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Grosse Ile product Costas Ciungan is now a key part of the rowing program at Grand Valley State University.

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ROWING: With a family legacy of rowing, GI's Ciungan finds his niche at Grand Valley (PHOTO)

For 21-year-old Grosse Ile high school graduate Costas Ciungan, rowing wasn’t just a hobby he picked up as a kid or a sport that he took a liking to in high school; rowing was something that runs in his blood.

Virgil Ciungan, Costas’ grandfather, rowed and coached for the Ecorse Boat Club in the early-to-mid 1940s and was part of a crew that won the Canadian Henley and Schoolboy Regatta in the same day; a feat that was a record at that time, according to Costas.

“1942 was the era of ‘the Golden Boys’ in Ecorse,” Ciungan said. “Old timers who saw the 1942 crew in action voted it one of the best crews in the history of rowing.”

Following the death of his mother, Linda, Ciungan moved in with his Aunt Carolyn and joined a “learn-to-row” Boat Club in Wyandotte at the age of 15.

“Ever since that program, along with wise and inspirational words from my grandfather and the legacy he left in the sport, I fell in love with the sport of rowing,” Ciungan said.

It was at the Wyandotte Boat Club that Ciungan met Coach Scott Sitek, the coach of the Wyandotte Boat Club and also his future head coach at Grosse Ile High School.

Ciungan said that Sitek and the coaching staff at Grosse Ile always preached team-first.

“Everything was ‘one team, one goal,’” Ciungan said. “Everyone had humility and cared not only about results, but about change. At first, I thought it was a lot of work, but in order to be successful you have to put in the time. Everything was structured and had meaning or purpose from the way we stretched to how we took care of our boats.”

Sitek, who also teaches history at Lincoln Park High School, believes that Grosse Ile’s team-first mentality rubbed off on Ciungan early on in his rowing career.

“I think the most impressive thing about Costas right from the get-go was how great of a teammate he was,” Sitek said. “He was a pretty special kid. You could tell he certainly worked hard and wanted to be successful but I don’t think a year went by where he wasn’t concerned with the progression of our younger kids, or the kids as a whole.”

As a freshman, Ciungan was one of a handful of Grosse Ile boys to win a medal at the Canadian Schoolboy Championships in St. Catharines, Ontario. They were the first Canadian Schoolboy medals for Grosse Ile since 1994.

This accomplishment was one of a few that really stood out for Ciungan during his decorated rowing career at Grosse Ile.

“There were so many unbelievable moments,” Ciungan said. “In my junior year I rowed in a pair with then-senior Michael Sitek and we won Gold at the Midwest Scholastic rowing championships, the State of Michigan Scholastic Championships and the Western Ontario Secondary School Regatta Championships. My pair then went on to the Youth National Championship, where we finished eighth overall.”

When deciding where to head off to for college, Ciungan knew that a school with a solid rowing program would factor into his decision, but even deeper than that; he had always been community-oriented and that also played a large role in his decision to attend Grand Valley State University.

“Grand Valley State had an outstanding campus and a supportive community, backed by excellent faculty and staff,” Ciungan said. “I really thrived at Grosse Ile because of the same type of thing, the environment at school. Teachers, coaches, friends and administrators – especially the assistant principal at the time – Terry Flint, all played a role. Everyone respected each other and every teacher had a stake in the community. And I knew when I came for a campus visit at GVSU that it was also someplace I could thrive.”

Coached by John Bancheri, both the Grand Valley State men’s and women’s clubs have been wildly successful over the past decade, winning six consecutive national championships. The program is six-time overall team points American Collegiate Rowing Association National Champions and the women's team has also won the points trophy six times in a row.

The overall team points championship is earned when the whole team – both men’s and women’s combined – win enough points in their race results to clinch the team points national titles.

“The Grand Valley State rowing club’s success is a product of pulling athletes from the top and pushing from the bottom,” Ciungan said. “Everyone on the team has a job to do.”

Coach Bancheri thought that Ciungan was talented yet raw when entering Grand Valley State for his freshman year.

“He was a little bit of a wild stallion when we got him,” Bancheri said. “He was the kind of guy that you don’t want to tame, you just want to guide. Now he’s a junior and he’s become one of our strongest guys on the varsity boat.”

Ciungan credits Grosse Ile for developing him into the kind of rower and teammate that he is today.

“You have to strive each day to get better and make an improvement, while at the same time pushing your teammates to do the same,” Ciungan said. “It’s not easy work, but if you stay in the game, be patient, and set goals for yourself, you will be great oarsman and anything else you decide to take up in life. I fit in perfectly at Grand Valley as I had a great work ethic and patience, which was ingrained through my time in the Grosse Ile rowing club.”

Ciungan and his teammates recently traveled to London, England to compete in the prestigious Royal Henley Regatta, a rowing tournament has been around since 1839.

“Competing in the Royal Henley Regatta is something I will remember for a lifetime,” Ciungan said. “There is no other race like it.”

On July 3, GVSU’s Varsity eight-oared boat (8+) drew a tough Oxford Brookes University team in the first round of the Regatta.

Oxford Brookes wound up finishing 2/3 of a boat length ahead of Ciungan and company, notching a final winning time of 6:38.

Still, Ciungan is following in his grandfather’s footsteps every day. And not only the steps that lead to the racing shell, but those that Virgil Ciungan took to become the man that he was in Costas’ eyes.

“He was very inspiring,” Ciungan said. “(He was) a fantastic rower, a great rowing coach and a Navy Pilot in World War II and in the Korean Wars. He was also an outstanding father and family man and a super successful businessman. He owned the famous Ciungan's Shrimp House in Ecorse.”

Much like his grandfather, Ciungan’s success is starting to transcend the sport of rowing. Coach Bancheri recognizes that.

“He’s definitely one of our top four or five guys,” Bancheri said. “He’s now the president of the club and he’s a 4.0 student. He’s the type of scholar athlete that every coach in this country dreams of having.”

Last Updated: 7/19/2013 11:30:08 AM EST

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