Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 22
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
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LONG PULL: Princeton University women’s open crew senior star Kristin Haraldsdottir, center, pulls hard in a race this spring. Haraldsdottir, a native of Iceland, has rebounded from a rough freshman year at Princeton to emerge as the captain and star of the PU women’s open program. This weekend, Haraldsdottir will look to end her career on a high note as the Tigers head out to Sacramento, Calif. for the NCAA Championship regatta.

Haraldsdottir Adjusts to PU Rowing Culture, Aims to Lead Tiger Open Boat to NCAA Glory

Bill Alden

Kristin Haraldsdottir was born in Iceland, moved to Norway as a toddler, and ended up in Minnesota as a five-year-old.

While her family has stayed in Minnesota as her father has practiced medicine at the Mayo Clinic, Haraldsdottir has maintained close ties to Iceland since most of her extended family still lives there.

Despite her multi-cultural background, Haraldsdottir suffered culture shock when she came to Princeton University in 2004 as a prized recruit for the Tiger women’s open rowing program.

“High school was not hard for me academically,” said Haraldsdottir. “I was not doing as well academically at Princeton; it was a huge shock to me. I was having trouble making friends.”

Immersing herself in crew helped Haraldsdottir adjust to college life. “I started focusing on exercising and crew,” recalled Haraldsdottir.

“I started to feel a comfort level in the spring with the crew team. I started to feel like I belonged to something.”

It didn’t take long for Haraldsdottir to prove that she belonged with the Tigers as she earned a seat on Princeton’s first varsity boat that spring.

She went on to help the 2006 top boat to a historic campaign which saw it go undefeated and with the NCAA championship.

Emerging as a leader in 2007 when the program dealt with graduation losses from the Class of 2006, Haraldsdottir has served as the program’s captain this spring.

This weekend, Haraldsdottir will look to take a page out of the program’s 2006 playbook as she leads Princeton in the NCAA Championships at Sacramento, Calif.

As she reflects on her Princeton career, it’s not surprising that crew helped her through the rocky waters she experienced as a freshman.

“I got into crew summer after my sophomore year in high school, I was giving a neighbor a ride to the Rochester Rowing Club at 5:30 in the mornings,” recalled Haraldsdottir.

“They looked at me and saw I was tall and made me sit down on the ergometer. I thought it was so exciting to get on the water; I got addicted right away.”

Her club experience helped Haraldsdottir realize that she could keep rowing at the college level.

“It was a very small club, very nuts and bolts,” said Haraldsdottir.

“One of my coaches, John Bartucz, went to Princeton. He made me realize that I could be recruited for college and that I was good enough to do that.”

Once she started her college search, it didn’t take long for Haraldsdottir to realize that she wanted to follow in Bartucz’s footsteps.

“I visited Princeton first and I fell in love with it,” said Haraldsdottir. “It was beautiful. I spent a lot of time with the coaches, Lori [Dauphiny] and Wendy [Levash]. I spent a lot of time wandering around; I went to three practices.”

Practicing with the veteran stars on the 2006 boat helped Haraldsdottir come into her own.

“Caroline Lind was the stroke; she taught me more about rowing that spring than I had ever learned,” asserted Haraldsdottir, who rowed seventh seat that season and is now at stroke for the Tigers.

“She taught me that whenever you go out there; no matter how a practice is going or who you are rowing against, every single stroke is important. The next stroke is the most important stroke.”

The Tigers made the most of every stroke that magical spring as they vanquished the competition, culminating the season with a six-second rout of defending national champion Cal in the NCAA championship race.

The spring was an eye-opening experience physically and mentally for Haraldsdottir. “I was at the point where I was used to rowing with my powerful teammates,” said Haraldsdottir.

“I didn’t realize that we had become so fast; the coach was always pushing us to be faster and faster. I didn’t realize how much faster we had gotten. We were really supportive of one another. We were constantly pushing each other. There was a confidence; the sport is mainly mental and it comes down to who has the best feeling about their boat.”

This spring, Haraldsdottir has tried to apply those lessons in her role as the captain of a young squad that features three freshmen and a sophomore in its top boat.

“I have to lead by example,” explained Haraldsdottir. “It’s a young team; we need to work hard. I try to just do the things that have to be done; it shows them the work ethic needed.”

Princeton head coach Dauphiny has relied on Haraldsdottir to set the tone for the boat.

“Kristin pushes the team; she has been our best performer by far,” said Dauphiny earlier in the season.

“She sets the bar high, she sits in the stroke seat so she is even more visible. I’m hoping she will rub off on the younger rowers.”

In Dauphiny’s view, her younger rowers can take inspiration from how Haraldsdottir worked through the bumps in the road she ran into early in her Princeton career.

“Kristin’s freshman year was tough; she felt out of place,” recalled Dauphiny.

“She stuck it out and now she is such a confident young woman. She is tough and aggressive in the competitive arena.”

Haraldsdottir is looking to help the Tigers be tougher in the NCAA regatta as they look to rebound from a disappointing result in the Eastern Sprints earlier this month that saw Princeton fade to fourth in the grand final.

“We had a great first 1500; it was heartbreaking in the last 500,” said Haraldsdottir, reflecting on the Eastern Sprints.

“Last year was the opposite, we were down after 1500 and rowed through Radcliffe. This year, they rowed through us. Our youth showed through; there was some immaturity. We are putting in the mileage so we can push through the last 500. We are doing longer pieces and gaining confidence. It’s exciting, we have nothing to lose.”

No matter what happens out in Sacramento, Haraldsdottir has gained a special confidence from her Princeton crew experience.

“It has changed my life entirely; I now know I can do anything if I work hard and don’t give up,” maintained Haraldsdottir, who will be working for Actavis, an Iceland-based pharmaceutical company, after graduation.

“You have to be relentless. I have a confidence that I know I can do things. It has to happen within yourself; no one can sit down with you and give it to you.”

After working through her initial culture shock at Princeton, Haraldsdottir has certainly given her all for the Tigers.

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