We took the chance to sit down for a breakfast chat with TYRA Alum Chase Antonacci (’15) to talk about his experiences with TYRA, Wash U and winning a national championship.
You can listen to the podcast by clicking the link below. For convenience, we have included the transcript of our interview following the link.
Coach B: I’m sitting here with Chase Antonacci who graduated high school three years ago. Chase is a Cascia Hall graduate and is currently studying cognitive neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis. We just thought it would be good to chat with Chase. Chase has done some really good things in the last three years and we want to get that word out. So Chase, tell us a little bit about how you became involved with TYRA and how was that experience?
Chase: Originally, before I started rowing, I had been playing competitive soccer for about three years, and at the end of my freshman year of high school, I was looking for something new. Soccer just wasn’t really my thing. I had seen advertisements for TYRA — at that time, Tulsa Rowing Club Juniors. I remember I went out one day just to try it out. I met you and I remember I met coach Ariel who showed me how to erg, going through the sequence of the stroke: arms, body, legs, legs, body, arms. It was a great group of novice guys. I think something that I found at TYRA that was different from other sports I played was really the community and the support, particularly from the coaches and other mentors there. I think TYRA was really focused on helping each individual athlete improve and achieve, you know, achieve their personal best and improve as much as they could. It was a really unique sort of supportive environment that I think kept me with it. It lead me into rowing in college has kept me going over the last 6 or so years.
Coach B: So you were pretty successful, I think your senior year you went to nationals, is that correct?
Chase: Yeah, we went to Florida for youth nationals in the lightweight four with coach Hartwell in 2015 — awesome experience getting to compete with some of the best high school programs out there.
Coach B: That was kind of the end of your high school career. And then, and then you went onto go to WashU out there in St Louis. What prompted you to go to college at WashU?
Chase: I’d been looking around at a lot of schools, like most people, and originally, going to WashU, I didn’t think I was going to row. I really chose WashU for the academic program, but something that struck me about the school is something that I actually found sort of similar to TYRA. Everyone I met there seemed super open, friendly, and welcoming. They really appeared to be interested in the student as a person, helping you to grow and develop. Likewise, I found when I started my freshman year that the culture on the rowing team there, it was very similar to that atmosphere that had drawn me to WashU in the first place. This carried through to other student groups as well. Anyway, I decided to go out and give the team and shot, and needless to say it was a really good decision.
Coach B: What were the basic differences? How was collegiate rowing different from high school rowing in your experience?
Chase: I think they’re actually more similar than they are different. Something that’s interesting is that you obviously meet a lot of people who rowed in different places in high school. With different coaches, you have to learn new ways of rowing that are slightly different from what you were taught in high school. But in general, I think the sort of atmosphere and a culture around the sport is actually pretty similar. It’s still a very supportive community, a really tight-knit group of people who want to be competitive but also tend to be driven in a lot of ways besides rowing as well.
Coach B: This past year, this was your junior year was a pretty exciting year for you. Tell us a little bit about the Fall season, I think you’re rowing the eight and some of your successes in the eight, were you stroking the eight at one point?
Chase: Yeah, I was stroking the eight for the Head of the Oklahoma and the Head of the Hooch. So most of the big races last fall.
Coach B: How did you perform at the Head of the Oklahoma?
Chase: We won the Head of the Oklahoma in collegiate eight, and then at the Head of the Hooch, we came third in that event.
Coach B: And how many, explain a little bit to the listeners as the Head of the Hooch is the second biggest head race in the US rowing calendar. So how many other crews did you compete against?
Chase: I’d say probably around 30 to 40 other boats. But yeah, it’s a great fall regatta in Chattanooga. Every year, there’s tons of crews from all over, especially from south and central United States. It’s a really exciting event. And it was great to do that well at a big fall race.
Coach B: As your season progressed this past March around about spring break, you guys got back on the water and at some point you switched from the eight to rowing a pair. So how was that experience? What prompted that move?
Chase: So looking at what our A.C.R.A. (American Collegiate Rowing Association National Championships) boats would be, our coach, Andrew Black, had wanted to break down into a four and a pair because those boats would probably be more competitive than rowing the eight through A.C.R.A. We had been looking for different four combinations, initially interested in prioritizing the four. But it happened that all of the heavyweight guys ended up in the four while Brooks and I both ended up in the pair. I think we were both pretty happy about that though because it was sort of a much more technically proficient boat than the four would have been and we thought would have the potential to be more competitive. It ended up turning out really well.
Coach B: So what is the name of your partner?
Chase: His name is Brooks Becker.
Coach B: Where he from?
Chase: He’s from Chicago.
Coach B: Would you say you must be a pretty compatible given your results?
Chase: Yeah, I think we get along pretty well. He also rowed in high school at St. Ignatius up in Chicago. I think we both row in a similar way and are able to keep a pretty positive focus in boat.
Coach B: So two of the biggest events in the club collegiate calendar are S.I.R.A and A.C.R.A. When you raced at S.I.R.A, how did that go?
Chase: It went really well. We ended up winning S.I.R.A, by 25 seconds or something like that, but a decent margin. We definitely didn’t expect to do as well as we did, especially with some varsity programs in that race, but it turned out well. It’s funny because a lot of the guys, a lot of the other boats that we compete against, are these huge guys who looked much stronger and more powerful than us, but I think so much of it comes down to how well and efficiently you row. Being able to really accelerate the boat along efficiently does a lot for you. It was sort of nice coming into the event feeling like a bit of an underdog or being underestimated by the other boats and then surprising everybody with a win.
Coach B: 25 seconds is a pretty big margin.
Chase: Yeah, definitely unexpected. But it was a lot of fun. And at A.C.R.A, we were hoping, just from looking at the W.I.R.A. results, to be somewhere in the top 8 or 10.
Coach B: What does A.C.R.A stand for?
Chase: It’s the American Collegiate Rowing Association National Championships. It’s basically the club national championship for collegiate rowing. There are a handful varsity men’s collegiate programs in the United States, but most of the teams that compete are on the club level, at least on the men’s side. So A.C.R.A. is the final national championship for them.
Coach B: And going into that, you must have been feeling fairly confident. How do you think you were going to do going into A.C.R.A?
Chase: I think we definitely hoped to do well, going off of the S.I.R.A result, but of course Michigan and the West Coast teams who don’t go to S.I.R.A. would be there as well. A.C.R.A. features a lot of teams that don’t go to S.I.R.A, and many of them are pretty good. We were looking at the results and had hoped to get somewhere in the top 8. So that was what we were shooting for at least. After we got there and we finished the time trial, we were both really surprised that we ended up with the best time.
Coach B: What does the time trial involve?
Chase: It’s the first race of the event for A.C.R.A and many other championship events. They have you going off down the course not side by side, but usually one by one, every 15 to 30 seconds. How you place in the time trial determines whether or not you go to the repechage or straight to the semifinal. So you want to do well in the time trial so you have the best chance of moving forward.
Coach B: You guys were placed first that time trial. So at that point you knew it was on. You knew you were in with a shot from medal at that point.
Chase: Yeah, it was really exciting.
Coach B: How are you feeling just before the final?
Chase: I think we were both nervous because during the time trial, the boat that got second was four seconds off us. And during the semi they were only two seconds slower. So we knew they were definitely going to be pushing us. I think we were, we were nervous, but our mentality was just kind of like ‘go take care of business, row well, row our own race, do what we know how to do and focus it in. It was surprising because usually during all of our races we had a pretty quick start and we were up on everybody in the first 300 meters or so. That’s how it was in semis too. Off the start in the final, I think we were about even with them and for the first thousand meters, they were actually pulled ahead by maybe three quarters of a boat length or so. Then we made a big early move and started to pull back. For most of the second half of the race we were ahead, probably by about a boat length. It was really nerve wracking in the last 250 meters or so. They had a killer sprint; we still ended up winning, but only by 0.15 seconds and so I remember when we crossed the finish line, we actually thought we lost because we looked over and they were both cheering so we thought we had just missed it. Then we were waiting there because we knew we were in the top three and so the official announced the order in which you go to the metal dock to get your medals and so we had to wait for awhile because I guess they were looking at the photo finish. Eventually the announcer called out “third Michigan,” and I thought she was going to say “second Wash U” but she said “second, Arizona.” That’s when I knew that we had it. It was very exciting. Even after rowing for six years, I’ve definitely not done that well at any major regattas.
Coach B: So you’re a national champion now. So it must feel pretty good?
Chase: Yeah, still can’t believe it ha,ha.
Coach B: What’s the plan moving forward into your senior year? How do you think that’s going to go?
Chase: I anticipate that Coach Black is probably going to try and prioritize a four again. For the fall though, we’re definitely going to row the eight. We’re going back to the Head of the Charles this year with men’s four and women’s four, so I definitely hope to be in that boat. Crossing my fingers, hopefully looking forward to that.
Coach B: Have you rowed at the Head of the Charles before?
Chase: Yeah, we went to the Charles my senior year with TYRA. Which was an incredible event, It was awesome. So I’d love to go back.
Coach B: Well that will be great. Your college major is in the field of cognitive neuroscience. You’re here in Tulsa over the summer and doing a little bit of research. Could you tell us a little bit about that research?
Chase: I’m working under Dr. Amanda Morris over at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research. I’m working on a study called the Dyadic Inter-Brain Signaling Project. It’s an fMRI-EEG study looking at parents and their adolescent children. The study is basically looking at the neural response data when both the parents and kids are in scanners at the same time having a contentious conversation. The major aim of this study is to use that neural response data as a proxy for predicting the development of depression in the adolescent participants. I’m working on part of the project that will become the focus for my senior thesis this next year too, which is pretty exciting.
Coach B: And so they’ve got to you learning some programming languages and things like that?
Chase: Yeah. This summer, I’m mainly focused on learning AFNI, which is a unix-based environment they use for analyzing and processing the functional neuroimaging data. It’s definitely complex and a bit tedious to learn, but it’s very interesting and it’s exciting to become proficient in it. I’ve taken cognitive neuroscience classes at school for my major, but actually getting to be hands on and work with data, doing what a cognitive neuroscientist does is really exciting.
Coach B: That’s awesome. Well, thanks very much for spending a bit of time with us today. I know people will be excited to hear how you’re doing. We wish you the best of luck for final year of college and moving forward and appreciate you spending some time.
Chase: Sure, thank you.