For senior swimmer Karen Castaneda, a swim team victory at St. Francis College wasn’t the only thing that got her ready and excited for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships.

Castaneda was named MAAC Female-Student Athlete of the week on Jan. 25. She is currently leading the team in freestyle sprint races, earning victories in 100 and 200 freestyle races the week prior, making her mark as the top performer for this season’s women’s swim team.

“It was an honor and I was happy that it happened after our senior meet,” Castaneda said. “It was a good way to go out before MAACs.”

The freestyle swimmer began her career at five years old when she learned how to swim at her local YMCA.

“I just really liked the sport and it was fun to do something that wasn’t so popular back then,” Castaneda said. “I love that it’s a team sport but your results are very individual. At the end of the day, your successes are yours just as much as your failures are.”

Her path eventually led to Saint Peter’s University where she liked the location, the atmosphere and the team. She found herself comfortable with the people who surrounded her.

“When I was recruited, the team was made up of all international swimmers and it felt like a family,” she said. “The women’s team was exceptionally fast and had world class swimmers and it was exciting to be a partner of that.”

Within the past years, Castaneda acknowledges the bond and support that she and her team share, along with new bonds that are created with new members.

“Our team has been through a lot in the past years so there is a special bond with those who have been here to witness it all. As the team grows larger, there is a new bond that is built with them too,” Castaneda said. “We are all working towards the same goal and hopefully can build up to what the swim team used to be like again.”

Just last season, the senior swimmer finished in 1:56.81 in the 200-freestyle and 5:13.61 in the 500-freestyle of the MAAC Championships. She was also named to the MAAC All-Academic Team at the end of the season and is now captain of the team.

As Castaneda’s graduation day approaches, she admits that Saint Peter’s has taught her handful of things.

“Saint Peter’s has definitely taught me that things don’t come easy and sometimes you just have to roll with the punches,” she said. “It has also taught me to make great connections and not be scared to speak out or ask for help.”

Castaneda has applied these lessons she’s learned in not only her swimming, but in her business aspirations as well.

Last February, Castaneda, along with senior Anica Bustamante and junior Maria Santacruz, presented their desserts for dog company, Pup Pawps, at the Shark Tank Business Pitch Competition held at the university.

“Pup Pawps is going well. It’s ice cream and cakes that are dog friendly,” she said. “I am partnering up with Home for Good Dog Rescue and I hope it will be a good turn-out. After swim season is over, I’ll be dedicating more time into that and gaining more popularity, but as of now we are still just catering to our regular customer base.”

Toni Ann Turco, founder of Home for Good Dog Rescue, offered to share Castaneda’s business on her social media channels, which has more than 20,000 followers, as well as sell Pup Pawp products in one of her pet stores last year during the competition.

Between swimming and making cakes for dogs, Castaneda notes that her greatest accomplishment has been getting to where she is.

“I’m proud of being a good student while still being a student athlete and balancing work,” she said. “—just having everything in check and being on top of my things.”

The senior also encourages her fellow teammates to remain strong on the inside and the outside.

“If you work hard then you’ll get good results. Slacking off doesn’t get you anywhere,” Castaneda said. “Being mentally tough is super important.”

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