by Tom Utescher
For Chestnut Hill resident Katie Casebeer, it was love at first stroke.
With no background or family history in the sport of rowing, she accompanied a friend to a beginners’ crew camp the summer before she entered Mount St. Joseph Academy as a freshman.
What began as something of a lark quickly became a life-changing endeavor, and Casebeer has accepted a scholarship to continue her crew career on the Charles River, racing for Boston College.
A svelte 5’11”, Casebeer spent her sophomore and junior seasons as a member of the Mount’s lightweight eight, two-time champions at both the Stotesbury Cup Regatta and the Scholastic Rowing Association America Championships. Her boat was also the top single-school competitor at the 2010 U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships, taking the bronze medal behind two club crews.
This year she has moved into the Magic’s varsity eight, which dominated the fall racing scene in the Philadelphia region. The Mounties also placed fourth at the Head of the Charles Regatta, where for the second year in a row they were the top true high school crew.
“Katie’s very, very smooth and very, very good technically,” said the Mount’s Mike McKenna, who coached her in both the lightweight and varsity boats. “She’s very consistent and she’ll never do anything to slow a boat down. There are bigger and stronger kids out there, but if they apply those forces in the wrong direction, that doesn’t help the boat. Katie will always keep it moving in the right direction.”
Casebeer considered Penn, Brown, and George Washington University while choosing a college, but nothing could displace the feeling engendered by her first race at the Head of the Charles as a tenth grader.
“I knew I wanted to go to school and continue my crew career in Boston,” she said. “When I was on the campus at BC, I knew it was the perfect school for me; it was always my number one.”
She officially committed to becoming an Eagles oarswoman at the start of the early signing period last November. Coach McKenna knew why BC and many other colleges were interested in her.
“I think they liked her size and her attitude,” he observed. “She’s the type of kid you want to have in your program. Whatever boat you put her in, you know she’s going to help it. She’s a very hard worker, doesn’t miss a practice – a top-notch kid.”
Casebeer said that on her college visits “They knew the reputation of Mount crew, and I think from talking to me they got a sense of the love I have for rowing.”
Her parents played sports in high school and still engage in various fitness activities, but no one in the family had a rowing background.
Thinking back to that seminal summer crew camp in 2007, she related, “It started out as just something to do in the summer. From the first day I loved it, and I knew that this was the sport I wanted to do.”
She explained, “I feel like the team aspect of rowing is so different from other team sports, because you depend so much on the other girls in the boat with you. What always kept me going through the really hard practices and races was knowing that I was doing it for the other girls.”
In her freshman season in the spring of 2008, Casebeer earned the stroke seat in the Mount freshman eight that won the bronze medal at the Stotesbury. Already tall but naturally slender, she moved on to the varsity level and spent two years in the Magic’s light eight, helping add to the national reputation already established by the MSJ lightweights. As she matured and gained some muscle (not easy for her but accomplished with the help of a personal trainer), it became apparent that it would be difficult to meet the 130 lb. limit after her junior year, and she moved into the open-weight varsity eight.
The two crews customarily train side-by-side at practice, and McKenna noted “They row virtually identically, so there was no change of style for her coming from the lightweights. She’s tall enough so that there was no need to try and stretch out her stroke to make her longer in the water. If we hadn’t had so many strong seniors in the class ahead of her, she might have been a candidate [for the V-8] last year as a junior.”
The responsibilities of being a member of the Mount flagship are mitigated somewhat by not having to keep such a sharp eye on the scale.
“Without having to stay under that weight limit I don’t have the same restrictions on what I eat,” Casebeer explained. “I’m a big fan of peanut butter, and I couldn’t eat that very much as a lightweight. I still have healthy eating habits, but now I don’t have to be so strict about portion control.”
On the academic side, she says she’s interested in the field of psychology, and also mentions the distinguished education department at Boston College as one of the school’s attractions. An observer of human nature, she has pondered how she developed her own special interests, and how different they are from those of her younger sister Lily, an eighth-grader at Springside School.
“We’re very different; she’s much more of an artistic type of person,” the MSJ athlete said. “She’s not nearly as competitive as I am, and it’s nice that we each have our own things we really enjoy.”
She reflected, “I wasn’t really a competitive type of person before I started rowing, and I loved how it changed me already in my freshman year. I know I changed for the better by being exposed to crew. I can see how the work ethic and the qualities of commitment and dedication I’ve developed through rowing have carried over into other parts of my life.”