NISKAYUNA — Rowing has taken Niskayuna High School senior Heather Schmidt to New Jersey, Florida, California and even Bulgaria.
Now the sport is taking her to Stanford University.
Schmidt will row as part of the Stanford women’s rowing team in the fall after a six-year career with Niskayuna Rowing.
“If you told me my freshman year that I’d be talking to someone at one of the best schools and the best rowing programs I wouldn’t believe it,” Schmidt said at her final senior practice on the Mohawk River at the Niskayuna Rowing boathouse earlier this month.
Schmidt began rowing after her older brother, James, learned about the learn to row program at Niskayuna. From there she excelled.
She is a four-time New York State Scholastic Rowing Association champion, a two-time Stotesbury Cup Regatta champion, a three-time Scholastic Rowing Association of America champion and a two-time silver medal winner at the USRowing Youth National Invitational regattas.
During her sophomore year, Schmidt recorded the fastest 2,000-meter time for a high school female on a rowing machine, referred to as an erg.
“The school record was 7 minutes, 11 seconds and I just wanted to beat the record,” Schmidt said. “I beat that by four seconds and then I beat my [personal record] again last fall.”
With a GPA placing her in the top five percent of students at Niskayuna and her new school record, she became a much sought after rowing recruit.
“I always got an email back from coaches and I always got called back,” Schmidt said about the recruiting process. “I got calls at 8 a.m. the first day the coaches could call me. Then all of the sudden I realized all the teams I’m talking to finished in the Top 10 in the NCAAs [championships].”
“I visited a ton of schools — Michigan, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Berkeley and UVA,” Schmidt said. “I could tell that Stanford was different from all the places I visited. I would watch videos of Stanford rowing or watch them in person and I could look at it and know I wanted to be with them.”
Schmidt’s resume extends beyond the Niskayuna boathouse. She chose to study Latin entering her freshman year.
“It was just such a fun class, a great environment,” Schmidt said. “My teacher, Mr. Caffrey, made it so fun to be there. That was really different from a lot of my other classes. In Latin class, you’re not learning just about Latin, you’re learning about ideas, grammar and more.”
Schmidt does spend time away from the boathouse, but still enjoys being outdoors.
An avid skier, Schmdit is part of the Gore Mountain ski patrol.
“My entire family are ski patrollers,” Schmidt said. “I took the ski patrol course during the spring rowing season, which is a lot to handle — practical exams, written exams. Once you pass, there is sled training, learning the mountain, its ropes and lifts.”
When not rowing, Schmidt stayed in shape on the basketball court, playing three years on the Niskayuna girls’ varsity squad.
“In the winter I would be in the weight room for crew in the mornings twice a week, play basketball six days a week and then on the seventh day I’d be skiing the whole day,” Schmidt said. “I’ve definitely kept myself active with a lot of things.”
Schmidt still had time to be the secretary of the Niskayuna Outing Club.
“We started the Niskayuna 9 to motivate people to get out there and take hikes,” Schmidt said. “There is Lisha Kill, Indian Meadows and more. You do those hikes, get out there and get a cute little patch.”
Completing her senior year, Schmidt rowed to a national title in the girls’ double at the SRAA national championship regatta in New Jersey in late May and earned a silver medal in her last high school race at the USRowing Youth National Championship regatta at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota in the girls quad. She then flew to California for the US Rowing National Selection Camp for an opportunity to row at the World Rowing Championships in Italy in July. Last year she rowed for the USA in Bulgaria.
“Rowing has given me such an opportunity to study harder, to train harder and go to really cool places,” Schmidt said. “It blows my mind every day what I’ve been able to do and I’m only 18. It’s super fun to think about.”