Rowing buoys Columbia River grad’s athletic spirit

Commentary: Micah Rice

By Micah Rice, Columbian Sports Editor

Published:

 

Katelyn Costanza

Maybe it was a stroke of luck.

Or maybe it was a stroke of genius from the member of University of Washington rowing team who had seen Katelyn Costanza using a rowing machine at the gym.

Either way, Costanza is a collegiate athlete through different strokes than she expected when she graduated from Columbia River High School in 2015.

Costanza had her sights on playing collegiate softball. But a torn knee ligament before her senior season sank those plans.

Two years later, it’s a boat that floats her competitive spirit. Earlier this month, Costanza was a member of the Novice 8 team that took first place at the Pac-12 Rowing Championships, where UW won the team title.

“Just being in a softball stadium makes me emotional,” Costanza said. “But it’s not the same as being among eight girls, all giving their max effort for a common goal.”

Growing up, softball was a constant for Costanza. Her junior year, she was the starting pitcher on a Columbia River team that went 15-9 and reached the Class 3A state tournament.

“As a kid, I always imagined me taking softball as far as I could,” she said.

That included visiting colleges prior to her senior year. But an official visit to Cal State Stanislaus would change the course of her life.

Recruits are allowed to participate in practices while visiting NCAA Division II schools. Constanza was fielding grounders with Cal State Stanislaus when she pivoted awkwardly.

Costanza heard a loud pop, then fell to the ground. By that evening, her knee has swollen, a symptom of the torn anterior cruciate ligament she suffered earlier that day.

“I was basically in denial until I heard the words out of the surgeon’s mouth,” she said. “‘Surgery. You can’t play softball for at least a year.'”

Instead of pitching, Costanza spent her senior year helping the team however she could. There were moments during games and practices when she couldn’t hold back her tears.

“Being an athlete is part of your identity,” Costanza said. “You identify yourself by your teammates and your drive to be competitive. To have that taken away was really hard.”

Her softball future uncertain, Costanza chose a college that would satisfy her academic interests. But after enrolling at UW, she still hadn’t given up on playing college softball.

Mindy Cleeland, Costanza’s coach at Columbia River who played for the Huskies, helped arrange a tryout ahead of the 2016 season. Costanza trained intensely, trying to shake off more than a year of rust.

Three walk-ons tried out for the Huskies. Costanza was the only one asked to come back for a second look.

But in the end, Costanza didn’t make the team. She was told there were simply too many pitchers on scholarship.

“That made my freshman year really difficult,” she said.

Costanza stayed in shape, but was jealous of the those in the gym who had the “status” of student-athlete.

She had never rowed on the water, but Costanza liked using the rowing machine at the UW gym because its low-impact nature didn’t affect her knee.

Last fall, she was leaving the gym when a member of the UW rowing team handed her a flyer for open tryouts. At 5-foot-9, Costanza’s tall athletic build caught the team member’s eye.

“Worst case, I go and I hate it or get cut,” she said. “I had nothing to lose.”

Costanza did not get cut, even after her group’s first foray onto Lake Washington ended with a boat going off-course into some bushes near the dock.

Costanza said UW Rowing has a tradition of welcoming members who have never rowed before.

“First and foremost, they want athletes who have the drive and the will to win,” she said. “They can teach the rowing later.”

Costanza is one of three Clark County athletes who row for UW. Hockinson grad Elle Tilken is a teammate in the Novice 8 boat. Oscar Golberg, a senior from Columbia River, was on the Third Varsity 8 boat that won the Pac-12 title in that division.

Costanza’s Novice 8 boat won its Pac-12 Championships race by 10 seconds. Once again, she was on a team, hoisting a trophy, singing a cheer.

“It’s addictive,” she said. “I love being part of a group wearing a uniform.

“At this point, ‘I wouldn’t trade it for softball.”

Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, micah.rice@columbian.com or follow him on Twitter @col_mrice.