STORRS, Conn. - On the day that senior rower Katherine Wheatley celebrates her 22nd birthday, she can't help but reflect on her time at UConn as her final exam schedule gradually comes to an end this week.
Due to rowing and academic work, Wheatley does not have any specific plans for her birthday; however, she does have plans for what she will be doing after taking the last exam of her undergraduate career.
"I will probably nap for 10 hours," joked Wheatley - which is likely a common sentiment among college students this time of year.
She has been a part of the UConn rowing program for the last four seasons under 20-year head coach Jennifer Wendry, contributing as an experienced member of the team.
The Beverly, Mass. native has medaled in each of the past two American Athletic Conference Championships, setting a high-bar for herself at the AAC Championship this season on May 13 in Sarasota, Fla.
As a junior, she earned a bronze medal in the Varsity 4+, while earning silver in the Third Varsity 8+ as a sophomore. Specifically focusing on last year's race, Wheatley vividly remembers the details of the competition.
"I remember going back and forth with Temple for the majority of the race and just before our sprint, looking over and seeing they had one seat on us," said Wheatley. "I've never sprinted so hard. The boat picked up and with each stroke, we came back inch by inch."
She added, "After taking that last stroke crossing the finish line, I collapsed. We couldn't tell who had gotten third but we knew for sure we had given absolutely everything we had."
The Huskies did placed third, their best finish of the day in Sacramento, Calif. When it comes to this year's race, however, UConn will be looking for more of that same success when Wheatley hits the water with her teammates.
"I think the team is looking very strong for the upcoming AAC Championship. Boats have been getting faster and faster, performing well at our races all season," said Wheatley. "We've medaled in the last three conference championships and I think we're more than capable of doing so this year."
With just the one race left in her collegiate rowing career, things are starting to catch up with Wheatley in terms of her final weeks as a UConn student-athlete.
Wheatley will have the opportunity to walk during commencement this weekend - one week before competing in the AAC Championship, in what will be a busy and emotional stretch of time for the senior.
"Being a part of the UConn rowing team has been one of the most rewarding experiences. I've had the privilege of being a part of such a close-knit team and developed some friendships that will go far beyond graduation," said Wheatley. "I'm sad this positive experience is quickly coming to an end."
However, when one opportunity closes, another one opens, and in Wheatley's case, there is much to look forward to when she steps out of a rowing shell for the final time.
"After graduation, I'm planning to work as a certified nursing assistant for a year or two to gain experience in the field before applying to nursing and PA schools in Boston," said Wheatley.
As the Huskies prepare for the AAC Championship in less than 10 days, they do so knowing that Wheatley and the other four members of the senior class will be sprinting as hard as they can one more time.