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A Lifetime of Stories – Ted Nash Receives USRowing Medal at 2013 Golden Oars

by Ed Moran, ed@usrowing.org | Nov 25, 2013
There are no short stories about the man whose life wound through a series of adventures and accomplishments that included being an Army test pilot, a scuba diver, a commodities trader and finally to a career in rowing during which he won two Olympic medals, brought the University of Pennsylvania crew team to collegiate success, participated in 11 Olympic Games and helped the United States win a total of 48 medals in international competition.
It has been said that when it comes to Ted Nash, there is no such thing as a small story.

Ask him where he was born and he’ll tell a tale of how his father was traveling with his mother from Canada one morning and landed in Massachusetts when she went into labor, got a birth certificate that said he was born in Melrose, and then continued on to their home in California.

Ask him about his first experience in rowing and the story goes from being an eight year-old boy watching steelhead salmon begin their migration in the Carmel River, to noticing a man sitting in the middle of the action in a racing shell, to first learning how to scull the boat and then how to fly cast from that shell and getting a fish to pull him across the water.

There are no short stories about the man whose life wound through a series of adventures and accomplishments that included being an Army test pilot, an Army guerrilla warfare instructor, a scuba diver, a commodities trader and finally to a career in rowing during which he won two Olympc medals, brought the University of Pennsylvania crew team to collegiate success, participated in 11 Olympic Games and helped the United States win a total of 48 medals in international competition.

Now, at 81, he has added another chapter to his astonishing book. For all of his contributions to the sport, Nash was awarded the 2013 USRowing Medal, given in recognition to a member of the rowing community in the United States who has accomplished extraordinary feats in rowing. It is the highest honor USRowing can bestow.

Nash was honored at the Golden Oars Awards Dinner on Wednesday, November 20, at the New York Athletic Club in New York City, alongside his wife, colleagues and teammates.

“When I was told that this might be a situation where I would get that award, all I could do was think of Stan (Pocock),” Nash said.

Pocock was last year’s award winner and Nash helped him up onto the stage during the award ceremony. Pocock was also one of Nash’s first coaches and he said he was in the process of trying to “do something else” to recognize Pocock when he learned about the award.

“So it was a very strange thing,” said Nash. “I didn’t have any time to think about it because we were in the process of doing something else for Stan. Having helped him on the stage last time at the New York Athletic Club, all I could do was think of that and later on, I thought this was just wonderful and I very much appreciate it.”

Nash receiving the USRowing Medal is just another highlight in a lifetime of highlights and big stories. Nash was officially born in Melrose, Massachusetts. But it was just a brief stop and a symbolic start to a long and busy life.

“It is true I was born there, but it was en route,” Nash said. “There was a time when it was in question, if it was Melrose or not. But it went into the files as Melrose. My dad was a hydroplane race driver for the Firestone rubber company and he traveled all the time. We came down from Canada that day and there was some question about it being legal, because they said we couldn’t be in two countries at the same time.”

The family home was in Carmel, California, and as a young boy, Nash loved to watch the beginnings of the salmon migration on the Carmel River, which is where he got his first experience in rowing.

And yes, that was another Nash adventure.

“I was eight years old and Carmel has a little intermittent river and when the tide is right and the time and the weather is right, the steelhead salmon break through the barrier and go upstream and everybody comes down and fishes.”

Nash was watching one afternoon and, “I noticed that there was a man sitting on a long, sharp boat. It looked like a log that he had whittled down and when I got closer to it, I realized I knew the man. He lived not far from me and he was in a racing single.

“He was just sitting out there and staying afloat, not moving, because these fish were jumping out of the water hitting the boat. I was just watching and laughing and he saw me there and he waved. I don’t know if he was just being kind, but I found a way to wade through the current and wade to where he was and he asked me if I would like to try it.”

Nash’s neighbor then spent many afternoons teaching young Ted how to scull, and also how to fly fish from the boat and get a tow from one of the big fish.

“It was the most fun thing,” said Nash. “You get a fish and the fish pulls you across the water. It was not one horsepower, it was one steelhead salmon power, and it was so much fun. I laughed for hours.”

Nash got away from rowing for a while and played baseball and football at Carmel High School, but began rowing again in college, first at Boston University and then at the University of Washington.

After college, he served in both the Army and Army Reserves. He was a test pilot, an aerobatics instructor for the Korean, Indian and Pakistani military, an anti-guerilla warfare instructor and officer candidate school tactical officer for the Army.

While still in the military, he rowed under Pocock at the Lake Washington Rowing Club and competed on two Olympic teams, winning the gold in the four in 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and then bronze in the four at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Nash eventually began coaching at the University of Pennsylvania in 1965 as the freshman coach and was the men’s varsity coach from 1969 to 1983. While continuing his rowing career as an athlete and coach, Nash worked as a commodities trader in Asia.

He was a fixture and an everyday, booming voice on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia at Penn and then for 30 years at the Penn A.C., where he coached and developed both men and women’s international champions.

As an international coach, he helped guide crews to Olympic silver medals in 1976, 1988 and 1992, and assisted Mike Teti in the men’s eight victory in 2004. Pete Cipollone was the coxswain of that crew and remembers Nash’s role as assistant coach and motivator.

“Having him around completed the puzzle,” said Cipollone, who serves as president of USRowing’s Board of Directors. “Ted was always there to lend a hand or be helpful or supportive or to just be there to talk about some concept that Mike was talking about in a totally different way and it made everything more accessible. And when you’re getting a pep talk from two guys with three Olympic medals, it is pretty motivating.

“When I started coxing, Ted was this whirlwind of action, but also this incredible commanding presence. I was just 13, but there were all these elite athletes there, these guys that were like 6’5 and when Ted spoke everybody froze.”

One of those athletes was eight-time national team member and two-time Olympic medalist Tom Bohrer. Bohrer, who is now the men’s head coach at BU, credits Nash for everything he has done in rowing and much more.

“Ted is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had, but also I think of Ted as a second father,” said Bohrer.

Bohrer said that he was just out of college rowing and had attended one of Nash’s camps and was living in Melbourne, Florida and trying to stay in rowing. “Ted came down with a group from Penn A.C., and one of the guys in the four was injured and he asked me to fill in.”

At the end of that week, Nash sat Bohrer down and told him, “This is what I think you can do and this is how you’re going to do it,”Bohrer recalled. “Once he said that, I was on board. He just got me hooked in. He had a plan for me, and personally, I was kind searching for someone in my life like that. He put me on a pathway to doing really wonderful things in my life and I am really thankful to Ted for that.”

Bohrer moved to Philadelphia, where Nash found him a job and a place to live and began molding him into one of the top athletes in history. Bohrer said he spent his time with Nash in awe of his energy and commitment to all of the rowers he coached.

Nash would run summer camps with sometimes as many as 90 athletes, from intermediate to elite, and that every one of them mattered to Nash. “Ted is one of those guys that attracts people and he makes everybody feel important, whether you’re a really good rower or someone just trying to make it.

“He was working full time and coaching in the morning and at night. I said one time, ‘you’re going crazy coaching all the time, you’re working full time and coaching all these guys.’ I asked him why he did it. I told him a lot of these guys aren’t going to make it to the national team or anything like that and he told me, ‘If I can give these guys the experience of being in this group of athletes, that are strong-minded people, and motivated people, if I can get them to where they competed at Olympic trials, or won the coxed pair at national championships, or something like that, those are the things they are going to remember.’

“That really stuck with me,” Bohrer said. “People always think about the big picture, especially at the elite level of rowing, of winning the world championship, making the national team, or going to the Olympics, but Ted thought about everybody.”

Nash remembers that conversation and said that his motivation is watching others succeed and seeing the joy accomplishment brings.

“It’s a wonderful game,” Nash said. “If you have that opportunity to be able to help somebody toward their goals, and to see the happiness when it happens, even the most blasé athlete will get incredibly excited when they accomplish something they have worked on for so long, it’s a wonderful moment.”

The list of accomplishments is long and storied for Nash and he has trouble defining which stand out the most for him. Certainly one of those moments was winning the gold medal in 1960 and participating with a group of guys he holds in his heart to this day.

Two of that crew, Dan Ayrault and Rusty Wailes, have since passed away. The two remaining are Nash and John Sayre. “One of the main reasons I went to help get Lake Washington Rowing Club going was that John Sayre was there and rowed for Washington and beat the Russians when he was in college stroking the boat.

“I was so attracted by the fact that he was so physical, so strong, such a force that I really wanted to row with him,” Nash said. “We won the gold medal in Rome and that boat was as close to being as good as you could possibly want one to be.”

And about the rest of is accomplishments, Nash said: “You have to be very careful with that question. There are always facets in anybody’s life, especially as you get older, that stand out. How could you not say if you won the Olympics that that was not a wonderful thing? Or your family, your wife had a baby, how could that not be an amazing thing?

“If you were able to take people that the camp didn’t want to select, and they had another year, and they developed so well that they won at the world championships in the straight four in Nottingham, England in 1986, how could that not be a great moment?

“But you can’t really pick one,” he said. “I can get as happy looking at the pictures of all the crews and thinking about all their successes. So I don’t know how to answer that except there were many, many wonderful moments and they involved a lot of fine young men and women.”
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