by Meredith Dault
19th November 2010
For Caylen Heckel, the decision to pursue graduate work in Art History was an obvious one. "I knew I liked reading and writing and researching," she explains with a smile, "so it kind of seemed like the best way for me to continue all those things." But there was another incentive too: the lure of the open water.
Since beginning her undergraduate degree at Queen's in 2006, Heckel has been involved with the women's rowing team -- first rowing junior varsity, and then moving up to the varsity team in her third year. During the season, Heckel (who races lightweight eights and fours) is on the water by 5:30am with her teammates. She often practices for an hour and a half in the afternoon, too. "The coaches are good about saying ‘school first'," she says of the enormous time commitment required of her sport, "but everyone loves rowing so much, we are willing to make the time."
It is that commitment that has enabled the women's rowing team to become one of the university's most impressive. They recently won the OUA women's rowing championship -- a title they have held six times in the past eight years. "Women's rowing at Queen's dominates the field," says Heckel proudly. "It's nice going to events knowing that people are really afraid of you."
Heckel, who grew up in Fort Erie, Ontario, started rowing while she was in high school, but admits that her coming to the sport was unexpected. She and her twin sister used to cross the border into the United States every day in order to attend a girls school in Buffalo. It was while having their papers processed that a customs agent asked Heckel what sport she might pursue while at school. "I wasn't even thinking of doing a sport," says Heckel, who admits she was more drawn to music, "but he said ‘their rowing team is really good, you should try for that'. I found out later that he was a Masters rower!"
For Heckel, rowing not only plays an important part in her day, it also provides the backbone for her social life. "You get really close with the girls you row with, because you need that trust," she explains. "All team sports need trust, but rowing especially because you are all in one boat. You all have to work together." She describes the feeling of being in the middle of a race, and feeling a lot of pain, but knowing that you have to keep going. "It can kill you mentally," Heckel laughs. "It matters that everyone else is in the same pain!"
Between practices during the season, and gym workouts the rest of the year (high performance athletes are expected to squeeze in between eight and nine workouts a week), Heckel admits that her schedule is busy, but says the key to her success is time management. "The busier I am, the better I work," she says, "and maybe it's because it forces you to manage your time better. You don't do silly things like watch YouTube or surf Facebook. I think the quality of work is better because you're more focused." She acknowledges that the graduate school workload sometimes surprises her after being an undergraduate ("it's a big step!"), but that she is enjoying it.
Though she's only at the beginning of her degree program, Heckel hasn't ruled out doing a PhD. "I could definitely see myself being an art historian," she says with a smile. "I think it would be a pretty amazing thing." As for rowing, Heckel, who has been learning to scull, says she is inspired by the Masters rowers she meets, and can imagine competing at the club level once she has retired from varsity sport. "I could definitely see owning my own single (one-person) boat when I'm older. (Rowing is) just so peaceful and relaxing... the sound of the oars in the water, and watching the sun rise. I can definitely imagine keeping that aspect of it with me."