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Semper paratus: Coast Guard's Kirvelevicius is always ready (and always learning)

Rasa Kirvelevicius considers herself a "learner for life" — "for me, a learning curve is the most exciting thing out there," she said.

And so she finds herself in exactly the right place, having just finished her sophomore year at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Kirvelevicius is a naval architecture and marine engineering major and a member of the women's rowing team.

Her learning curve has included the rigors of Swab Summer, the puzzlement of the classroom and a change in technique from what she was used to as a two-time state champion in rowing at East Lyme High School. She has received insight from her professors, coaches and fellow cadets.

"The quality of people there are astounding," Kirvelevicius said of the academy in a recent telephone interview, having been sent home for now along with the entire Corps of Cadets due to the COVID-19 crisis. "My role models are my friends. Where else do you get that? I'm very happy to have made that decision.

"People say how hard it is to enjoy the academy while you're in it. It's only after you graduate that you realize what an incredible place it is to be from. My goal was to enjoy it as much as I can ... and I have."

Difficult? Yes.

"Not every college forces you to wake up at 6 a.m., be done with class at 4, go to sports, study 'til you go to sleep, then do it all over again," Kirvelevicius said. "The material is hard to wrap our heads around but we are lucky to have some of the greatest instructors possible. We're all in the same boat. ... It is difficult to get into for a reason."

As it turns out, Kirvelevicius, who competed in four different sports at East Lyme — she helped  transform the girls' cross country team from a winless season in 2015 to Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I co-champion in 2016, for instance — has a bit of a competitive streak in her.

Coast Guard women's crew coach Glenn Florio calls it focus.

"She's extraordinarily driven and very intelligent," Florio, a former U.S. Olympian in men's double sculls, said of Kirvelevicius. "You just see that everything she does is with purpose and focus.

"She came in (last year as a freshman) and went right to first varsity. She has a maturity that you don't see in a lot of young athletes. She does things with purpose and lots of energy. She can zero in and focus on one thing and do it extremely well.

"We have a very young team but extraordinarily talented. We had high hopes this was going to be a great year for us."

The spring season for Coast Guard never got started. It was scheduled to begin with a race on March 21 at Army. The New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference championship would have been April 25 and the New England Collegiate Rowing Championships were slated for May 2 at Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, Mass.

Kirvelevicius, who was part of the Bears' first varsity eight which finished eighth at last year's New England championship, was named to this season's NEWMAC All-Academic team.

Florio first knew Kirvelevicius while she was at East Lyme. He has two sons that have also been a part of the Vikings' successful rowing program.

The first sport for Kirvelevicius at East Lyme was swimming — two ECC titles there. Then more hardware in indoor track and rowing, as she earned selection to The Day's 2016 All-Area Girls' Indoor Track & Field Team as a sophomore, winning the ECC 1,600-meter title, and followed that in the spring as the Vikings' varsity eight won the Connecticut Public Schools Rowing Championship and finished sixth in New England.

As a junior, Kirvelevicius switched to cross country in the fall. East Lyme has won the last four straight ECC titles, commencing with her arrival.

Running is something she still does every day, a hobby she culled from her father, Rimantas. She calls it a lifestyle.

"I've been running since I was in second grade," she said. "I started off with just joining my dad on runs. It was very, very, very tough. He had been running a lot longer than I had, therefore my dad was a very great runner. Now, I keep running.

"There was a very long decision for me whether I wanted to run or row at the academy. It was recognizing that I felt very much at home at the boathouse and that I can always run, but that's the only opportunity I ever get in college rowing."

Kirvelevicius calls her relationship with rowing "tricky."

"It's a tough sport and it's made for tough people," she said. "Some days I wonder why I chose rowing as my sport, some strokes you don't know why you breathe and why you're still going, but once you step out of the boat you realize we all went through the same race and the same process.

"Coming to the academy gave me a different perception of rowing that I wasn't expecting. In terms of the physical aspect of rowing, there was technique I was unaware of. That has added a little more flavor to it. ... Learning how to make the boat your friend, how you breathe, how you sit, it's all in there."

Kirvelevicius — her parents, Rimantas and Edita hail from Lithuania and had their first two children there before moving to the United States — is the third of six kids in her family.

It wasn't until her senior year at East Lyme that she envisioned herself at a military academy.

"It boils down to curiosity," she said. "It's a close-by school. It's something that would be beneficial for my family. ... Swab Summer, I knew it was coming. The first day was tough. It was, like, 'All right, this is how it's going to be.' I just got through it."

Kirvelevicius is scheduled to be a cadre this summer at the Coast Guard Academy, charged with training the incoming recruits during their own Swab Summer — although it has yet to be finalized what shape that training will take in light of the coronavirius.

Meanwhile, she is still absorbing every little detail she can, always learning.

"This is the place I want to be for the people. The mission is a humanitarian mission," Kirvelevicius said. "To go out in the worst of storms to save people who need saving, to be surrounded by people who feel the same is a gift in itself."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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