Joel Furtek and Canisius College Rowing

By Sparks Editorial Staff | November 20, 2015

Canisius College, located in Buffalo, NY, is a unique college.  Buffalo was once a booming city due to industrialization and its location on the Erie Canal.  However, Buffalo’s population declined in the 1970s as heavy industry shut down, leaving a city built for 500,000, today home to 258,703.

A variety of cultural influence has contributed to the varied cuisine found in Buffalo.  In 2015, the National Geographic Society ranked Buffalo in third on their list of "The World's Top Ten Food Cities".

Buffalonians embrace the winter with a thriving fitness community year round, including numerous snowshoeing and skiing paths.  Any time of year runners can be found throughout the city, including when there is plenty of snow on the ground.

Canisius is a small private university of around 3,000 students with highly regarded academics. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance named Canisius College one of the nation’s best values among private universities for 2011-12.  Over the past 5 years, 86% of students who applied to medical and law school were accepted.  Canisius has highly recognized specialized programs, such the #1 ranked Animal Behavior Program.  The rowing team mirrors academics at Canisius.

"Time spent at practice is an educational opportunity and avenue for personal development," says Joel Furtek, head coach of the women’s rowing team.

A mere 7-minute drive from campus is The Frank Lloyd Wright Fontana Boathouse, recently featured in the November 2015 issue of Row360.  The boathouse was originally designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905 and constructed in 2007. Canisius shares this beautiful building with Mount St Mary's High School and a small group of single scullers.

“The indoor facilities are the nicest I have ever seen,” says Furtek.

The GriffCave is the nickname for the on-campus rowing facility, a riff on the school’s Golden Griffins mascot and the Batcave. The GriffCave houses 40 ergs, 12 Swingulators, and numerous stationary bikes.  The ergs are all connected to a computer, displaying times and heart rates on the wall for all to see as they erg.  Color-coded heart rates making it apparent if someone is outside of the prescribed workout zone.

Furtek has worked to build many successful programs throughout the years.  From 2009-2011, Furtek was an assistant coach for the women’s team at the University of Central Florida.

In 1997, Furtek, as the head coach, launched the varsity program at University of North Carolina. Furtek began his coaching career in 1993, as the novice coach at the University of Virginia. He assisted Kevin Sauer in the launching the women's varsity program, returning in 2002 as the assistant coach.  Furtek was a 4-year coxswain for Yale, graduating in 1990.

Currently in his 5th year at Canisius, Furtek uses a uniquely detailed system to develop speed. Furtek values honesty, thoroughness, and aggressiveness. He gives the athletes an honest assessment of how they are doing, and checks in to make sure changes are being made.  He collects data in a variety of ways, using smartOars, Swingulators, and video, to approach different types of learning styles.

Furtek is in a unique position to give each athlete attention. The team is small, providing a lot of individual attention to each athlete.  Spring practice consists of three varsity eights and three coaches, each in a launch, swarming the eights.

Canisius is able to use smartOars for each rower and Swingulators to teach effective rowing as part of training.  The smartOars measure force curves, displaying a real time force curve of each rower to the coach, and can be saved and shown or emailed after practice.  The Swingulator is an indoor sweep trainer that measures and monitors a rower’s stroke-length, catch and finish angles, and power application, for individuals and as part of a line-up.

"Looking at the curve benefits the cerebral learner, who can see the impulse curve of their boatmates. The quantitative athlete can see the total impulse from practice," says Furtek. Providing thorough data on each athlete allows them to learn where speed can be gained.

For the visual learner, video is taken each rowing session, and is either emailed or reviewed one-on-one during office hours.

Each week the athletes are ranked based on three pieces from that week, so the rowers know exactly where they stand.  The stroke of the varsity eight, for the Head of the Charles this year was a 5'2” freshman. Placing 12th in the Women's Club Eight.

"At Canisius, what matters is what you are doing to move the boat right now," says Furtek."

They are not a program that talks about larger goals on a regular basis.  They have a weekly team meeting about things they can do to gain speed.  They embrace the Jesuit school motto of Magis, the Latin word for “more,” which symbolizes a commitment to the greater good and living up to one’s potential.

To Furtek if they pursue Magis they will be where they want.