Boathouse Row. Cheese Steaks. The Phillies. Church and Family – One Rower’s Core

by Ed Moran, | Mar 14, 2016
Cheese steaks, Rocky, Boathouse Row and most importantly, family, are at the core of Mike Gennaro, a 2016 Rio hopeful.

On a still and clear night, the lights that line the 12 buildings facing the Schuylkill River1O2A0865 on Kelly Drive sparkle on the surface of the water, a reflection of pride and tradition as colorful as the bulbs that illuminate the rowing clubs of Boathouse Row.

Within the walls of the 10 clubs, the names of the rowers that became famous in the sport are written on pictures, on wall plaques and trophies and etched on the hulls of the sleek shells that glide along the river from dawn to dusk.

John B. Kelly, Sr., John B. Kelly, Jr., Joe Burke, Paul V. Costello, Ernestine Bayer, Ted Nash, the 1964 Vesper Olympic eight, Karin Constant, Marie and Ann Jonik, Sean P. Colgan, John Strotbeck, Paul and Mike Teti, David Krmpotich, Peter Cipollone and 2012 bronze medalist and 2016 Rio hopeful Glenn Ochal, are some of those names.

These are people that 2016 Rio hopeful Mike Gennaro was not familiar with as a youngster, until he decided to follow in his own family’s rowing footsteps and joined the crew team at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School.

Although he is actually from the Philadelphia suburb of Havertown, Pa., Gennaro is admittedly as Philadelphia as a cheese steak or pretzels. In a question and answer session, Gennaro talked about growing up and rowing in Philadelphia, his favorite Philadelphia places, sports teams and where he likes to get a cheese steak.

When did you first become aware of the Philadelphia rowing tradition?

There are some big names there, but when I was very young, I didn’t know them. I grew up in a Philly suburb named Havertown. It was a very athletic neighborhood, so I grew up playing sports, but I wasn’t terribly familiar with rowing or Boathouse Row. We had a picture of it hanging up in my house, though.

“Rowing was big in my family, but I never really understood much of it until my older brother, Bill, started rowing at St. Joe’s Prep. That’s when I started going down to the river and learning about the sport. Then I started doing it myself. I didn’t learn until years later that my mom’s uncle, Dan Barrow, was a bronze medalist in the single in the 1936 Olympics.”

“That’s a pretty big rowing hub, Philadelphia. You can just get lost looking at pictures on the walls in the boathouse and listening to some of the stories of the older guys. A guy like Ted Nash could tell stories for hours.”

At what point in your life did you begin to feel like a Philadelphian?

“It wasn’t until I left Philadelphia that I realized how much Philadelphia was a part of me. When I was in Philadelphia, everybody was from Philadelphia. It wasn’t like I was standing out or anything. It wasn’t until I went to Syracuse and started doing some under 23 stuff that it kind of became, Mike Gennaro, the St. Joe’s Prep guy, or Mike Gennaro, the Philly guy, and I started taking pride in where I learned to row.”

Describe your Philly personality.

“A little obnoxious, maybe. I wear my heart on my sleeve a little too much. I’m hopeful, but always disappointed in my hometown sports teams. I think where I grew up was a very blue-collar area. We weren’t poor, but we had to work for what we wanted, like in a lot of Philadelphia blue-collar neighborhoods. I like to think that a lot of that translated over to my rowing career and my work ethic.”

Now for some key Philly questions – Best cheese steak, Pats or Ginos?

“Oh, man that’s a brutal question. When people ask me where they should go for a cheese steak, we always go down to (South Philadelphia) to Pat’s and Geno’s. I think they’re both the same. But I don’t think they are the best in the city. My favorite is Dalessandro's Steaks in East Falls.

Wit or Wit-Out (referring to ordering a cheese steak at Gino’s or Pats and how the cooks get annoyed when people can’t decide if they want onions or not)?

“I like going without. I’m not a big onion guy. But that is the most fun of going down to Pat’s and Gino’s. I see so many people kicked to the back of the line when they say, ‘I’ll have a cheese steak, and a...' And they’re like, next! No, forget it. Next! They’re brutal down there. You get a nice dose of Philly attitude if you’re not ready to order. I’ll politely explain to people how to order and then throw them in line to watch what happens.”

Best location for the Rocky statue, Art Museum or the Sports Complex?

IMG_5526“You have to keep it at the Art Museum. And Rocky II was the best of the Rocky movies, not that you’re asking.”

Favorite Philadelphia place?

The Church of the Gesu (18th and Girard Avenue). St. Joe’s Prep’s Church. You’re driving along in North Philadelphia and then you stumble across the most beautiful church you’ve ever seen. It stands about four or five stories high and it’s incredibly beautiful.”

Most memorable Philadelphia sports moment?

When the Phillies won the World Series in 2008. I was up at Syracuse. Brad Lidge threw the game winning pitch and I was classmates with a lot of other Philadelphia guys. I was standing there with three Bonner High School guys, a Father Judge guy and a La Salle guy. That was the best.

“My brother was at the game. He called me and he was crying. And then I was crying, and I called home to my dad. It was just a moment you dream of having with your family after growing up in Philly and going to so many Phillies games decked out in Phillies gear. That was the most proud I have ever been to be from Philadelphia.”

And if you are wondering what this Philly boy listens to while he is training for his Row to Rio - check it out here!

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