American rower Kate Bertko ’06 has gone from being unable to stand up straight after a serious abdominal surgery to qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games in less than three years. Bertko will be making her Olympic debut in Rio this year after medaling in lightweight single and double sculls at the 2015 World Rowing Championships. The Daily Princetonian sat down with Bertko to discuss her favorite and least favorite rowing moments, and what her oars would say if they could talk.
Kate Bertko:I love racing!
DP: What were your first thoughts when you learned that you had qualified for Rio?
KB:Holy shit! I was in disbelief for a while.
DP:What were the qualifications for the London Games like?
KB:I was cut from the London team about two months before the Games. At the time, I was competing to be part of the open weight women’s 4x. It was a difficult and heartbreaking year, but I believe that the process made me a stronger athlete and more resilient person.
DP:What is the hardest training routine that you have ever had?
KB:Every year it gets a little harder. Rowing is a fun sport in that the better you get, the harder it is.
DP:If your favorite oars could talk, what do you think they would say?
DP:What is the weirdest thought you've had during a race?
KB:In 2014, I raced at the World Championships two months after having major abdominal surgery. I had been in the boat for less than a month prior to the regatta and was horribly unprepared to race. As I came off the starting line during my heat, I remember being genuinely concerned that I might not be able to physically complete the 2000 meter course.
DP:What is one thing you miss most about rowing at the University?
KB:Princeton Rowing is an amazing family. I was able to train with the most amazing, inspiring teammates and had the best coaching in the world.
DP:What are three things that you are excited about for Rio?
KB:Rio is an opportunity to race the best people in the world. There is nothing more exciting than that.
DP:What has been your most challenging moment in your time rowing and at the University?
KB:While at Princeton I was diagnosed with a potentially fatal arrhythmia (long QT syndrome) and told I could no longer row. That initial diagnosis was ultimately proven incorrect, but it was a confusing, scary moment in my life.
KB:Winning NCAA’s in 2006 with Princeton was the product of a very long and challenging journey.