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A Doctor of Physical Details: Fritz Hagerman is the 2013 Jack Kelly Award Winner

by Ed Moran, photos by Elizabeth Littman | Oct 29, 2013
Not long after the United States men’s eight qualified for the final spot in the London Olympic Games, men's coach Mike Teti called on an old friend to come in and help him figure out how he could make his team faster. This expert on rowers was not there to tell Teti how his crew was rowing or what kind of changes they could make in the boat to improve. But he could tell Teti a few things about his athletes – like how much lactic acid they produced during a piece, what their body fat percentages were, the rates at which they consumed oxygen and what they could do to get better before Olympic competition.

Dr. Fredrick "Fritz" Hagerman, 78, passed away on Wednesday, October 30. Click here to link to his obituary. Below is an October 29 article honoring Hagerman's contributions to the sport spanning 10 Olympic Games and more than five decades. He was an inspiration to many.

Not long after the United States men’s eight qualified for the final spot in the London Olympic Games, men's coach Mike Teti called on an old friend to come in and help him figure out how he could make his team faster.

This expert on rowers was not there to tell Teti how his crew was rowing or what kind of changes they could make in the boat to improve. But he could tell Teti a few things about his athletes – like how much lactic acid they produced during a piece, what their body fat percentages were, the rates at which they consumed oxygen and what they could do to get better before Olympic competition.

It’s the kind of information that Teti has been getting from Dr. Fritz Hagerman for every U.S. team Teti has coached, or has ever been on. Hagerman, a emeritus professor of physiology in the department of biomedical sciences at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine at Ohio University has worked with the U.S. National Team since 1972 and crunched the same kinds of numbers through 10 Olympic Games.

For his work and commitment to rowing, Hagerman has been awarded the 2013 Jack Kelly Award, given annually to recognize superior achievements in rowing, service to amateur athletics and success in a chosen profession and honors a person who serves as an inspiration to American rowers.

Hagerman will be honored at the 2013 Golden Oars Awards Dinner on November 20 in New York City.

“I’m very, very impressed,” Hagerman said. “Considering I’ve never taken a stroke, I’m pleased and honored to be named among all the others that have come before me. (The dinner) will be a good time for me to see old friends. This is exciting.”

For Teti, it is also exciting. Over the years, he has been pricked, biopsied and measured by Hagerman “more than anyone else” and had him do the same for his athletes. The results have helped Teti develop training plans suited to the athletes.

“We would test about three times,” Teti said. “The first test would generally be in the late fall and by the results of that, we would gauge the training up through the winter and the early spring. We would test again in the spring, and then we would always do another test in the summer once the team was selected with six weeks to go.

“And the thing that was great about Fritz, for me, was a lot of that information I really didn’t understand and Fritz was able to put it in layman’s terms and sort of explain it to me in basics. Like, we need to add another aerobic threshold workout or we should do a little bit more transportation work.”

Their bond grew so much from their time together that Hagerman served as a groomsman in Teti’s wedding in 2001.

“I love the guy,” Teti said. “He cares. Fritz cares. He’s passionate and he cares. He cares about those guys and he cares about all those athletes.”

One moment in particular stands out for Teti that demonstrates Hagerman’s passion for what he does. Teti’s men’s eight had won the world championship in 1997 and 1998, and had made the final again in 1999.

Teti had some concerns about the race and he asked Hagerman to speak to the team before they raced.

“So Fritz gave them this pre-race talk before the final. We got out to a lead, but the outside lanes were sort of favored, so the British went through us in the middle of the race and then in the end we had this furious sprint and came back through them.

“I’m watching the race on the big screen in the press tent. We won, and I’m running out of the tent cheering and I see this guy running towards me. It’s Fritz, and there is all this white stuff hanging out of his ears,” Teti said.

“He gives me this hug and he’s crying. Tears are streaming down his face. He gave these guys this pre-race talk and he was so nervous, he went up into a bathroom. He didn’t want to hear the race. He couldn’t watch it. So he shoved toilet paper in his ears so he couldn’t hear.

“When they won, he comes down and he sees that they won, and he had tears streaming down his face. That shows someone that cares. He loves those guys. They love him. He’s straight up with them. He gives useful information,” Teti said. “He’s one of those guys that I wish I could be like. I don’t know how he can be so upbeat, so positive and always be right.”

Hagerman said his work in rowing began in the 1960s in New Zealand when he was teaching medical school there. New Zealand rowing asked him to help them “develop a team concept,” for selection and training of their athletes.

Hagerman tested their athletes to determine their capabilities for physical performance, measuring oxygen consumption and the level of lactate each rower produced during various workouts.

The information was used not only to help select the best possible athletes, but to help the coaches develop training plans based on the results.

“I didn’t know anything about rowing, nothing,” Hagerman said. “We started putting things together and it seemed to have worked.”

While Hagerman formally began working with the U.S. National Team leading up to the 1972 Olympic Games, Teti said he was involved in testing for the Penn coxed four that competed in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

Since 1972, Hagerman has tested the majority of the U.S. athletes who have rowed at the world championships and Olympic Games.

"Over the past 40 years, there is not a national team or Olympic team that Fritz has not helped. U.S. coaches and athletes have come and gone since 1972, but Fritz has been a constant. Fritz's passion for and dedication to USRowing, its athletes and coaches is unparalleled," said Curtis Jordan USRowing High Performance Director.

The award is named after Jack Kelly, a four-time Olympian from Philadelphia and the son of John B. Kelly, Sr., a three-time Olympic champion. Despite winning three Olympic gold medals, once in the single and twice in the double, Kelly, Sr. was denied an entry in the 1920 Henley Royal Regatta in the men’s single event, the Diamond Challenge Sculls, because he had worked as a laborer. Kelly, Jr., was allowed entry into the event in 1947 and won.

Click here to view an article about Hagerman testing the London eight.

Click here to see past award winners.

About USRowing
USRowing is a nonprofit organization recognized by the United States Olympic Committee as the governing body for the sport of rowing in the United States. USRowing has 60,000 individual members and 1,200 member organizations – offering rowing programs for all. USRowing’s official suppliers include Concept 2, Croker Oars, Filippi, JanSport, Nielsen Kellerman, Vespoli and WinTech. USRowing also receives generous support from the National Rowing Foundation and its corporate sponsors and partners ANXeBusiness Corp, Boathouse Sports, Citi Women, Connect-A-Dock, EMCVenues, Ludus Tours and Rudy Project. The USRowing National Team program relies on strong partnerships to enable continued success. New opportunities exist to support the teams through the next quadrennial, culminating with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. America Rows, which supports diversity in rowing, and the USRowing adaptive programs also benefit from corporate support. For more information, visit www.usrowing.org.
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