers. Rowing has reinforced this lesson of meeting each challenge with confidence.
My team is also incredibly patient and supportive, and they go the extra mile in making sure I understand instructions and what is going on. However, when in doubt, I row hard.
row2k: What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Caroline Clark: My teammates are definitely my favorite part about rowing. I have made friends for life from being on the crew team. We have an awesome senior class, and it's been a privilege to get to know them all. Being a small team has also allowed us to become really close, and I think that is a special opportunity.
Rowing has also taught me how to persevere through challenges, and how to not only be physically fit but mentally fit. What I mean by "mentally fit" is the practice of not allowing pressure or expectations compromise your performance. It is a valuable skill that can be applied to any kind of situation, and a skill that when you master, you can overcome almost any challenge.
I also love the rhythm of rowing, and how that it truly requires connection for optimal speed. There is no substitute, nor anything more exhilarating then when a boat moves together perfectly on the water.
row2k: Your crew finished 3rd at IRA's in 2010, what was the most important thing you learned from last year that will help you and your crews succeed in 2011?
Caroline Clark: We had a great season last spring, and we are looking to repeat and even build on that. We had some great races and I think that most important thing we learned from last year was to perform our best for every race, and not letting rankings or results or predictions affect our performance.
We have had many races in which the racing conditions were not optimal, or we had a rocky start, but have purposefully kept our cool and focused on the rhythm, the technique, and the calls--and ended up winning.
Coach Rassam has always remarked the importance of this mental clarity and focus as a great tool in order to perform our personal best. We placed 2nd at the EARC sprints, and our 3rd place finish at IRAs was the first time on the medal stand since 2008.
row2k: How has this season gone so far and what are your goals for the spring?
Caroline Clark: The women's lightweight season has gone really well so far. The Varsity V8 placed 2nd at the Head of the Charles, our major race of the fall. We are currently training hard to have an impressive spring.
Our goals for the spring is to improve on our 3rd place finish at IRAs to a 1st place finish, and have a strong EARC sprints as well. But most of all, to have a strong race every race. Lightweight women's rowing, like men's lightweight rowing, is an especially tight field. Anything can happen in a race. I'm looking forward to battling it out down the blocks, and achieving these goals.
row2k: What sort of an impact has having the US national team training out your boathouse had over your career there?
Caroline Clark: It's been great to train in the same place as some of the world's best athletes, and its always exciting to personally interact with rowers who have competed at the Olympics, or will be! Their hard work and intensity definitely positively impact our training and mindset. With the four teams in the boathouse (lightweight men and women, women's openweights, and the men's heavyweights), as well as the US national team, it definitely feels like an extended family.
row2k: What are you studying and do you have any plans for after graduation?
Caroline Clark: I am a Classics major at Princeton, but I've taken a wide variety of courses, ranging from Economics to Molecular Biology to Creative Writing. I've also been lucky enough to take classes in the topic of entrepreneurship, which is a passion of mine. I find the field exciting and innovative. I've started two companies, one which provides funding for children with hearing loss, and the other will be an online speech therapy tool. I'm going to spend some time working on both this year and summer, and beyond.
In the fall I will be working for Boston Consulting Group in Boston. I'll be working with them to help devise solutions for companies across a range of industries, primarily healthcare. I'm really looking forward to having the chance to learn about multiple companies, and providing solutions
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