Former Mercer Rower Hickey Overcomes Heart Issue, Helping Stanford Women’s Lightweights to IRA Title
SHOWING HEART: Kate Hickey is rowing in the stroke seat for the Stanford women’s lightweight varsity 8 this spring during her freshman campaign. Former Princeton National Rowing Association Mercer Rowing Club (PNRA/Mercer) standout overcame a cardiac issue to help Stanford win its third straight Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national title. (Photo by David Bernal, Courtesy of Stanford’s Office of Athletic Communications)
Kate Hickey was having the time of her life coming into this spring.
The former Princeton National Rowing Association Mercer Rowing Club (PNRA/Mercer) standout was rowing on the top varsity women’s lightweight 8 at Stanford University, her dream school.
But then something weird started happening during her training.
“I would have a really elevated heart rate during practice, it was 280 beats per minute,” said Hickey, a native of Yardley, Pa. and a Notre Dame High grad.
It turned out that Hickey was experiencing a recurrence of an arrhythmia, called supraventricular tachycardia or SVT, that had afflicted her during high school. She had a procedure where catheters are used to transmit electrical energy to the target area, causing scarring to help alleviate the condition.
“It was actually only two weeks recovery period; that was the really amazing part,” said Hickey. “I took two weeks off and then I got back into rowing.”
Upon returning to the water, Hickey resumed her dream season, helping the Cardinal win its third straight Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national title.
“It is incredible, this whole season has been really amazing,” said Hickey. “I could not have asked for a better season.”
Hickey has enjoyed an amazing ride since taking up rowing when she attended the PNRA/Mercer novice camp in the summer before starting eighth grade. By the time she was a high school freshman, Hickey had made the club’s lightweight varsity 8.
“I think winning the bronze medal at nationals in the lightweight 8 my freshman year was huge,” said Hickey, in reflecting on her PNRA/Mercer career.
“I was the youngest one in the boat; that was probably like the first big race that I was in. It was a big deal.”
A big factor in Hickey’s growth as a rower was the influence of former PNRA/Mercer coach Ted Sobelewski, now the associate head coach of the Northeastern University men’s rowing program.
“I don’t think I would still be rowing if it weren’t for Ted,” said Hickey.
“He came in my freshman year so I didn’t know anything else. He taught us how to work hard; for me that is what varsity rowing was. He pretty much set the standard on the first day, he told us how fast we needed to be, told us how to get there, and supported us through that whole process.”
For Hickey, the college recruiting process largely centered on Stanford.
“I went to the Stanford rowing camp the summer before my junior year; that was the first time I had ever been out there,” said Hickey.
“I fell in love with California and the campus. Stanford was pretty much always my first choice. I visited some other schools but Stanford was always at the top of my list. I was pretty sure I wanted to row for a lightweight program and Stanford has been really successful. I went to visit the school and the team was great.”
Being successful in her freshman year at Stanford required Hickey to perform a tricky juggling act.
“I was balancing the rowing with the hardest course load I have ever had to manage,” said Hickey, who credited former PNRA/Mercer teammate and Stanford sophomore rower Rena White with being there for her.
“I think the academics were really challenging and then also having to be at practice every day; having to be 100 percent in practice and 100 percent in class too was probably the biggest thing to get used to.”
Giving that 100 percent effort on the water helped Hickey quickly advanced up the ranks of the Cardinal lightweight program.
“I was in the varsity 8 for Princeton Chase in the fall,” said Hickey. “I was in 7 seat in the fall and then I stroked for every race in the spring.”
Rowing in the stroke seat and thereby being responsible for setting the rhythm and stroke rating for the boat put additional pressure on Hickey.
“It was a little bit intimidating at first, I was really, really nervous, but as the season went on, it made it easier to have three other freshmen in the boat,” said Hickey.
“Since we made up such a large part of that boat, we felt pretty comfortable there. Our upperclassmen had been nothing but supportive the whole season so that helped too.”
Coming home to race in the Knecht Cup on Mercer Lake in early April to start the spring season proved to be a mixed blessing. While Hickey was happy to be on friendly waters, Stanford split its two races on the day, winning the lightweight race but later coming in third in the varsity 8 behind the Boston University lightweight boat it had beaten earlier.
“That was probably the low point of our season; it was the only race we didn’t win this season,” said Hickey. “I think that provided a lot of fuel for the rest of our training.”
Heading into the IRA championship regatta at Lake Natoma in the Sacramento, Calif. area, Hickey believed that hard training would pay dividends.
“We knew that we had trained really, really hard and I didn’t think there was any doubt that we did everything we could to be at our top speed at the IRAs,” said Hickey.
“We realized that there is obviously a huge target on our back going into that. BU beat us once so I am sure they were going to try to do it again. We went in confident in our training but definitely on our toes because we knew someone could step up and give us a race.”
Advancing into the grand final, Stanford saved its best for last, producing a dominant effort in winning the national title, clocking a winning time of 6:25.396 over the 2,000-meter course with Boston University placing second in 6:30.608.
“That was a great race; I think from the start we were so ready to go,” recalled Hickey.
“I feel like the whole race was kind of a daze. That was our best race of the season, we feel like we put out everything that we could do on that piece. It was really satisfying to be that far in front and everybody felt like it was a great way to end the season.”
As she focuses on ergometer work and cross-training this summer, Hickey is hoping for a great sophomore season.
“We are trying to do exactly what we did this year, we are trying to go for the national championship,” said Hickey.
“I think our coach [former Princeton University rowing standout Kate Bertko] will probably have us racing some more open weight crews so that will be another challenge.”