Even though she’s a relative rowing novice, Brooke Wolford has a long family history with boats.
Her great-grandfather sailed from Russia to the United States, settling in Reno, Nev., where there was a thriving Jewish community.
And even though he’s only been there as a 10-year-old, Ethan Genyk’s ties to Israel go way back, too. His grandfather, Samuel Klausner, who’s still alive, fought in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.
So putting the two of them together to lead the local rowing contingent for Team USA at the upcoming Maccabiah Games seems a natural fit.
For Genyk, a lifelong Philadelphian from Fairmount now majoring in French and Spanish at the University of Pennsylvania, and Wolford, a native Californian who only started rowing two years ago and has been living and training here the past six months, this is their career pinnacle so far.
Getting to do it in Israel only makes it more special.
“I grew up right next to the JCC in Marin County [outside San Francisco], and we used to do Shabbat every Friday night and celebrate all the holidays,” recalled the 23-year-old Wolford, who played water polo and swam until making the switch to rowing at the urging of a friend. “As I got older, my mom let me check out other things, and it became more of a cultural thing.
“But when I did my Birthright trip last August, I connected with it a lot more than I expected. It was more emotional. I’m looking forward to being back there and reconnecting with some of the people from my trip.”
While Genyk hasn’t done Birthright, he vividly recalls his trip to Israel.
“I remember a fair amount,” said Genyk, who attended Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Center City, where he became a Bar Mitzvah. “It’ll be nice just to see the sites again — the Wall, Masada. It was special being there the first time, so I’ll be excited to reconnect with Israel.”
Wearing the red, white and blue is especially exciting.
“I’ve always thought about representing the U.S., so it’ll be cool,” continued the Germantown Friends School product, who wants to complete a master’s degree in city and regional planning at Penn and pursue a career in transportation planning. “I have friends who’ve previously gone there [to the Maccabiah Games] for soccer, who said it was a really moving experience.”
Meantime, until she arrived here after spending a few months training in New York, Wolford had no idea about the games.
The current behavioral technician and strength/conditioning coach at Friends’ Central School now sees this a potential stepping stone to something greater — the Olympics.
“I’m trying to go national and hope this is a starting point,” said Wolford, a two-time All-American rower at the University of Central Oklahoma. “I want to get that experience and see how it feels.
“I really haven’t thought about it that much while I’ve been training. I’m one of those people who don’t get nervous until I’m in the moment. But I definitely want to be taking some medals home.”
So does Genyk, who, like Wolford, rows for the Penn Athletic Club Rowing Association.
“Obviously, I care a lot about performance,” said the Penn senior, who often trains six days a week, both mornings and afternoons, “but at the end of the day it will be more about the experience.”
“The connections and relationships you build matter,” Wolford added. “We’ll all be together for three weeks, so hopefully we’ll all get along and have a great time.”
This past weekend, the entire USA rowing team — four men and four women — met for the first time with their coach in Philadelphia and held a camp on the Schuylkill River. There, they determined who to enter in the five events, which are singles, doubles (two oars per rower), pairs (one oar), quads (two) and fours (one).
And Team USA learned only recently that the length of the course on the Sea of Galilee was shortened from the Olympic standard of 2,000 meters to 1,500 meters.
Coach Mitch Budman said the team will adapt.
“We’re going to do well,” said Budman, a Jenkintown native who’ll be making his Macabbiah Games debut. “We had a great seeding and a large number who asked to go. The key is being in shape and not losing focus. The shorter distance changes our race plan, but we can adapt.”
Wolford is the perfect example, having started off out West, then gone to Oklahoma before winding up here. As for her future she’ll just let it play out. “I’m not really sure what I want to do,” she admitted. “I graduated with a bachelor’s in psychology and a minor in sociology.
“I’d really like to go back to school, but it just doesn’t fit in with my schedule. I love coaching but I might want to do something different when I’m done with rowing.
“I figure I can’t row the rest of my life, so I might as well do it when I can. We’ll see what happens with the national team for 2020 (in Tokyo) and maybe 2024 and if it doesn’t happen by then I’ll move along.”
Meanwhile Genyk has his own game plan. “After I graduate I want to get my Masters’ in City and Regional Planning from Penn,” he revealed. “I want to go into transportation planning.
“That’s my area of interest.”
That’s for down the road, of course For now this grandson of the Israeli War for Independence fighter and the great-granddaughter of a Russian immigrant she never knew have a more immediate mission on their minds.
To row, row, row their boats better than anyone else.
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