Joe Caminiti, beloved longtime rowing coach of the New York Athletic Club and a multiple Elite National Champion as an oarsman, passed away on March 23, 2022, in Pelham, New York.
A commanding stroke for NYAC heavyweight and lightweight crews for a 15-year period in the late 1960's and 1970's, Joe won more than 20 U.S. National and Canadian championships. When legendary NYAC and Olympic Coach Jack Sulger died unexpectedly in 1979, Joe immediately stepped in to take the helm of the Club program from his father-in-law.
Joe greeting his 1st National Champion Eight in 1980 at Camden
What followed was an amazing 20-year run during which Joe built a sweep rowing program from scratch that won scores of National Championships, made the AC a go-to destination for talented local and nationally recognized college athletes, and placed numerous athletes on National Teams. Joe's collegial, inclusive leadership style inspired more than 500 rowers during his tenure, establishing the NYAC sweep team on a national level, but--more important to him--making a lasting impact on the athletes he helped shape as oarsmen and men.
Joe was born in the Bronx, raised in New Rochelle and graduated from Blessed Sacrament High School and Iona College. While attending Blessed Sacrament, he discovered the sport of rowing and quickly established himself as a superb oarsman, a natural stroke, and a leader of crews. He simply loved it and excelled at it.
Joe and Jon Sonberg preparing to race the Elite Pair
Rowing was central to Joe's life, but for more than one reason. It was through rowing at the NYAC that he met Veronica Sulger, daughter of the famed rowing coach Jack Sulger. The couple would marry at Saint Helena's in the Bronx and be blessed with two children, Paul and Joseph. Both boys were accomplished oarsmen in their own right, each winning multiple National Championships and Captaining the Princeton Heavyweight Crew.
As a competitor, Joe was considered the preeminent NYAC stroke for over a decade. Though standing only six feet, 170 pounds, he often competed in the Heavyweight category throughout the late 1960's and 1970's for the Club. He was known for his aggressive command of the boat he was stroking, and the many men who have rowed behind him can attest to his fire and drive to win.
Joe, right, at stroke in 1966, with Jack Sulger, at left, and a Canadian Henley Winners' Plaque. After winning the Jr 8, the NYAC took 3rd in the Sr 8 Final.
Joe served as Captain of the NYAC team and won six National Championships for the Club, including Elite and Heavyweight titles, and more than 10 Canadian National Championships. Some highlights of his career include stroking the "Junior" Eight, as the Intermediate/Senior category was then known, in the late '60s that won the Canadian Henley; a boat that included, among others, a young sculler named Jim Dietz, and Joe's brother-in-law, Francis Sulger. Joe competed in the U.S. Olympic trials and U.S. National Team trials, finishing in the top three numerous times in both Lightweight and Heavyweight events. Joe also won U.S. Nationals in the Elite Heavyweight Quad and Elite Lightweight Pair. He claimed victory in his last race at the Nationals in the Elite Pair in the late 1970's, with a flat water time of 7:00, in his late '30s.
But perhaps Joe 's greatest contribution to the NYAC came as Head Coach, abruptly inheriting a program in a sport that was transforming before his eyes. The birth of national camps, where oarsmen from all over the country would train for the U.S. team, was sapping the Club of much of its talent. In addition to drawing many of the best athletes in the country, these camps had paid coaching staffs, top equipment, large travel budgets and strong backing from USRowing. Joe knew that if the NYAC was going to compete, he would have to "grow his own," attracting and instructing young men from local colleges, and taking their training to a new level and intensity. And that's exactly what he did.
Coach Joe, after a victory swim
With Joe as Head Coach, the NYAC's crews won more than 25 U.S. National Championships and five overall Team Championships (the Barnes Trophy, as well as numerous Canadian National Championships. His crews won at every level - from Intermediate Lightweight 8+ to Elite Heavyweight 4+. While the results speak for themselves, there is a lot one does not know about Joe's career just from looking at the numbers. At that time, the NYAC was known for its amazing scullers--Jim Dietz, Larry Klecatsky, Bill Belden, Scott Roop, Paul Fuchs and many others--but its sweep program risked slipping into irrelevance, often outclassed by Penn A.C., arch enemy Vesper Boat Club, and other programs from Boston. As Head Coach, Joe reinvigorated the AC's sweep rowing program, conducting winter evening workouts, ergometer events, team runs, group weightlifting circuits overseen by eventual Head Coach Vincent Ventura, and a number of other training activities that helped build team speed and bring the rowers closer together.
Joe initially attracted and molded a large group of college students and recent graduates living in the New York area - from Manhattan, Fordham, Iona, St. Johns, the Coast Guard Academy, Holy Cross, the Merchant Marine Academy, Maritime and others - and he made them the focus of the NYAC program. As the sweep program progressed, Joe developed an expanding network of schools to recruit from, including Columbia, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Penn, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Syracuse, and Cal Berkeley. These schools were all represented in what, in a few years, became one of the largest and most successful Club programs for pairs, fours and eights.
In addition, Joe helped coach his sons, his niece, and three nephews at the NYAC, and was extremely proud that three of Jack Sulger's grandchildren rowed for Princeton and three rowed for Harvard.
Joe, 2nd from left, with son Paul (bow), son Joseph (stroke), and nephew George Henry (six) in 1990
Joe was immensely proud of his own grandchildren -- Theodora, Lila, and Felix—and their rowing. His granddaughters both competed at Row America Rye and won NY State Championships. Lila would go on to win a bronze medal in the 2021 Youth Nationals in the Girls 4-, and both went on to college rowing: Theodora at Boston College and Lila at Northwestern. Joe's grandson, Felix is an up-and-coming Novice oarsman at RAR and won the Head of Schuylkill in the 4x and the Head of the Riverfront in the 8+ in 2021.
Over two decades, Joe led hundreds of young men to scores of victories and, more importantly to him, invaluable life experiences. Joe, who would eventually be inducted into the NYAC Hall of Fame, had an empowering yet calming effect on those around him. He personified integrity and was rewarded with deep respect and loyalty from his crews. His combination of intellect, fairness and warmth was always well received.
When not coaching voluntarily at the NYAC in the evenings, Joe had a day job. He had a 40-year career at marketing research firm Roper Starch Worldwide, rising up from the mailroom to Senior Vice President. He was an immensely popular executive at Roper Starch, known for his leadership, wit and kindness.
Joe is survived by his wife of 56 years, Veronica, his sons Paul (and wife Sophie Cottrell Caminiti) and Joseph. He will be dearly missed by his three grandchildren, Theodora, Lila, and Felix. Joe will be remembered with love by his siblings Dorothy Denko, Aurora Lederman, Agnes Ann Lucchesi and Sylvester Caminiti, his cousins-- including Clara Ann Eich, Mary Helen Fragola and George Marshall--as well as his in-laws: Frank Sulger, Joan Henry and their families. Joe will be missed by everyone who knew him. He is predeceased by his parents and younger brother Peter Caminiti.
A Memorial Mass will be held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church located at 575 Fowler Avenue, Pelham Manor New York on Saturday April 9th at 10:00am. For more information or to leave condolences, please visit www.pelhamfuneral.com.
Joe at 2 in the 1970 NYAC Quad, with Jim Dietz at stroke, Frank Sulger (3) and Jon Sonberg (bow)