July 1, 2015

PHS’ Cleary Sees Dedication to Rowing Pay Dividends As PNRA/Mercer Women’s 8 Earns Silver at Nationals

Caitlin Cleary’s approach to rowing changed when she joined the Princeton National Rowing Association’s Mercer Rowing Club (PNRA/Mercer) women’s top open 8 last spring.

“I stroked for the 4 in the fall and then moved to the 8 in the spring,” recalled Cleary, now a rising senior at Princeton High.

“It was a really good experience, there was a lot of high level racing. It was great to be in boat with such experienced rowers. They gave me a template of what I needed to do to prepare for races. Rena White inspired me, doing extra work on the ERG (ergometer) and doing extra running.”

Cleary enjoyed a memorable experience as the boat finished fifth at the 2014 USRowing Youth Nationals at Lake Natoma near Sacramento, Calif. “I was very surprised that we made the grand final,” said Cleary. “I didn’t know what to expect. After that, I wanted to work even harder in the summer.”

 Coming back for another year with the top 8, Cleary and her boat mates expected to do even better on the national stage this season.

“We only lost our cox and bow; the unspoken goal to medal at national,” said Cleary. “We worked hard all year towards doing that. We wanted to see how far we could take it.”

That work started paying dividends last fall as the boat nearly won its division in the famed Head of Charles regatta in Boston in October.

“We were second at Head of Charles and we realized we could really do something this year,” said Cleary.

As the boat went through the spring, it got better and better. “We were gaining a lot of speed, our splits were faster,” said Cleary. “We were fitter, our times on the ERG were better. There were seven of us that had rowed together for two years. We had good technique and we were really good in the middle 1000.”

Utilizing that speed and technique, the boat achieved its goal of medaling at nationals, placing a close second to Saugatuck Rowing Club (Conn.) in the Grand Final last month at the USRowing Youth National Championships at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla.

“We wanted to make small moves, we are not the greatest at starts,” said Cleary, reflecting on the grand final which saw PNRA/Mercer mount a furious rally as it clocked a time of 6:35.960 over the 2,000-meter course with Saugatuck coming in at 6:34.599.

“We wanted to throw in some hard 5s. We started in fifth but we moved up in the middle 1000. We have a rhythm and a powerful stroke together. With 750 left, we were in third. We passed Holy Names and in the last 500 we were going after Saugatuck. We sprinted like we never had before. We were behind them and then it was neck and neck, they beat us by 1.4 seconds. It was really exciting.”

It was exciting on many levels for the boat to achieve its breakthrough. “It was a big moment for the crew and a big moment for the club,” said Cleary, who was joined on the boat by Badia Shehab, Kelly Fischer, Hayley Bork, Kate Edmondson, Katie Lustig, Kate Hickey, Alex Natale, and White. “It was the best that an 8 had done. We wanted to put Mercer on the map.”

Cleary credits head coach Ted Sobolewski with putting PNRA/Mercer in position to compete for a national title.

“He has helped us with technique, fitness and conditioning,” said Cleary. “He has really pushed us. He has a vision, he is always one to say if you want it, you have to go out and get it.”

In reflecting on her crew experience, Cleary believes that pushing herself hard has helped her out of the water as well.

“It has taught me to persevere mentally and physically,” said Cleary. “I have learned about dedication, teamwork, and overall grit. If you really put in the work, you can go places.”

 Being elected as a team captain for her senior year, Cleary is determined to help PNRA/Mercer solidify its place among the elite programs in the nation.

“I was thrilled when I found out I was going to be a captain, it is really an honor to know that your teammates trust you to push the team to the next level,” said Cleary, who plans to row in college and will start looking at Division I programs later this summer.

“I want to lead by example and put in the extra work and have the other girls follow. If you put in the work, you can get better. If we can outwork the other crews, we can beat them.”