By John Knebels
If Paul Teti had been told at this time last year that he would be a couple of steps away from winning an Olympic gold medal, he probably would have offered his typical gentle smile and politely said, “Ain’t happening.”
When you are 30 years old – he has since turned 31 – and vice president for leasing at Normandy Real Estate Partners in Morristown, N.J., it’s understandable to conclude that your visa to capture Olympic glory has expired.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to,” said Teti. “It’s just that I didn’t see how it would be possible.”
As affable now as he was a rowing star at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill before graduating in 1995, Teti was doing a favor helping 25-year-old David Banks train for a spot on the Olympic team when Teti gradually started to realize that he still possessed the inner and outer strength to perhaps try to qualify for his third consecutive Olympics.
Partly motivated by less-than-stellar results at Sydney, Australia in 2000 (sixth place in the lightweight four) and Athens, Greece in 2004 (ninth in the lightweight four), combined with full support from his fiancé, Carrie Heinz, nine siblings, and his employer, Teti decided to train as fulltime as possible in hopes of making the cut in Beijing, China.
The fact that he not only made the Olympics but last week qualified for the Aug. 13 semifinals did not surprise legendary rowing coach Ted Nash who, after helping Teti and Banks refine their skills, contacted Teti’s brother Mike at the Clemson University training camp to recommend that he take a look.
A legendary coach himself (Mike Teti is a Hall of Fame inductee at both Monsignor Bonner and St. Joseph’s University and a three-time Olympian who in the 2004 Olympics led the men’s eight to a gold medal), Teti invited the pair to camp and they joined two other rowers to form the lightweight four.
Nash labeled Teti as “one of the most positive guys I have ever coached.” Teti appreciated the compliment.
“Anytime you get as far as the Olympics, you didn’t get there alone,” said Teti. “So many people help you along the way with their own expertise and support, and it helps make you better than you even thought you could be.”
In interviews, Teti often talks about the importance of his family. The youngest of 10 children, Teti described his family as his “best quality.”
Some of that family has accompanied Teti to Beijing. Along with Heinz, Teti’s sister Mary Grace Barbye and her son Eric are there, as is Teti’s nephew Justin, a Malvern Preparatory School graduate and soon-to-be Princeton University senior.
Along with being the oldest sister, Barbye is also Teti’s godmother. Barbye’s “job” has been to keep family members back home aware of every last detail.
Also keeping up to date with Teti’s progress has been Normandy Real Estates principal Ray Trevisan.
“It’s really neat to have a guy actually at the Olympics,” said Trevisan. “We encouraged him to do it. You only get so many chances at this kind of thing. We were 100 percent behind it.”
Perhaps no one has been more behind Teti and his brother than his parents, Hank and Mary, who in November will celebrate their 54th wedding anniversary.
A 1950 graduate of West Catholic High School and grandmother of 27, Mary Teti said she and her husband are “extremely proud” that each of their children graduated from St. Laurence School in Highland Park, Delaware County, and either Bonner (the boys) or Archbishop Prendergast (the girls).
A beautiful woman of faith, Mary Teti said despite so much experience with the Olympics through her sons, she still gets as nervous as ever.
“The most important thing is that they are safe and secure,” she said. “But when they perform, it’s like they’re performing for the first time. But it really is so exciting.”
Mary Teti said although she and her husband recognize that just getting to the Olympics is reason enough to be pleased, that’s not the way it is with her competitive children.
Since they are there, they want to win.
“It’s funny,” she said. “Every parent wants the same thing for their children. Every parent wants their child to win, but it doesn’t work that way.”
Teti said her three sons “could not be more different than the other” but have always been very close.
She said that when Paul was born, Mike – two decades his elder – predicted great things for his youngest sibling.
“He said that Paul would be the ‘love child’ and expected the absolute best from him,” said Mary. “It’s a blessing that they all care about each other the way they do.”
Mary Teti cited Father Tom Mullelly, the chaplain at Princeton University, for having a profound effect on her youngest child.
“Before they went to the Olympics, Father said Mass for all those who could attend and had a dinner afterwards,” she said. “He said having everyone together was like having ‘water from the Jordan.'”
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.