This week's row2k Interview is with Trinity College sophomore Valerie Casella. We talk with Casella about how she found the sport at Trinity, on racing in the Varsity at the Charles after walking-on, and more.
row2k - You started rowing as a novice at Trinity, what was your athletic background prior to enrolling and how did you in up Hartford?
Valerie Casella - Throughout my childhood, my parents placed a great emphasis on being active, whether it was swimming practice after school twice a week or tennis lessons and ballet classes on the weekend. I wasn't very flexible though, so my ballet career was cut pretty short. Eventually I took up swimming and tennis much more seriously and began pursuing them competitively. Participating in scrimmages or local competitions in the neighborhood, I was exposed to the nature of being an athlete, having a life at home and in school, but also a third life where you exert yourself physically, but the results were so gratifying, and if you performed well enough, you might even get a medal.
I went to a very small public high school (Baccalaureate School for Global Education) in Queens, NY, and unfortunately in 10th grade I decided to stop swimming and tennis, picking them up as hobbies instead. I played soccer throughout high school and it was a much different experience compared to tennis and swimming, more team work dependent rather than an individual performance.
When applying to colleges I was adamant on keeping the theme of 'small' and 'on the East coast.' Trinity College wasn't my first choice; for some reason I was obsessed with going to Boston College or Miami, to be close to family. I remember my college application process and even the acceptance process was so odd and different to what I had expected because of COVID. I didn't tour any colleges except Trinity; thankfully, it was close to New York so that was convenient. It all felt unreal, almost like a fever dream, and the next thing I knew graduation happened, then summer was over and on a Saturday morning in September, I was moving into a two room double on the Trinity College campus.
row2k - How did you find your way into the rowing program?
Valerie Casella - So, funny story, my roommate told me she walked on to the team because our friend Camille convinced her. Camille, my roommate and I were in the same first year gateway program so we spent a lot of time together. Next thing I knew I was emailing Coach Graves asking about walking on the team and then signing some papers and coming to practice. I'm pretty sure the same week I also raced in my first regatta, Head of Riverfront and the rest is really just history.
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Valerie Casella - Rowing takes a lot of effort: it's definitely the hardest but most rewarding sport I've ever participated in. There are times like before an erg test where I find myself asking, out of all the sports why did I choose this one to walk on to? But I'm reminded every time it feels the most like home, something that comes naturally, I don't have to force things, they just flow or in this case glide.
Our time on the water might not necessarily be the same as the time we spend on an erg due to weather conditions or other reasons, but when we do and we go fast it makes all those pieces worth it. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing you just took a beautiful stroke even if it's one out of every 10 strokes during a frustrating practice. Once I learned how to scull it only got better from there. Don't get me wrong, my first time in a single I flipped five times! Five! But it did not stop me.
Rowing has taught me discipline and grit, it's important to pursue the things you are passionate about regardless of the challenges you face. Everyone talks about how hard a 2k is but people rarely mention the mental toughness you need to get through it, and--if you're lucky--to even PR, but that's definitely one of the best things rowing has taught me.
row2k - What has been your most memorable race and why?
Valerie Casella - My most memorable race has to be the Varsity 8's race at HOCR. I had been racing in that boat throughout the season but this race was extremely memorable for me: we all came together as separate individuals, rowed in unity, raced fast, and thankfully the efforts paid off. In a season there are races your coach is winding up for, in our case for the fall it's HOCR and in the spring it's the New England Championships and NIRCs. So far this season we checked off HOCR and it truly showed the potential of our team, including those outside of the Varsity 8. Just when you think you unlocked some speed, Peter Graves will make it his life's mission to unlock the next level, and the HOCR was that for me.
row2k - How has this season gone so far and what are your goals for the spring for yourself and the team?
Valerie Casella - The fall season was great for me, I achieved personal goals and there are still some more to check off but that's how rowing works: you PR and start thinking of your next one. My goals for myself and the team for this spring are 1) tap into what rowing has to teach us about discipline and mental toughness; 2) bond more, which honestly we do a good job at but it can always be better, though I'm sure our spring training will take care of that as we are the only team to stay on campus for the duration; and 3) last but not least, race fast. I know Coach Graves has big goals for us and it would be great to see them through, not just for him but for us, a reflection of our effort.
row2k - What are you studying at Trinity and do you have any plans for after graduation?
Valerie Casella - I am studying Biochemistry with a concentration in neuroscience, and on the pre-med track. So far I'm still trying to decide my plans for this summer so I haven't thought as far as post graduation, but I've contemplated med school or Physician Assistant's school. I'm not sure where I'll end up but it'll be something in the medicine/health industry for sure.