During her sports career at Stuart Country Day School, Katie Baker liked to keep busy, starring at field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse.
Entering Princeton University in the fall of 2008, Baker looked into club field hockey, lacrosse, ultimate frisbee and varsity crew as ways to fill her athletic fix.
The Princeton Junction native ultimately decided to devote her considerable energy to rowing.
“I was doing rowing in the morning and field hockey in the afternoon,” recalled Baker. “It was very tiring, I decided I had to pick one and I went with crew.”
Having never rowed before, Baker faced some major challenges in adjusting to her new sport.
“The conditioning was the toughest part, I had to adapt to the idea of always conditioning,” said Baker.
“The first time I rowed it was very exciting and very new. It was very hard to get it; I had the fear of falling into water.”
Overcoming those fears and clearly getting it, Baker has emerged as a mainstay for the Princeton women’s open program, helping the Tigers win the Ivy Sprints team title earlier this month as she ended her college crew career on a high note.
For Baker, coming close to a title as a freshman helped cement her commitment to rowing.
“In my freshman spring, we didn’t have enough for a freshman so I was on a freshman 4,” said Baker.
“We got second at Eastern Sprints; that was exciting. I was getting used to it; I was much more confident than when I started. I was less worried that I would do something to catch a crab (a stroke that goes bad).”
As a sophomore, Baker’s increasing confidence and skill level led her to be moved to the vital stroke seat, the rower sitting closest to the stern whose cadence sets the rhythm for the boat.
“It was a lot more about getting better and faster,” said Baker, reflecting on her sophomore campaign.
“I was in the third varsity 8. I became a stroke; it was exciting. They talked about me doing it for freshman 4 and I was terrified. Once I tried it, I really liked it. You get to think more about how to use power rather than just rowing. You focus on what the boat needs and how you can help.”
In 2011, Baker got a firsthand experience with a powerful crew, toiling alongside a first varsity 8 that went on to the win the grand final at the NCAA Championships.
“It was awesome to train with them; it was great to watch that happen,” said Baker, who went to the NCAA regatta with the varsity 4.
“I think it is completely true that you feel like you are pushing the top boat. You have to have someone to race everyday to be able to race.”
For Baker, a big part of her senior year has been savoring every day at the boathouse.
“I definitely wanted to embrace all of it instead of just going through it,” said Baker.
“I wanted to really experience things; enjoying being part of the team and being on the water.”
Baker experienced plenty of success on the water this spring, stroking the third varsity 8 to an undefeated season, culminating with a first place finish at the Ivy Sprints.
“It definitely came together more in the spring; people were being moved around before that,” said Baker, in assessing the boat’s superb season.
“We were always fast; we never won a race by less than eight seconds. Even when it was windy and rough, I never doubted anyone. We had trust and confidence in each other.”
The level of trust throughout the program helped the Tigers prevail in the overall team standings at the Ivy Sprints.
“It was great, our goal was to win as a team,” said Baker, who will be cheering on her teammates on the first and second varsity 8s and varsity 4 this weekend as they compete in the NCAA Championships at Mercer Lake. “To have every boat medal is great. Crew is so hard but so worth it when you win.”
In the final analysis, the bonds that Baker developed with her classmates may be the most worthwhile aspect of her crew experience.
“We have all shared the same things,” said Baker, who is looking to teach and coach at a prep school after graduation.
“We had hard days where we helped each other and we had the experience of a national championship. I have always been a committed person but this is a whole new level of commitment. You really have to have a tenacity. Having a group like that and that kind of structure is extremely rewarding.”