Just after graduating from the University of California and finishing his collegiate career with a national championship, Julian Venonsky decided to take time away from crew. He needed, he said, to think about if rowing was something he wanted to pursue.
The timing was right. Eight years - four in high school as a lightweight rower at Malvern Prep, and four at Cal as a coxswain - were fulfilling, challenging and successful, but he wasn't sure he wanted to keep going.
He checked in with people who continued beyond their collegiate career and chased the idea of elite and international rowing, including another past Cal coxswain. "I talked to Pete Cipollone, a great coxswain, just about as I was leaving Cal about what I wanted to do," Venonsky said.
"I always knew that when I was done and I finished at Cal, I was going to take some time off. I didn't want to go straight into rowing again," he said. An art history major at Cal, Venonsky moved to New York City and began working at Paddle8, a New York-based international online art auction house.
He liked working in New York and was enjoying his time with Paddle8 - but his heart was on the water, even if his head was telling him something else. He kept up with the sport, watched the Rio Olympics, stayed in touch with teammates and then watched this spring's final collegiate races, the Pac-12 and IRA championships.
Watching the competitions tugged further at his rowing heart.
"I missed the competition, I missed rowing, so I decided to come back. My mind was definitely out of it, but my heart wasn't.
"It's just something that doesn’t leave you after four years of collegiate rowing and four years of high school," he said. "It's something that is ingrained in me, and I think that time off was really beneficial. It made me realize that I really love the sport of rowing, that I love being a part of it.
Venonsky contacted the coaches at the US men's training center in Princeton - he had coxed for Mike Teti at Cal - and joined the group training there. And he is glad he did. When the 2017 U.S men's eight was selected last month, Venonsky's name was on the coxswain's seat.
"It's still a little surreal, but I am beyond excited," he said. "When I came back and started training here, it felt almost the same as when I was in college. Obviously, this is an elite level, but it just felt right to be back in the boat. It was like I transported back in time and we're really just having fun with it.
"Now I think we just have to keep doing what we're doing," he said of the final preparations for Sarasota. "This is a great group of guys. We all have that same goal, so we'll keep training, keep having fun with it while we're trying to get faster."
For now, Venonsky said his sights are set on Sarasota. But he has staying in for the full cycle under consideration - that and working for Paddle8. "I love it there," he said. "Everyone I work with are super excited about all of this. I still work remotely, and they've been very gracious and supportive about what I'm doing here."