This week's row2k Interview is with an interview with Jacksonville sophomore Michele Giunti. We talk with Giunti about how he found the sport in Italy and found his way to Florida.
row2k - How did you get your start in rowing?
Michele Giunti - I started rowing pretty late, at the end of my first year of high school, and it took a series of fortunate events, nothing less than an adventure, to get to that point. I had always been a very active kid and I was raised to consider sport an integral part of my life, the main issue here being just what kind of sport I would enjoy the most and continue pursuing. By the time I was introduced to rowing, I had already gone through swimming, tennis, soccer and track, each with their successive (although not very successful hehe) competitive periods, and I was encouraged by my mother, whose mentality was that of a competitive synchronized swimmer and Olympic coach, to find a discipline I would eventually dedicate myself to.
Funnily enough, I had already had some early experience with rowing while visiting my mother's home city, Belgrade, in Serbia. During my yearly visits to the country and to my maternal grandparents, she would always sign me up for these intense rowing camps with the Partizan Rowing Club, under the counsel of one of her old college friends. Still, I was never particularly attracted to it, and I continued to shift between sports. It was during my second year of track that I was introduced to Fabrizio Ranieri, a 1990 world rowing lightweight champion whose daughters trained on my same track field. He had become a close friend to my father while watching his daughters train and had recommended me to try out lightweight rowing in his Rowing Club: CC Lazio.
From there, I shifted around clubs a bit, and went on to be trained by incredible people of the likes of Emilio Trivini and Michele Petracci, both amazing international rowers and coaches whom I definitely owe everything I know, in the Tirrenia Todaro Rowing Club, as I persevered with the sport and fell in love with it.
row2k - You’re in your sophomore year at Jacksonville, how did you end up there from Italy?
Michele Giunti - First off, let me state that Italy is a beautiful country with a rich culture and a fascinating history. Apart from all the memes, it feels really good to be an Italian because I know that I've been raised in a way that it is radically different from my peers, surrounded by art, philosophy, religion and nature. That being said, I sadly did not feel that the country would reward me in the same way work-wise and, having weighed my options, I gathered it would be best to pursue law enforcement here, in the States. In addition, I wanted to challenge myself with higher level college education, and I already had in mind to at least study abroad for my university level degree.
Here is where the adventure part of my story comes back with a blast. By the time I had to start filling up applications, I didn't think rowing would help me find an appropriate college, and I had already resigned myself to searching for a new club when I would eventually move out. However, I found out by chance that one of the sons of my mom's college buddy (the one I mentioned earlier with the summer camps) was a Division I student-athlete at George Washington University and had received a full scholarship through rowing. He eventually advised me to do the same and I took my chances with this system. 100 e-mails, a couple of gmail threads and a few Skype calls later, I came across Jacksonville University and its coach, and the rest is history. I'd want to say it was all me but, honestly, I give myself too much credit here. That rower friend, Konstantin Mitic, and a very dedicated teacher, Wolfgang Gerola, are only two reasons I am in my college dorm narrating my story right now and I am deeply indebted to them and to their efforts to help me.
row2k - What was the most difficult thing about coming to the United States for your education?
Michele Giunti - I must say the food. My diet was way different back in Italy than it is now and it wasn't as chaotic as it is here. I remember thinking how the culture around meat here was crazy, and feeling nostalgic of my light but steady Mediterranean meals. In addition, I had just come from a long period of lightweight rowing, so I had initial difficulty adapting to the larger portions and heavier dishes that Americans often serve. People in Europe tend to have that separation between quality and quantity that always seeps in to our judgement of American food, and I had definitely carried it on my way over. Nonetheless, I can say for sure that, if you carefully look for it, America has some interesting choices to offer and it comes down to whether or not you want to search for them or stick to mass produced food (I'll take a pot pie any time of the day).
If you're asking for a chuckle, I can tell you about the time I decided to go full "American Dream" on my first week here, only to be sick after 2 or 3 days of eating junk food. Not one of my best decisions, I must say, but I've since learned my lesson.
Jacksonville sophomore Michele Giunti
row2k - What was your most memorable race and why?
Michele Giunti - Hands down at the Dad Vail Regatta, Saturday May 12th, 2018. It was the B Final for the JV Heavyweight eight and we were rowing against some great crews that day. It was the last race of a very long season and all nine of us were prepared to give it our best and prove to everyone just how much work we had put in. Hands on, knees bent, chest up and we went off to face our peers for two intense kilometers. As we were closing in non the 1500 meter mark, Michigan and Army were aggressively advancing forward, with Army slowly but surely beginning to overcome us. Driven to exhaustion, in a wavering situation and with the win seemingly slipping through our fingers, I can vividly recollect the moment where we collectively decided we were having none of it. We increased our stroke rate, slammed the foot stretchers and challenged Army to a inch by inch race. Our win was determined by only 0.4 seconds.
It just goes to show how incredible a sport this is and how it brings out the best of ourselves in the most harrowing of situations. My teammates and I train every day to be successful in and out of the water, not because someone told us to, but because we are determined to do our best. It doesn't matter who you are, where you're from or what you're going through, guts and perseverance go a long way, and rowing thrives on those values.
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Michele Giunti - The people are what makes this sport so great. Although I had to frequently change clubs back home for personal problems, rowers have always been the most supportive and surprising fellas I've had the pleasure to be friends with, regardless of the different coaches or training rooms. You could say we're made of a different stamp, for it certainty takes a particular kind of person to enjoy this sport or, at least, the sport molds you to have a very specific mentality.
In fact, the guys on my team are the best group of friends I could ask for in my lifetime. They are hard-working, driven, talented and a little bit crazy, and they radiate potential from every aspect of their personality and talents. I could say this of all of the countless rowers I've encountered throughout my career. It was a rower that, despite the hurdles of having to manage a start-up company, helped me apply for university. It was a rower that agreed to specially train me for America free of charge when I had no one to turn to. It was a rower that believed in me as soon as he laid his eyes on me and pushed me to be the best of what I can be.
Plus, there is a great deal of respect for your rivals too and I feel that it is a very important thing to consider when talking about a sport. To be frank, I am no aggressive type, but I am competitive, so I believe in healthy rivalry and intensity in confrontation. That's why it's refreshing to see so many people at races respectfully facing each other, helping even people of different teams when needed and communally enjoying a sport that has united us all under the same roof. That's what sport is all about: a person's positive development in a healthy, but confrontational, environment.
row2k - How has this season gone so far and what are your goals for the spring for yourself and the team?
Michele Giunti - The team has been steadily growing both mentally and physically since last year and I'm confident we will be achieving smashing results this upcoming racing season. We've had some great races in the fall, showing both that we can compare with some of the top schools in the south and be a tough nail to crack for other extra-state competitors; the squad has kept a very positive mentality towards training and their studies all throughout last semester. Our experience at the Head of the South in the JV8 was stellar, as we've managed ahead of some really tough adversaries at the end of the five kilometer mark.
I can safely say our development hasn't stopped and it doesn't show any signs of slowing down. That's why I'm really confident that, if we keep following the road we've walked until now, we may bring our program to levels that have never been reached before in the history of Jacksonville University.
row2k - What are you studying at Jacksonville, and do you have any plans yet for after university?
Michele Giunti - I'm a double major in Sociology and Psychology, with a double minor in Spanish and Criminal Justice. I'm still a sophomore, so I've got a long way to go, however I already plan to continue studying after completing my undergraduate degree, and try for a Doctorate. I'm not entirely sure what my Master's or PhD will be, but I'm positive that I'll keep studying in the field of Social Science, and particularly Psychology, till the end. Although it may sound stereotypical from the average student immigrant, I'd like to ultimately stay for an indefinite time in the United States through a green card and possibly obtain a citizenship in the future. My dream would be to enroll in Law Enforcement and build a family in the States. Of course, I know that all this is not automatically granted to me, and I'm aware of the ideas circulating around immigrants these days. Nevertheless, I am a hard-worker and quite stubborn, so you better believe that, whether I succeed or not, I will give it my best shot.