14-time Hungarian Champion, European U23 Champion, U23 World Campionships Bronze Medalist, World University Champion, Adult World Champion 4., and already Adult European Champion. I can’t even follow these titles, but I know for sure, that the keeper of these titles is a gentleman, who we can all learn something from. I know Kálmán Furkó - whose namesake grandfather is a 8th Dan Karate master – from Szolnok, since he was a child, as a family friend and fellow athlete. This month’s European Rowing Championships was organised in Italy, where they played the Hungarian National Anthem for him and his mate, Bence Szabó from Győr once again. I talked with Kálmi about his journey up to this point, so let’s hear it for a friendly conversation transmitting very serious values:
– I always ask everybody first: what were you dreaming about as a child?
- As a child I wasn’t interested in sports, rather in cars and fishing. I always wanted a fancy car.
– Did your family pressure you to do sports?
- My grandfather was a well-known drill-sergeant in the military, just as the Hungarian kyokushin karate history is strongly associated with his name, he achieved big things in this sport. I do sports since elementary school, I did judo from first grade to fourth grade, after that I didn’t pursue karate. I never felt any type of expectation towards me to pursue karate. Clearly, the old man would have been happy about it, but after a while he made his peace with it.
– How did rowing come into the picture?
- After four years of judo, I started kayaking, but I wasn’t very serious about it. At times I went, at times I didn’t, they constantly had to push me to go to practice, in the end I quit. After that, for a good one and a half year I didn’t do any sport, but it began to bother me so much, that I started to think about what sport to try. I thought about football, but I was a shy kid, that’s why I made up my mind about trying rowing, because two friends of mine – well you and your brother Edvin Edvin – were pretty good at it. And this was very magical, I also have the specific date in my memory. I didn’t regret it!
– What day was it?
- Thursday. And then, after a few months, I realized, that from that day on, I was in the boathouse every day. I liked that milieu, they took me in very quickly, so I stuck there.
– What affected you to take this sport seriously?
- Lucky me, I had many good examples. As I started rowing in 2010, the Simon-Juhász duo was already a U23 World Championships silver medalist, after that, they got qualified for the Olympics as well. Bence Vallyon and your brother were also selected, they regularly went to World Championships. At first, I didn’t train more in order to get selected, I was just enjoying it. Then, as I unexpectedly got third place in sculling on my first competition, it meant, that I was part of the selected quad. That was the start of something new.
– How did you experience this?
- It was a huge treat for me, as I started to feel, that I can maybe finally live up to my name, just in another sport.
– Did you find your calling?
- Yes. I’m very weak-spirited up to this day, so it was strange to achieve something, but…
– I’m sorry to cut you off! How can you still be weak-spirited, if they played the Hungarian National Anthem now two times for you?
- It got better over the years, but I can’t explain it, I was always like this.
– Is it different on the water? I assume, you can ‘transform’ there.
- Yes. Even if I know, that others are better than me on paper, for example even if an Olympic Champion is rowing next to me, I approach the race, like I can beat everybody.
– Did someone teach you this ‘mental switch’ or is it in your guts?
- No one taught me, but of course, routine counts as well.
– Although you’re young, I’m gonna ask anyway: Have you experienced disappointment along the way, where it was hard to get back on your feet again?
- Physically speaking, I reached a high level in my age group relatively early, I won Hungarian champion titles, I also broke the Hungarian record on the Ergometer Championships as Youth Lightweight. As I got out to international competitions, that’s when it went from hot to cold. Actually, I always got home from the European and World Championships between 2014 and 2018 feeling disappointed.
– Did you think about quitting?
- Only in 2018, when I performed badly on the EC and the WC as well, and a vertebral arch injury came up too. Bad form, bad year, I had to skip many months, that’s when I thought about, if I need all of this at all.
– How did you manage to get back on your feet from this series of failures?
– Nekem nem volt elég az, hogy csak magyar bajnok legyek. Az fogalmazódott meg bennem ekkoriban, hogy ha nem sikerül elérni a célomat, akkor az motivál, hogy megkeressem az okokat és kijavítsam őket, ha sikerül elérni, akkor pedig az motivál, hogy még jobb legyek. Aztán a felépülés után szinte rögtön egyéni csúcsot húztam ergón, és életem legjobb szezonja következett. Ilyen a sors fintora.
– Who helped you spiritually and physically back then?
- I spoke a lot to your bother, Edvin, he had similar problems, but for the most part I had to fight this myself. Later on, a couple times a week I spoke to a sports coach, but this was only after the recovery.
– Let’s jump ahead: How did you feel with the European Champion medal hanging around your neck?
- I was touched. From the point of taking sports seriously, it was a big dream of mine, that one of these days they will play the Hungarian National Anthem for me/for us. Goosebumps all over.
– Huge congratulations to you guys!
– So, you managed to get into international water. What does the River Tisza and the city of Szolnok mean to you after all this?
- My father is a big fisherman, before rowing I was too, I also went to fishing competitions. This way I’m tied to the River Tisza since the early ages. There’s something, that gives you a sense of relief, I have a bunch of good memories.
– What’s that?
- Nature. It’s hard to explain, clearly you get it, because you grew up here too. Practices in the morning are the best examples: you’re in the middle of the River Tisza, you feel the life, the stream, the drift, driftwood underneath you, there’s no one around you, complete silence, the sun rises, and you can observe all of this. It’s worth anything.
– Does it feel like home?
- Very much so. Now, that we’re talking about it, I miss it.
– And the city?
- The city as well. I went to elementary school at first to Belvárosi, then to Széchenyi, the supported my sport in both places, they are a part of my career.
– By knowing you personally, is it right to feel, that you have a strong national consciousness?
– Do you think elite sports can go without it?
- I don’t think, that it’s only a ‘battle of nations’. For example, as I step foot on the start, I’m not thinking about doing this for my country. These medals are for myself, my family and my supporter, who helped me to get this far. But I can talk about the Anthem more.
– Go on, please!
- I’ve seen it a bunch of times in television, as they play the Anthem for Hungarian contestants, I felt touched every time. My goal was to have them play it for me and my team at least once in my career. This was given to us for the first time two years ago, back then and even now I get emotional. In the midst of the Anthem, I had a flashback of practices and sacrifices, all the effort I’ve put in over the years. I wish for every athlete to be able to experience this!
– Then you have to let them win...
- Okay then, I wish this rather for all Hungarian athletes.
– It must feel special, I longed for this too, but sadly it was never given for me.
- I have two one, I can give you one, I will put it in a jar. (we are laughing)
– Anyway, does your grandfather still affect you, his successful sport history?
- It would be a lie to say no. I heard a lot of people say, how they wouldn’t want to be in my place, how hard could it be to live with this name, to do sports. I didn’t see it this way. My goal was, that one time the Kálmán Furkó name would become famous because of rowing and not karate. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not longing for the spotlight, but when I introduce myself, they ask back many times, if I’m related to the ‘karateka Kálmán Furkó’. If one of these days someone would ask me: ‘Are you the rower Kálmán Furkó?’ – well, that would feel incredible.
– If you could change anything in the sports world, what would it be?
- Sadly, sports are heading in a direction of moneymaking more and more. Performance and success don’t matter, just the fact, how marketable and viewable it is. I wouldn’t consider to be the main aspect, how you can make money from the given sport.
– But performance could also get compulsive, sort of harmful addiction…
- Persze, én is teljesítmény-kényszerben élek. Önmagammal szemben nagyon magas elvárásaim vannak, állandóan a határaimat feszegetem. Hát, az élsport nem az egészségről szól, de én ezt élvezem és nagy erőt ad.
– What do you think, how long will it last?
- Clearly, it’s finite, but I would like to continue for quite a few years. It wouldn’t be great to live with my parents as a 30-year-old, but you can’t make a living from sports.
– You’re still studying, right?
- Yes, I would like to be a trainer later. There are so many talented people out there, it would be a shame if they went to waste. I study at the University of Physical Education (TE) now, but I receive a lot of knowledge for example from my fitness trainer (György Szigeti).
– What do you feel at the moment, if you think about the boat?
- Excitement. Already in high school I had 12 trainings a week I went to the first class from training, you’re familiar with that too. In the school bench, I only thought about rowing. I was dreaming about, rowing on the River Tisza, doing the movements, winning competitions. It’s funny though, because I couldn’t understand, how you can sleep in ‘til half past seven and arrive at school feeling tired, and they didn’t understand, how I can go to training before school. The first time I went to went to party with my classmates was the prom afterparty, but I still got a lot of help from them, there was a sort of mutual respect and it was the same with the teachers. I still keep in touch with a lot of them to this day.
– Is there anything besides sports, a hobby or something you’re interested in, that defines your life?
- No, just the sport.
– And how do you approach faith?
- I believe in God, I honor Jesus, but I don’t go to church, it’s not a casual topic for me.
– We can leave out faith, I’m mostly interested in your inner conviction.
- Whenever the situation is heated, I loop up to the sky, I say a prayer to myself, and these times I believe, that I get help from God. But it depends on what mental state I’m in right then and there.
– Did you ever have fear of dying or a near-death experience, where you just pushed yourself too hard?
- One time, on the World Championships in Sarasota: high humidity, 40 degrees, not to mention the pressure to be able to win for the first time a U23 WC medal for Hungary after 10 years. Then we got third place. Now, here, I pushed myself so hard, that we could barely get to the pier to receive the award, then the medical team wouldn’t want to let me go to the awards ceremony. They gave me an oxygen mask, measured my blood pressure, but I lied to them saying I’m feeling better. I gathered all the strength left in me and took the medal. And then I puked for an hour...
– What was your consciousness like during the physical distress?
- I knew this was no good for my health, but I simply didn’t care. I said to myself, that for the medal it’s worth.
– Do you fear anything else after all this distress and pain?
- I fear another spine injury, but I work hard on prevention day by day.
– What’s your biggest motivation?
- The Adult World Championships in China come at the end of the year, after winning on the EC I think we even have a chance of bringing home the gold.
– Did you give up on the fancy car?
- No, actually, I’m pretty close to buying my first car.
– Will you drive to practices with it?
- Yeah, I’m slowly becoming lazy.
– Last question: did you put a certain thought or value into shape along your way, that you would like to give to others?
- Find something, that you like and do it passionately, with an open heart! Without it, it sucks to get up in the morning…
Azt mondanom sem kell, hogy „Ki a Tisza vizét issza, annak szíve vágyik vissza.” Az otthonérzést nyújtó folyó és természet szeretete mellett a fenti történet egy igen ritka erényről tesz még tanúbizonyságot, melyet manapság – és mindenkor – csak kevesek tudhatnak magukénak. Mégis „a sors furcsa fintorának” köszönhetően időnként kimagaslanak embertársaink közül olyanok, akiktől megtanulhatjuk, hogy a türelem és a kitartás mekkora erőt adnak céljaink eléréséhez. Ez az erő – mely mélyen ott rejlik which lies deep down in the rower Kálmán Furkó – is no other than humbleness. Kálmi, thank you!