Friel develops into a high-caliber rower
Published 5:10 pm, Thursday, September 2, 2010
Cat Friel appears to be a natural at rowing. A Staples girls swimming captain who graduated in June, she will be rowing this year for Marist College.
"It's a little weird for me because I swam since I was 7 and I never thought I'd switch sports," Friel said.
In addition to swimming for the Lady Wreckers, she also swam for the Westport YMCA Water Wrats during the high school off-season and was a Wrat before arriving at Staples. When she turned 16, she swam for Zeus in Norwalk.
During the winter of her junior year, she didn't swim after the Staples season ended and in the spring, she wasn't playing a sport. Her parents Gerald and Heather rowed for the University of Pennsylvania and suggested to Friel to give it a try and she joined Saugatuck Rowing Club (SRC). She did well for SRC and discovered rowing to be a sport she could excel in, which isn't unusual for swimmers.
"All the girls were friendly and I didn't realize that a lot of swimmers switched to rowing, so the cross-training was perfect for me," Friel said.
Distance swimming is even more-tailor made for crew than sprits, thus the boat seemed to be perfect for her. She contributed in boats where they swept (using one oar) and sculled (using two oars) and did quads and doubles, usually producing points for SRC at Regattas no matter which boat she was in.
"I just kind of picked it up and got a lot of help from the coaches," Friel recalled. "I got in shape through swimming."
Once she was in a boat, she was comfortable with her new sport.
"Rowing is kind of like diving off a block." Friel said. "It was easier to go for it and not have the actual fear."
"I figured she knew what she was doing and it was the one time I accepted help from my parents," Friel said.
Being in a quad, double or even an 8-boat didn't faze Friel and handles all of them the same.
"The better you are by yourself in the water, the better you are in a group boat," Friel says. "It's a whole new thing I'm learning about. It's easier to adapt because the training is similar for swimming and crew."
Building up her strength made her formidable in crew. During the winter, she ergs, which is simulated rowing out of the water, and this helped lay the foundation for her in a boat.
In addition, Friel lifts weights and runs, which further increases her strength.
"You definitely work different muscles I'm not used to sweating a lot when I work in the water," she said.
One thing Friel likes more about regattas than swimming is that she's more visible in a boat than she is under water. When her fans encourage her in either sport, she's more aware of it while rowing.
"There's a lot of people watching the regatta on the river and you can hear them better than when you are under water," Friel says. "It helps push me and my adrenaline rises and it gets me pumped up this way."
When she first began to swim, the Wrats didn't have many kids who wanted to swim long distances. Friel volunteered for it and excelled in it. She credits it for helping her cardio vascular system and thrived in distance freestyle events for the Lady Wreckers because muscle memory stayed with her.
"It was the only sport I tried growing up that I loved but didn't fail at," she said. "I was 7, I had fun jumping into the pool and it stuck."
Growing up, she tried soccer, gymnastics, tennis and basketball.
By joining Marist's crew team, she will probably be giving up competitive swimming, which isn't easy for her because she's attuned to the water. However, she knows it's the right decision because rowing is more for her.
"It's a little tough for me and it's something that stuck with me since I started to swim when I was younger," Friel said. "I always loved swimming because I'm in the water. I love both swimming and crew because I'm in the water but I like crew more because you have to be in sync with everyone else in the boat while in swimming, you are alone in one lane."
At Staples, she did well in the classroom. Social studies was her favorite subject in high school.
Friel matriculates at Marist with a double major in criminal justice and psychology. In order to excel for the Lady Red Foxes, she has to raise her performance to the next level because the competition is intense.
Being comfortable in her new environment helps her immensely.
"There are so many gifted athletes here, it's insane," says Friel. "I'm doing absolutely wonderful and I love it here. It will be an all-out, give 110 percent of myself at all times."