As a young girl, then as a mother, and later through a divorce while earning a college degree to start a new career, Edit Punk, of Randolph, has had one constant in her life – the sport of rowing. More than just enjoying the sport, however, she is a world class rower who has won dozens of medals and honors, the most recent ones earned at the 2013 World Rowing Masters Regatta in Varese, Italy.
A 2013 graduate of the respiratory therapy program at County College of Morris (CCM), Punk, 46, spent four days competing in Italy this past September. She raced in eight events and captured a gold medal in each of them. More than 3,300 rowers from 40 countries participated in the regatta, a record breaker for the race.
Along with her 28 world titles, Punk is also a two-time Olympian. Asked about her successes and what it has taken to get there, she responds that “the level of one’s performance is limited only by how much effort one puts in during the preparation.” And what she puts in to just about everything she does is “diligence, determination, and practice, practice, practice.”
A native of Hungary, who came to the U.S. in 1994 as an alien of extraordinary ability in athletics, Punk competes on behalf of her birth country. “There is something special about competing for Hungary and bringing it glory. I will always be both Hungarian and American,” she explains.
It was in Hungary where she first learned to row, after a coach recruited her at school when she was 12. She soon became a member of the Hungarian National Team and went on to compete internationally.
Punk won her first masters world title in the single scull in 2006 when her second child was 10 months old and Punk was still nursing her.
“It meant the world to me to win the single,” she recalls. “After that accomplishment, I was invited to be a member of the Masters International, which has enabled me to compete in other boat categories besides the single scull. It is exhilarating to paddle with seasoned athletes in a double or a quadruple scull.”
In Italy during one of her competitions, Punk rowed in the double with an Italian woman she had never met before. As anyone who has attempted to row a boat with another knows, it takes a good measure of synchronicity. With her ability to dictate the rhythm or adapt to someone else’s, Punk was able to connect instantly with her rowing partner, and they gained a win.
It is the opportunity to connect with others, along with the physical aspects of respiratory therapy that drew her to pursue an associate degree in that field. “When I heard about the program, I immediately felt it had a connection to my sport through breathing,” says Punk. “It’s also a profession where you get to help others.”
Helping others to live healthier lives is a theme that runs through Punk’s life. Besides holding a bachelor’s degree in biology and physical education from Juhasz Gyula Teacher Training College in Hungary, she is certified as a yoga instructor, personal trainer and massage therapist, and now most recently as a respiratory therapist. She notes that she is deeply grateful for the chance to learn from and study with such outstanding professors as John Rutkowski and Michele DaSilva at CCM and for being hired as a respiratory therapist at Saint Barnabas Medical Center.
“I’ve always had this thirst for knowledge and curiosity to learn,” says Punk. “CCM gave me the opportunity to quench this thirst and provided me with the prospect to pursue a stable career for me and my children.”