Glastonbury's Karen Petrik (far right) will captain the PR3 Mixed 4+ rowing team in Japan. Joining Petrik will be (l-r) John Tanguay, Charley Nordin, Dani Hansen, and Allie Reilly
Karen Petrik, a 2015 graduate of Glastonbury High School, will soon be heading to Tokyo, Japan to guide the PR3 Mixed 4+ rowing team in the Paralympics Games.
“It’s definitely surreal,” Petrik said of the experience, “I never would have imagined that I would be here. Even after high school I was debating on rowing in college, so I never thought I would get to the level I am now.”
Petrik will be doing what she knows best in Japan, captaining the team as the coxswain. A coxswain is the person in charge of the boat, acting as a coach on the water that executes the race plan while navigating and steering the boat.
It is a position that the 23-year-old has been mastering for nearly a decade.
“My freshman year in high school I wanted to do a sport and one of my good friends introduced me to the sport and thought I’d be good at it,” Petrik said of joining the rowing team at GHS, “I tried out for the team and made the team and ever since then I picked it up and really enjoyed. Some coxswains start out as rowers, but I’ve been one since day one.”
She thrived in high school, becoming a captain of the GHS crew team and improving her skills through additional training.
Her childhood idol, Mary Whipple, was the coxswain for a pair of gold medal teams in 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics. Whipple would later run clinics that Petrik would attend.
“I remember going to one of her workshops as a high schooler and looking up to her. I thought this is something I would love to do one day but I never thought I would be here today. She would do workshops on how to be a better coxswain and I would take notes. I learned as much I could from her.”
As her time at GHS was coming to an end, Petrik was unsure if she would continue competing at the next level.
“My senior year of high school I had great, supportive teammates and an awesome coach. They would push me and told me that I was at the level that colleges want,” remembered Petrik, “At first I was a little apprehensive, but they gave me that confidence and I started looking around to colleges and I would send my coxswain recordings to colleges. It took off from there”
Her next stop was the University of Rhode Island, a Division I program in a major conference. URI is where her passion for the sport intensified as she helped lead Rowdy Rowing to three Atlantic-10 conference titles.
“College is where I really learned to be a good coxswain. I was lucky, I had awesome coaches in college. One of my coaches was a coxswain and the other coach went to the Olympics,” she said, “It was so helpful for me. I grew some much and I’m such a different athlete because of college.”
With the help of her college coaches, Shelagh Donohoe and Jessica Lizzi, her rowing journey continued post-URI as she was selected to the US National team, which would go on to win silver at the World Rowing Championships in Linz, Austria.
“Austria is something that I will never forget. It was the first time I had done anything like that,” recalled Petrik, “Just to be on that stage and feel the pressure that you are representing the country is a really unique feeling. That was special and it’s something I’ll always remember.”
The games in Austria were the perfect preparation for the Paralympic games starting in late August. She will be coxing a standard rowing boat made up of two male and two female rowers, each with some form of impairment. By Paralympic rule, the coxswain does not need to have a disability.
Joining her in this latest adventure are some familiar faces. Coach Donohoe is coaching the team and former URI teammate Allie Reilly is one of the rowers.
“Allie is one of my best friends, we support each other. She motivated me to try and told me how incredible of an experience it could be,” said Petrik, who mentored Reilly at URI, “Coach [Donohoe] and I have a great working relationship, she taught me everything that I know.”
The URI-trio is joined by rowers Charley Nordin, John Tanguay, and Dani Hansen, completing the five-person boat that will represent the United States next month. Petrik and the four rowers are currently training in Boston, making up for lost time.
“A lot of the other teams have the advantage of training together year-round, but we all train separately during the year and in the summer is when we come together and train together,” added Petrik, “We practice twice a day. We do about a two-hour session on the water in the morning and then two days a week we lift in the afternoon for a couple of hours and the remaining days of the week we do another water practice in the afternoon. It’s typically two session a day.”
She added, “We’ve been gaining speed and getting faster each and every day. It’s really starting to come together and we’re really excited where we are. We’re starting to mesh as a boat and we’re starting to click, and our excitement feeds off that.”
Following the games in Japan, Petrik will return to her hometown. She is an elementary teacher who taught at Nayaug Elementary last year and will be starting a new position as a 4th grade teacher at Hopewell School this fall
“Our town is so great. I love meeting all the staff at the schools, they are all so wonderful. I’m even working with teachers that I had in school, so it’s really come full circle.” said Petrik, “I wouldn’t be here without my coaches in high school, and my family and my friends from high school.”
Before starting her new teaching position, Petrik has some business to attend to on the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo.
“I think we have high standards and high goals for each other. We want to win gold, that’s the ultimate goal,” said Petrik, “We have a month to go I think right now we’re in a good place to where we want to be. All of us are very competitive and we don’t settle. We’re constantly pushing and pushing to try and get faster. The next month is going to be critical for getting as much speed as we can in the time we have.”
Follow Petrik and the team as they go for gold at the Paralympics, scheduled for August 24 – September 5. The rowing events are set to take place on August 27 and 28.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin