DARIEN — Katie de Haas just returned from Sarasota, Fla., where she competed in the NCAA Division I Rowing National Championships the last weekend of May.

Her University of California-Berkeley, not only won the championships, but the four-woman boat took home the gold in the 2-kilometer sprint.

The 22-year-old Manhattan native is taking a break from rowing to recover from what she called four “very hard years.” De Haas will be leaving for a trip to Europe this month before beginning her professional life at the San Francisco office of the global executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles in September.

De Haas talked about her college trajectory and rowing career.

Q: When did you start rowing?

A: I started rowing my freshman year of high school. I was really focusing on field hockey and needed something to stay in shape. Someone on the train told my mom about Connecticut Boat Club rowing club and I went in to try it out and immediately fell in love with it.

The summer of 2011, I got invited to junior national development camp. That was kind of it and I loved it, so after my first year I quit every other sport. It was surprisingly easy, but I just did it and never went to see field hockey or anything related to it because I knew it would be hard for me.

I had so much potential with rowing and loved it so much. There’s something so special about the sport it’s hard to explain — there’s an unparalleled camaraderie and also individual competitiveness.

Q: How was studying and living in California?

A: Berkeley is the polar opposite (of Darien). I chose Berkeley because I was in love with it and I wanted to do something different. I’m very aware that Darien is an incredible place to grow up in, but I said “Why not go somewhere that's crazy?”

Berkeley has a taste of everything — there are people from all over the world there. It’s obviously known for the free-speech movement, which is blown out of proportion sometimes. I knew it was going to be a shock to the system and it was and that’s why I went there.

Q: How did it feel to win your race and the championship?

A: I have an issue of low blood flow to my arms and I was out the whole first half of this year. I didn’t think I was going to row this season, so winning this was my dream and people didn’t think I was coming back. I was on the bike all fall.

It’s so crazy because I kind of expected (winning) this too. I had lived that race in my head so many times and I was so confident. That was the most special boat that I had ever been in, we clicked in the most special way. A week before the race, we were training in Orlando and there was a moment where we figured it out.

I looked back at video (of the race) and listened to our coxswain and I felt like we were winning the whole time. I knew we were getting pushed hard, we were neck-and-neck at one point. We knew we were going to have do something crazy and my last race was so surreal. I was in a different headspin — thought I was going to cry when we finished.

Q: What did you study?

A: I was going to do media studies because I wanted to be a broadcast journalist and be the next Katie Couric and took classes my freshman year. I was kind of confused for a while because I cared about history, current events and politics, but I didn’t know what major that was until a friend told me about political economy and it sounded like what I wanted to do. The rest of it was so incredible and you get to control your education.

Long term, I’m hoping to do something with sustainable development or corporate sustainability and human rights, but entry level jobs in that field are not great paying jobs and I’ve got to pay off college loans.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I’ll be working at Heidrick and Struggles, it’s an executive search firm, so head-hunting. They found Uber’s next CEO and they work in every industry. I remember speaking with the guy who leads the San Francisco office and he said that one has to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and I said that’s what I do every day.

We get to talk to and search for around the world for the smartest people in the world for leading corporations on the planet to help them. Why wouldn’t you want to surround yourself with them? I’m so excited about the exposure. I’ll get in this two-year analyst program and it’s going to be a lot of learning.

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