Coral Kasden, a second year GTV student, was featured as one of CAMB’s professional GRAthletes (“graduate athletes”) in the November 2018 issue of the CAMB Student Newsletter. Her goal last year was to be selected as coxswain for the United States boat in the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. As an exciting update, she just accomplished this goal!
Coral is a rowing coxswain for the Men’s High Performance Group for the New York Athletic Club. Tucked into a small seat at the back of the boat, she steers, keeps the rowers on time, and directs the whole course of a race – an integral position that carries an immense amount of responsibility. Coral just made history as the first female coxswain of a men’s crew for Team USA. In her incredible national team debut this past August, Coral served as coxswain for the men’s eight and was one of only 21 rowing athletes to represent the United States at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. Competing internationally brought new challenges to an already taxing sport, but Coral was ready to lead Team USA. Having minored in Spanish at UC Santa Barbara, Coral was able to communicate with the Spanish-speaking officials for the regatta. However, nothing could have prepared the team for the outbreak of the highly contagious norovirus in the athlete village. If an athlete came in contact with an infected individual or consumed contaminated food or water, they were wiped out for 24 hours with the sickness and needed days to recover. Many athletes could not race. Those who were not affected had to substitute into events that they were not scheduled to compete in just to fill out the numbers in the boats. Coral’s competition was the last race of the Pan Am Games, and her eight-man boat was reduced to four tired but healthy athletes with no substitutes left. Doing their best to race half-staffed, a favorite to win the race came in 6th place. Coral was an integral part of keeping the team together during this less-than-optimal time and is hungry for a rematch.
Coral leading Team USA at the PanAm Games
After the competition, Team USA tackled the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu in Cusco, Peru. World class rowers are some of the fittest athletes - rowing is one of the only sports that requires all the body’s muscle groups to generate insane amounts of power, catapulting to upwards of 50 strokes per minute (~15 mph) during a race. But, 16,500 feet of altitude affects even the most fit individuals. Coral described this four-day trek as “the hardest, most insane thing [she had] ever put [her] body through.” The team hiked during the day and slept in tents at night surrounded by breathtaking views. Local porters carried their food and cooked – a vital necessity on the hardest trek at Machu Picchu. The lack of oxygen took its toll and made the trek even more challenging, but it was an incredible experience that Coral would do again in a heartbeat.
Competing at such a high level requires dedication, but competing while also being a PhD student requires superhuman commitment and a very supportive academic environment. While Coral thought it was awesome to be selected for Team USA, she was only able to compete because of the support and encouragement from her PI, Hansell Stedman. She explains that her PI encourages the pursuit of things outside of the lab and agreed for Coral to take two weeks off to represent Team USA. To accommodate these plans, Coral and her PI worked together to make a timeline for her project so that she could hit the ground running when she returned. Work-life balance is incredibly important in graduate school. Whether you represent Team USA, play an intramural sport, go to happy hours, or attend theatre productions, it is important to get out of lab and enjoy life. You will be more productive at work if you have fun things scheduled later. It is incredible that many PI’s understand and encourage this balance, and we need to continue to foster this atmosphere at Penn.
As for what’s next, Coral is training to be a rower herself. Restrained in the coxswain seat, she sits, and watches people push their bodies to their limit. As a highly competitive athlete, she wants in. This past summer, Coral rowed in the women’s lightweight pair at US National Championships in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was first across the line. She hopes to row faster next summer and will continue being a world-class coxswain. We wish Coral the best in her future GRAthlete endeavors and encourage everyone in CAMB to strive to have balance in graduate school!