Charlotte Kaczka loves to challenge herself, both academically and athletically.
The Albemarle High School senior will do just that in college after verbally committing to join the Cornell University rowing team.
“I chose Cornell because of the academics, the rigor and research opportunities available to undergraduates,” Kaczka said. “There is a wide variety of majors in my area of interest [biology/pre-med] and they have had rowers on the team who were able to work in labs while training, which I had not heard as an option at any of the other schools I was looking at.”
Kaczka was first introduced to the sport by her aunt and uncle and picked it up as a sophomore as part of her winter training between the fall field hockey and spring lacrosse seasons.
From there, she was hooked.
In her first season with the Albemarle rowing program, Kaczka was part of a junior quad team that won a state championship race by 20 seconds. In addition, she also placed third at nationals and fourth at the prestigious Stotesbury Cup Regatta, regarded as the largest high school rowing competition in the country.
The accolades didn’t stop there. As a junior, Kaczka competed in the junior single at the Head of Charles Regatta last fall. She was entered in the senior double this spring before the season was canceled due to COVID-19.
“I really wish I had gotten to race that double because we were shaping up to be very fast,” she said.
Kaczka said the sport is very humbling.
“I love rowing because it’s very honest,” she said. “You get out what you put into it. If you aren’t pulling hard enough or you are making some technical mistakes, you will know, but if you’re rowing well, you’ll know that too. I love how it’s so incredibly physically demanding because that makes finding swing and racing that much more rewarding. Rowing well looks graceful, but it certainly doesn’t feel graceful or serene. I also really appreciate the technicality of rowing and how the smallest movement of my wrist or shoulder could mean the difference between winning or losing. Most of all, I really love feeling the swing and synchronicity of a double or quad that’s moving well. Rowing up to the start with a teammate, knowing you’ll be tearing down the course together with lactic acid screaming in your legs is such an expressions of trust and I’ve never felt that level of trust in another sport.”
Kaczka had numerous conversations with Cornell Coach Steve Coppola throughout the recruiting process, which helped motivate her even more.
“The program stood out to me largely because of the conversations I had with athletes and the coaching staff,” Kaczka said. “Coming from Albemarle rowing, which is a very small and close-knit team, I knew I wanted that same supportive environment in college so I can reach my full athletic potential. I also appreciated the racing mindset Coach Coppola talked about, where the goal of racing is to so thoroughly exhaust yourself that you cannot take another stroke at the line.”
Unlike other sports, Kaczka said rowing is more complicated when it comes to defining roles on where she projects at the collegiate level.
“The plan is basically row hard,” she said. “Boat lineups are based on a variety of factors, including height, strength, and technical ability and it won’t be clear how I’ll fit in with my class until we’re actually on the water, especially because I’ll be transitioning from sculling, where each rower has two oars to sweeping, where each rower has one oar. I’ll just try my best, whatever seat or boat they see fit to put me in.”
She had interest from several programs in the country, including Princeton, but ultimately believed joining Cornell’s program was the perfect fit.
“Cornell separated out from the other colleges I was talking to because of how it combined academic and athletic rigor, strengths and opportunities in my area of interest and team where I would be able to grow and challenge myself,” Kaczka said.
She plans to major in biology and go to medical school, where she can pursue her dream of being a physician.
At Cornell, Kaczka said she will get the best of both worlds.
“Racing at the next level means an opportunity to challenge myself and grow through adversity and another opportunity to put trust in my teammates,” Kaczka said. “I’m very much looking forward to pushing myself out of my comfort zone by racing in one of the fastest rowing conferences in the country.”
The Albemarle senior is ecstatic about the opportunity.
“I absolutely feel a sense of relief now that my decision is made, although more in training than in school,” Kaczka said. “I feel more comfortable with pushing myself to build base fitness and to fail in workouts without consistently worrying or tapering for an upcoming ERG test.”
With her college decision made, Kaczka still hopes to make the most of her final season of high school rowing.
“Right now, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the upcoming spring season, but if we are able to race, I would like to at least place at SRAA Nationals and Stotesbury,” she said. “I don’t know whether I’ll be rowing a double or a single quite yet. Beyond that, I will race over the summer in a double if summer races are running then push as hard as I can at Cornell.”
Regardless of what happens this spring, Kaczka will be prepared for the challenge ahead.
“It means a lot to me, as an expression of hard work that I’ve put in throughout the past few years paying off,” she said. “It means that I can continue doing what I love as best I can for the next four years.”
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