When Kelsey Sekanick first arrived at Notre Dame in fall 2010, she, like all other incoming female freshmen who weren't entering the university as collegiate athletes, received a letter from assistant rowing coach Marnine Stahl.
The letter stated that the Fighting Irish rowing program was looking for "tall, athletic girls" who wished to be a part of a team experience, and it invited anyone to come to a meeting about the team. Sekanick, a three-time district qualifying swimmer while at Howland High School, decided to head to the meeting.
After listening to the usual spiel from the coach, Sekanick watched a video about the program that left an impression.
"There were two things that stood out for me," Sekanick said. "There were several clips of camaraderie of the athletes, and coming into a new situation, it was very appealing because I didn't know anybody else at Notre Dame at that point. Also, I fell in love with the beauty of the sport. It's really a beautiful sport to watch, and I wanted to be a part of it."
Three-and-a-half years later, attending that meeting proved to be the right decision for Sekanick. She has since earned two monograms (the rowing equivalent of a varsity letter) and is looking to participate in the NCAA Championships for the third time in her career.
With a 55-member squad consisting of half scholarship athletes and half walk-ons, Sekanick's success throughout her career isn't uncommon, according to assistant coach Joe Schlosberg.
"I think Kelsey's always been just kind of a fiery athlete, and she definitely enjoys competing," said Schlosberg, who himself was a walk-on at Northwestern University from 1996-1999. "She's aggressive, she's not afraid to go out there and throw down a really fast time. As she's finishing up her four years here, she's somebody who we can trust in a boat and know that she has a savvy about her in terms of her race ability."
It wasn't an easy transition from the swimming pool to the boat, although it wasn't exactly her fault. Sekanick learned the rowing stroke and put in the effort at workouts, but the 5-foot-9 Girard native wasn't recovering well after said workouts and didn't show too much improvement.
Concerned about her struggles, the staff decided to run some tests toward the end of the year. It turned out that she was iron-deficient, which explained why Sekanick didn't recover well.
"Iron was one of those things that we could adjust," Schlosberg said. "We kind of got her on a level playing field with everyone else. We added the ability that she could recover and get faster, and she kind of just took off."
With that out of the way, she pushed herself onto one of three boats that competed in the NCAA Championship by her sophomore year - the first four boat, which consists of four rowers and a coxswain (a member who steers the boat and coordinates the power and rhythm of the rowers).
As a member of the first four, her boat finished eighth out of 16 at the NCAA finals that spring.
While participating in the NCAA races the past two seasons were special to Sekanick, another race early her junior year was just as memorable. On Oct. 20-21, 2012, Sekanick took part in the Head of the Charles Regatta in Cambridge, Mass., the world's largest two-day regatta with around 9,000 athletes participating in 61 events.
Sekanick and her teammates finished 11th out of 20 boats in the women's championship fours race, traveling the 5,000 meters in a time of 20:09.96.
"Honestly, that had to be one of the most interesting experiences for me as a rower," Sekanick said. "Rowing is not a huge sport, especially in Youngstown - a lot of people have no idea about it - but going to a place where there is so much attention focused on rowing for three days is absolutely amazing."
Heading into this season, Notre Dame was ranked the highest in program history at No. 9 in the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association poll in the preseason, and the Irish have dropped one spot to No. 10 since then. Sekanick's boat, the first four, is ranked third in the South, based on the regional rankings on the NCAA's website.
Sekanick said the team should live up to these expectations at the NCAA Championship on May 30 to June 1 in Indianapolis.
"It's very exciting because I think this is the highest we've been ranked coming into a season since the beginning of the program," Sekanick said. "I think there's high expectations on us, but I think our team should live up to the expectations and I'm excited to see how we all perform at NCAA (Championship)."
No matter the outcome at season's end, Sekanick said she knows she made the right choice by going to that meeting back in fall 2010.
"I've made some very, very great friends on this team," Sekanick said. "It's a huge team, but it's absolutely great to know all of them and I know they'll always have my back. I know that some of these girls will be my best friends for the rest of my life."