Paddling Upstream"I try to give back. A lot of people helped me out."
One spring morning last year, Christopher DeFelice was doing what he usually does in the morning — rowing his scull on the Schuylkill River.
But this day ended up being dramatically different.
"All of a sudden I heard tires screeching," says DeFelice, former member of a U.S. World Championship rowing team, recalling the incident from April 2011.
A car from nearby Kelly Drive had lost control and skidded into the water, then soon flipped over and quickly sank. DeFelice, about 35 feet away, saw one of the two occupants struggling in the river; he leaped out of his scull into the cold water and saved the young man, who didn't know how to swim. (A passing cyclist helped the other occupant to shore.)
Accolades from the local press followed, though DeFelice remains modest. "I'm just glad we all walked away from it fine," he says. Soon after, in recognition of his heroism, the Philadelphia Phillies asked him to throw out the first pitch at a game. "I'm a big baseball fan, so I really enjoyed it," he says.
DeFelice also helps out in other ways. He served as captain of the Pennsylvania Athletic Club Rowing Association (Penn AC) for several years and was recently named chairman of the club's board of directors. He also helps organize the club's summer junior program, which trains competitive youth rowers from throughout the country. In addition, he's often out on the water teaching the youngsters.
"I try to give back," he says. "A lot of people helped me out. These guys are aspiring. I want to see them do well."
When not rowing, he's at his home office in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia working on the company he co-owns, Wi-Design Inc., which creates Web-based programs that help businesses increase productivity. He's also a partner in a startup called Mozzo Analytics, which helps people use email more effectively.
His home is just a mile or so from the Schuylkill River's Boathouse Row, where rowing clubs, including the Penn AC, are based. (At night, lights outline each of the boathouses for a spectacular display.)
DeFelice likes that Fairmount — an area bustling with people walking, biking and in-line skating — is near the edges of Center City.
"You can just walk right downtown and be in the downtown area. It's nice to just walk and be there, but you're not living amongst these giant buildings. You're in the city but the area is very residential. The community is very tight but you also have the city right there at arm's reach. I like that any store I need to go to, to get groceries or coffee or go to the diner — everything is right here."
One of those places is Pete's Famous Pizza, "where all the rowers go to eat," especially Saturday mornings for breakfast. "It's like 'Cheers,' where everyone knows your name."
"I feel very fortunate," says DeFelice. "Very spoiled in a way, that I have access to all that."
Check out Chris' Philadelphia.