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It’s unclear if Steven Genise is a morning person. But he made himself into one, at least temporarily.

For the month leading up to the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championship in Sarasota, Florida, earlier this month, Genise drove from Berkeley to the North Bay Rowing Club boathouse on the Petaluma River to train recent Casa Grande grad Shannon Gallup, sometimes twice a day. Her morning workout usually started at 6 a.m.

“It’s a lot to ask somebody: ‘On every day of your week will you get up extremely early?’” Gallup said. “He offered immediately.”

The result? An 11th-place finish for Gallup, a four-year veteran of the North Bay Rowing Club. It is the highest-ever national finish for an NBRC rower. And it came in a discipline Gallup had only raced three times before the national contest.

If you are ready to give Genise — in his first year with the club — coach of the year honors, wait for this: It was unclear until just before the competition that Gallup would even be admitted. Those early morning sessions on the water followed by weights in the afternoon could have all been for naught had Gallup’s petition to be included been denied.

But Genise never looked at it that way.

“It’s surprisingly easy when you are excited about the possibility of going,” he said. “We just never addressed the possibility that we wouldn’t go.”

You see, Gallup finished fourth in the singles category at the regional competition in Folsom. Only the top three move on. But the coaches at the NBRC thought Gallup showed such potential in just her third race in the discipline that they wrote a petition on her behalf. By rule, competing coaches must sign on. They did.

So the waiting game was on. But so was the training.

“It was terrible. There isn’t, like, another way to say it,” she said. “It was really hard. I was lucky to have coach Steve Genise. He had to leave Berkeley around 5, sometimes twice a day. It really meant a lot.”

About two weeks before nationals, Gallup got word: She was in.

“It was kind of like waiting, waiting, waiting and then go,” she said.

Of all the coaches at the NBRC, Genise has the most experience in rowing a single. It’s a huge shift to go from a pair, which was what Gallup had been rowing, or even a four-seater, which she also had experience in.

Genise compared it to being a sprinter — say, a 100- or 200-meter specialist — and then, three weeks before the biggest meet in the country, switching to the mile.

In pairs, athletes have one oar. In singles, they control two. And while the distance is the same, the singles race takes much longer because it’s just one athlete making the boat go those 2,000 meters, Genise said.

“There is a pretty different way to row the boat,” he said.

It’s also more time alone on the water, trying to maintain focus and rhythm.

“You have to get yourself ready for a longer race,” he said. “It’s much more self-motivated.”

Luckily, the Boston University-bound Gallup is pretty motivated. She earned a rowing scholarship and will study medicine.

“She is incredibly talented,” Genise said. “And she’s a really fast learner.”

And if she was lacking in motivation, out there alone on the water, she had the Post-It notes to turn to.

Teammates left her a handful of motivational phrases to stick to the deck of her boat, things like, “Stay strong and powerful,” “Quick catches, strong finishes,” and my personal favorite, “We are moving like freaking animals.”

“I was really lucky to have girls support me in the single,” she said.

But in Florida, Gallup — who started rowing as a freshman at Casa after her swimming career was derailed by a rotator cuff injury — didn’t get off to an auspicious start.

In her first race, she was in a time trial meant to seed rowers according to their speed.

“I was having some steering issues,” she said.

“I was hitting buoys with my oar,” she said. “At one point my oar came out of my hand when I hit the buoy so hard. I saw my life flash before my eyes. I thought I was going to flip my boat.”

But she settled in and in the final race of the weekend was edged for 10th place in the nation by two-tenths of a second.

“I had a really good race but the girl ended up beating me,” she said. “It was a great race and I had a lot of fun doing it.”

Not bad for only her sixth official race in the discipline. Ever.

Genise said that goes back to Gallup’s discipline.

“I don’t think she would have done well at regionals if she didn’t have the mental aspect,” he said. “She gets 120 percent of the credit for her performance at regionals and nationals.”

And she put focus on things off the water as well, he said.

“Especially in something like nationals, you need diligence outside of practice as well — getting sleep and eating right,” Genise said. “There are a lot of things that have to come together outside of the boathouse to make it work.”

And it doesn’t hurt to have a coach willing to make that 5 a.m. commute.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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