ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — Deep underground, in a high-ceilinged room labeled “Handball Court No. 1” at Halenbeck Hall, Mike DeNucci is hard at work trying to accomplish what some might think impossible.

DeNucci, a senior economics major at St. Cloud State University, is an enthusiastic member of the school’s rowing club.

He’ll need every last bit of that desire as he tracks his goal of rowing 2 million meters between Nov. 1 and April 8 — virtually all of it on an ergonomic rowing machine. He’s trying to pull in donations for the club, which is in dire need of a new four-person shell, as well as the Terry Fox Foundation for cancer research.

“My roommate and I were sitting around one day, eating our mac and cheese and watching ESPN after practice,” DeNucci said. “(Fox’s) story came on. It was called ‘Against the Wind.’ It was amazing. Here’s this Canadian runner who had his leg amputated and yet he ran across Canada — basically doing a marathon a day on an artificial leg. I thought ‘If he can do that, I should be able to set myself a lofty rowing goal.’ ”

In the past decade, three members of St. Cloud State’s rowing club have completed 1 million meters in seasonal training. For the accomplishment, they have their names on a plaque in this windowless, spartan training area — featuring 10 rowing machines, a stereo and a couch.

Figuring a million meters wouldn’t draw enough attention, DeNucci is trying to double that. It’s equivalent to about 1,250 miles — or the distance between St. Cloud and Jacksonville, Fla.

To reach his goal, DeNucci needs to average between 17,500 and 20,000 meters per day — rowing mostly Monday through Friday. He usually trains in two different hour sessions to break up the monotony and to maintain a pace that will benefit him when he can finally get back on the water in the spring.

During a recent workout, for example, he averaged 500 meters in 2 minutes, 1.8 seconds.

“My first year on the team, a bunch of us were going to try to do it,” DeNucci said of the 1 million-meter goal. “It was the same old story you hear with a lot of things, I suppose. People lose motivation.”

Fortunately for him, several of his teammates also are attempting the 1 million-meter goal. That gives him some company in the training room, though others say DeNucci will make 2 million meters on his own.

“People who aren’t involved in rowing don’t realize how far it is or how hard it is in the time we’ve allotted,” said Kelly Johnson, a senior from Dayton who is trying to make the million-meter club. “It’s not easy when all you can do is stare at one spot on the wall. I understand how big of a challenge it is for him, but I also know it’s definitely going to happen (DeNucci) is one of the most passionate people about rowing I know. He’s internally motivated to get this done.”

During the early fall and spring, the team trains on the nearby Mississippi River as much as possible. Even with early unseasonable weather recently, however, the club wasn’t able to take advantage of it under real conditions.

“After Nov. 1, the city posts a catch line under the (University) bridge to protect the dam,” DeNucci said. “We’d have to move somewhere else if we were going to go outside. It’s hard when the days are nice.”

And, it’s hard when there’s snow on the ground and the thermometer registers icicles. But DeNucci plans to spend his holiday break training — often alone — in that erg room on campus. To help gain exposure for his crusade, he also plans to set up an erg machine for public workouts in Atwood Memorial Center and at St. Cloud State basketball games.

Members of the rowing club plan to print T-shirts about the challenge to try and spread the word.

DeNucci, 21, grew up in Oak Grove and graduated from Meadow Creek Christian School in Andover. He played three years of baseball, but never rowed.

“I came from a small school to St. Cloud State — the second-biggest school in the state — and I wanted to do something,” he said. “I saw a flyer for rowing and I thought that was a different, out-there option.”

It didn’t take long, and he was hooked.

He’s being sponsored in part by the St. Cloud State Campus Rec Department, which will verify the numbers he posts are legitimate. Several other team members have embarked on the million-meter challenge, partly to give DeNucci company on his journey.

They’ve constructed a Facebook page (search Million Meter Challenge) where you can follow their progress. They’re also accepting donations, of which 10 percent will be sent to the Terry Fox Foundation.

DeNucci has solicited $100 donations from a hundred different rowing clubs around the nation, but says any donation would be welcomed.

He hopes to realize the magnitude of the accomplishment once his team can get on the water again.

“We’re not world-class rowers or anything, but I’ve had races when something gets going,” DeNucci said. “The boat doesn’t tip, the water’s perfect and you’re just going along like a machine. That’s what gets you excited about this sport. There’s nothing else where you can have eight people all doing the exact same thing at the exact same time in perfect harmony.”

St. Cloud Times

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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