Texas Rowing will have a new, yet familiar face to start the 2019 season. Caitlin Shick will return to the team after battling thyroid cancer during most of her sophomore year.
Following a successful freshman season where she made the varsity boats, the junior from Millbrae, California, was looking forward to making a leap in her second season. However, one morning in the fall, she felt a lump in her neck. It initially didn’t seem like much. She had inflamed lymph nodes in the past and was already feeling under the weather.
When the lump didn’t go away, Caitlin went through a series of trial and error methods in order to get rid of the lump. It took a biopsy on her lymph node to determine the issue. After the doctor tried calling her with no answer, he called Caitlin’s father, James Shick, who received the news first. Upon hearing the diagnosis, James was in such shock that he couldn’t deliver the news to his daughter that she had thyroid cancer, asking the doctor to do it instead.
“I was going to have a really hard time telling Caitlin that I heard about the diagnosis, so I actually asked the doctor to contact her, cause I didn’t even know if I could tell her,” James said.
Shick had to decide whether to undergo surgery and subsequent treatment in Texas or her home state of California. After consulting with doctors back home, she decided to have the surgery in California, but then recover in Texas. This meant not having her family by her side, something that proved to be tough for Caitlin and her dad.
In her dad’s absence, Caitlin turned to her community on the Texas rowing team for support.
“I was so supported by everyone around me,” Caitlin said. “Everyone I told, they just were there for me if I needed them to come over and hang out or something like that and make me feel uplifted. My coaching staff was really supportive over my entire experience and my trainers as well. It was really nice to know that I had a family here while my real family was in California.”
Because the cancer was detected before it could spread elsewhere, Caitlin was fortunate to “only” have to go through radiation treatment. After recovering from surgery, her main focus was returning to the team and the sport she loves.
After months of strenuous rehab, Caitlin was finally cleared to return to action this season. Despite not having many expectations for her to open the year, Texas Rowing head coach Dave O’Neill feels that Shick has not only exceeded his personal expectations, but also seems to have improved from her freshman year, both as a rower and a person.
“Caitlin is a really special kid,” O’Neill said. “She has definitely grown quite a bit, going through what she has gone through in the past year-plus. She has certainly grown as a person. As an individual, I would say she probably has more inner strength. She was a tough kid to start with, but she has taken that to another level.”
After missing an entire season, many athletes are expected to have some rust. However, O’Neill doesn’t expect any drawbacks from Caitlin.
“At first, I was thinking that she could be in contention to race in one of our priority boats to race in NCAA’s, and just in this past week, she has shown even more and put herself right in the mix,” O’Neill said.
Throughout the ordeal, Caitlin said she feels like she has become a much different person when compared to who she was a year ago. As she enters the season, her goal is for her team to make it back to the NCAA Championships. But for her, she just wants to once again experience the thrill of competition in the sport she loves.
“I guess, personally, last season I didn’t get to race at all, so this season it would be really cool to race and to feel accomplished with that,” Caitlin said.