When we think about Syracuse Orange athletes pursuing a career in sports after leaving the 315, we tend to just think about football and basketball. However, there are a number of former Syracuse standouts who continue to train and compete at an elite level.
This summer we'll give you an update on some of those athletes. Former Syracuse rower Mike Gennaro hasn't stopped competing since leaving Syracuse in 2011. He has been a member of several US National Teams, and was an alternate on the 2012 US Olympic Team. Last year, Gennaro was selected as the National Team Athlete of the Year as part of USRowing's Fan's Choice Awards. With the Rio 2016 games just over a year away, we decided to catch up with Mike and gain some insight into the life of a professional athlete.
(Mike Gennaro accepting the 2014 USRowing National Team Member of the Year Fan's Choice Award)
NunesMagician: Since I don't think people are familiar with the US National Team selection process, can you tell us how you first became involved?
Mike Gennaro: There are a few different levels to U.S. National Team. There is a Junior National Team (u-18), an Under-23 National Team, and then the Senior National Team (which is also the Olympic Team every fourth summer). After my senior year of high school, I tried out for and made the 2007 Junior National team. In college, I rowed on three U-23 teams from 2009-2011 and since then I've been competing for a spot on the Senior National Team full-time, year round.
It's not completely necessary to travel up the ladder like I did. The rowing world is not very large and if there are great rowers out there, our coaches will find them. A lot of great rowers don't start rowing until they are walk-ons in college. There is a group of 20 or so athletes that train year round in Princeton, NJ as the U.S. Training Center. The 20 of us, along with a few other guys that train on their own, compete every summer to make the U.S. Men's 8 man, 4 man, and 2 man boats. That team competes at the World Championships that summer and then we're back to work in the fall trying to make the next year's squad. The process in the fourth summer doesn't really change, but the pressure of that being the Olympic team creates a very stressful and even more competitive environment than the years prior.
NunesMagician: What does the training schedule look like for you now? How would you describe the difference in training from Syracuse to the National Team?
Gennaro: Our training schedule varies throughout the year. More or less, we have about 16 sessions a week: 4 three-a-days and 2 two-a-days with Sunday's off. Mixed into that schedule is our lifting sessions which we do three times a week. Some weeks, we're logging 200 km (125 miles) at practice. Some sessions we're out there racing side by side, others are more technique-oriented.
The biggest differences between training with the National Team and training at Syracuse are the class work and the NCAA's limited practice hours rule. It was extremely difficult as a student-athlete to tie in your school work with practice. Also, the NCAA limits how many practice hours you can have per week over the course of the year- that doesn't happen around here! I think that creates a challenge for our coaches, trying to determine how much is too much but making sure we're getting in enough with enough time to recover in between.
NunesMagician: I know that it was disappointing for you to serve as an alternate for the London 2012 Olympics, but what did you gain from the experience of being there? Has that made a difference as you train to make the Rio 2016 team?
Gennaro: Not making the 2012 Olympic Team was dream crushing but having the opportunity to be an alternate was an incredible experience. It would of been very easy to decline that opportunity and spend the rest of the summer sulking in disappointment, but I wanted my teammates to know that the goal and mission of our team was much bigger than me, and if I could still help the team out in anyway, then that's what I wanted to do. This whole process is not about MY dream, it's about OUR dream. The guys who made the team that summer made my job very easy. They prepared and executed for racing to the fullest of their abilities and at no point did I feel like I could get in there and make it any better.
The most valuable part of it all was getting to experience the Olympics firsthand without having to deal with the stress of competing at the Olympics. I had the chance to witness how the best athletes in the word prepare to perform on the world's biggest stage. I saw how crews operated and handled themselves through the adversity of racing at the Olympics. That, in and of itself, has been the greatest resource to me as I continue to train through this Olympic cycle. Also, not making the team is an experience that I absolutely never want to have to deal with again.
NunesMagician: What does it mean to you to be able to represent the United States in competition?
Gennaro: I've always had dreams of being a professional athlete. I've played sports my whole life and like any young boy, I wanted to be the starting quarterback for the Eagles or play centerfield for the Phillies. All of those dreams were slowly crushed and reality settled in as I began to mature as a teenager. Having the opportunity to train full-time as a national team athlete and represent my country at international competitions is beyond my wildest dreams. I've traveled the world to 10-15 different countries, I've become friends with the athletes from other countries that I compete against, and I've stood on a medal podium with a gold medal around my neck listening to our country's national anthem. It's the greatest job in and I wouldn't want to be doing anything else with my life.
(Gennaro -2nd from right, with Syracuse V8 boat)
NunesMagician: What are some of your best memories of being a student-athlete at Syracuse? Are there any fellow Orange athletes who help inspire/motivate you?
Gennaro: My four years at Syracuse were the best four years of my life. That city is the perfect example of a diamond in the rough and I owe much of my success as an athlete to that university. The high school that I rowed for in Philadelphia was a powerhouse and was in contention for a national championship almost every year. When I got to Syracuse, the program was not as fortunate and we were underdogs almost every time we lined up to race. It is much more difficult to achieve success when people don't believe in you and your back is against the wall but that is an experience that I am forever grateful for. The hurdles and adversity that my teammates and I faced made for some of my toughest days in this sport and I believe that we came out as better athletes and better men on the other side. I was the only guy from my tenure at Syracuse to continue rowing on the national team and I feel like the dedication that my teammates all put into the sport day in and day out is what has catapulted me into the position that I'm in now; and for that, I'm forever in debt to my brothers from Syracuse. I love those guys.
There were also numerous people throughout the university that helped me get to where I am now. First, all of the other student-athletes and coaches. I'm an extremely competitive person and I'm a very bitter person when people achieve success before me or without me. Syracuse has such a remarkable athletic department and I was motivated and driven by witnessing the success of our lacrosse, basketball, and field hockey programs. Brad Pike, the head athletic trainer at Syracuse was a huge mentor to me. I spent more time in his office than either of us wanted but when you're injured, you don't have a choice. Brad, along with head coach Dave Reischman, were huge role models to me. They both taught me about leadership, accountability, and humility. Kevin Wall and Lynne Mundy, along with an army of other people, helped me with my school work and snapped the whip at me to be eligible and succeed in the classroom to the best of my abilities.
I don't know what else there is to say about my experience at Syracuse. I'm not the best at putting my thoughts into words, but when I decided to go to Syracuse, I had no idea that all of this would happen. Nothing that I have achieved was achieved alone, and I can't spend enough time thanking all of those people who knocked me down and helped me back up along the way.
Nunes Magician: Can you let the Syracuse fans know what is upcoming for you this summer? How can they follow you?
Gennaro: As I mentioned, every summer we race at the World Championships. And every spring, there are three World Cup races that serve as exhibitions to the World Championships. This year, we are going to World Cup II in Varese, Italy at the end of June. Then we'll return home and continue training before competing at the World a Championships in Aiguebelle, France at the end of August. Both regattas will be streamed online and almost all the information can be found at www.row2k.com or through me on my artificially entertaining Twitter account @mike_gennaro. Go Cuse MRow! Go Cuse WLax! Go USA!
Thanks to Mike for taking the time to provide this update. Be sure to follow Mike and the rest of US National Team as they compete in the World Cup II beginning next Thursday.