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Ten Questions with Head Rowing Coach Joel Furtek
Courtesy: Canisius College Athletics  
Release: 08/30/2011
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Rowing boat in the Quad
Courtesy: Canisius College Athletics
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GoGriffs.com had an opportunity to interview Canisius College head rowing coach Joel Furtek, who will direct the newly added rowing program. Furtek and the rowing staff will hold an informational meeting about the women's varsity and men's club rowing programs on Tuesday, Aug. 30, at 7 p.m., in the Regis South room of the Student Center. Any full-time students that are interested in becoming a member of the rowing teams at Canisius are encouraged to attend. No previous rowing experience is necessary.

Let's get to know coach Furtek:

1. What are your expectations for your team in its first year of competition?
The main goal is to set the standard for the program's future: to train hard, to race hard, to represent Canisius well, and to have a lot of fun doing so! We'll be recruiting our first year's team largely from former club rowers and true novices who will learn to row this year, so it's difficult to set performance goals. But we know that we want to be competitive in the MAAC as quickly as possible.

We will expect the team to be competitive, supportive, and inclusive. We will race each other daily, encourage each other, and share the results with the Canisius community.

2. What is your average work day like?
Once we are on the water, I'll be up at 5 a.m. (much earlier than our student-athletes) to prepare for the day, go over training plans and video from the previous day, and get to campus. We'll drive our student-athletes to the boathouse, and go out for a two-hour row. This is the best part of the day! After we get the team back to class, it's time to prepare tape from practice, respond to emails, and take care of the business side of athletics. In the afternoon I'll head over to the Quad for 'Office Hours', where we make ourselves available to the student-athletes for video review, technical talk, or just about anything. Then it's back to the office until the work is done! We never count the hours -- like H. Jackson Brown said, "Find a job you like and you add five days to every week." Or six, in our case.

3. What was the best advice you received in life? Rowing?
In life, from Bob Rotella, then a professor at Virginia: "If you argue for your own limitations, you'll undoubtedly win the argument."

In rowing, from former National Team coach Kris Korzeniowski: (in a thick accent) "Puhtt Blayde Een Watair. Puhll." Or, directly, "Put blade in water. Pull." Keep things as simple as they can be.

4. What is your favorite memory as a rower at Yale?
I was fortunate to enjoy so many! They all revolve around the close contests, whether in practice or on race day, when no one could know who would win until the horn sounded.

I'll never forget the race against Harvard and Princeton my junior year (1989!); we raced Harvard back and forth for 1000 meters - about three minutes - before making an all-or-nothing burst of speed for 20 strokes. We took a full length lead and continued moving from there! All through that burst of speed I was calling commands to the crew in a speaking tone, very calmly; it was almost surreal with the oars flying around and the two boats at top speed. Immediately after the race, we drew the boats together and the Harvard and Princeton men handed over their racing shirts -- it's an old custom in men's rowing. We graciously stowed them below and savored the three mile row back to the boathouse as Champions!

5. Where do you see the Canisius rowing team in the next five years?
My goal in five years is for us to be a vibrant program, full of committed student-athletes who are performing in the classroom and making Canisius an even greater place to be. Along the way, we'll look first to be competitive in the MAAC; the next logical step is to win the conference. This won't ever be easy, but beginning in 2013 it provides a direct path to the NCAA Championship. Our strategic plan seeks to be nationally relevant within five years; rowing is changing far too quickly and profoundly to aim for a given ranking, but I want Canisius to be included in any discussion of speed!

6. If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
In general, No Way! But I would love to have the chance to revisit some of the great crews I coached at Virginia and North Carolina, and apply the lessons I've learned since! That's the essence of coaching. A college classmate of mine, Eric Liu, put it best, "But here's the thing about teaching: you are never finished falling short....Of course, another way to say you're never finished falling short is to say you're never finished learning -- about your pupils and yourself."

7. You have worked in warm places such as North Carolina and Florida before arriving in Buffalo, are you ready for a Buffalo weather?
Ha! Well, I was born and raised in Utica, N.Y., and spent the first three years of my life in Alaska. I took my driver's test in a foot of snow, and I spent the winter of 2007-08 in Port Byron, N.Y., on the Seneca River. I've kept a stockpile of good old American-made boots and a microwaveable seat cushion for the launch. I... think... I'm ready!

8. In 1997, you established the rowing program at the University of North Carolina, how will your experience in establishing that program carry over into this program?
Although UNC's national presence might be a little stronger than Canisius College's, starting the rowing programs will be very similar. In fact, there are many ways in which we have more resources here: our Alumni base is incredibly supportive, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fontana Boathouse is a fantastic facility, and we have a huge population of high school rowers here in Buffalo. I entered UNC at a time of transition in the Athletic Director's office, but we have a clear and strong leader in Bill Maher carrying us forward.

Putting together the UNC program in just six weeks taught me a lot about "Getting Things Done." That's one of our catch-phrases around the office, "GTD". We try to stay ahead of all the things that a program needs, which is a great way to be sure we're ready for anything!

At UNC we were able to be nationally relevant very quickly -- sooner than I had imagined -- because we discovered a huge pool of talent on campus that was ready to commit to the experience. If we can tap into the great student-body here at Canisius, and then add in successful recruiting from WNY and the northeast, we'll be on that same track!

9. If you had to describe the sport of rowing in one word which word would you choose?
That's easy: "Awesome!"

10. How do you see rowing fitting in at Canisius College?
Extremely well! In many ways it's a no-brainer. We have a tradition of rowing at Canisius that reaches back to the 1930s, and at West Side Rowing Club back to 1912 -- WSRC is a thriving center for youth rowing. Many colleges that offer a similar educational experience also offer rowing, and the MAAC has led the charge for change in women's rowing.

But at a deeper level, too, it's a perfect fit in at least two ways: the Canisius ideals of Transformative Learning and of Leadership were central to my own rowing experience, and I've sought to do the same in my coaching. Our student-athletes will spend four years becoming richer, more awesome versions of themselves, and they will all graduate with the leadership skills required to make the world a better place.

I came to Canisius because of the great, engaging education offered on campus -- and rowing will fit in perfectly!


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