At nearly six-foot four, Ted Nash was a towering figure. But his height was just a small part of his presence in the sport of rowing over so many decades. There are his Olympica medals, of course: in the coxless four: gold in 1960; bronze in 1964. But he actually participated in 11 Olympic teams, coaching in nine of those games and numerous national and world championships over more than a half century.
On the sad news of his death July 3 at the age of 88, I’d like to remember and celebrate what Ted Nash did for women’s rowing. In the early 1960s, a young, talented rower, Joanne Wright Iverson, was hellbent on making women’s rowing an Olympic sport. Joanne was then a member of the Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club, one of the few women’s rowing organizations in the country committed to competitive racing.
But there were no national women’s competitions until 1961, the year that President John F. Kennedy established a Commission on the Status of Women. That year, the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen (NAAO) for the first time agreed to allow one Women’s National Single Championship race during its 87th annual regatta in Philadelphia. There were only two entrants: Joanne Wright and Ted Nash’s wife Aldina.
Ted, who had just come off his gold medal Olympic win and was training at Seattle’s Lake Washington Rowing Club, was enthusiastic about women’s rowing. He and Ed Lickiss, founder of the Lake Merritt Rowing Club in Oakland, California, were bringing women into their clubs and organizing races between each other. By 1963, with Ted, Ed, and Joanne all recognizing the need to ratchet up women’s competition if women were ever to row their way into the Olympics, the three established the National Women’s Rowing Association. (NWRA).
Through the late 1960s, women finally raced each other in growing numbers, ultimately convincing the International Olympic Committee to give women’s rowing a berth at the 1976 Montreal games.
Joanne has a story she tells about Ted in her book An Obession with Rings. It’s one he told her. On the plane headed to the 1960 Olympics, Ted was berated for his support of women’s crew by an official of the NAAO, which had no women members. Women simply didn’t race. The college regattas –the IRA and the Dad Vail–had no women members. And no high school women had ever competed in the Stotesbury Regatta, formed in Philadelphia in 1927.
So this NAAO official asks Nash’s seatmate on the plane to move so he can sit down and talk. “You just stop this shit with the women,” he told Nash. “You’re screwing things up.” After Nash’s Olympic victory, a delegation from the NAAO visited him in person to say he was “making too many waves.” Nash told Iverson: “They reminded me that the governing body was the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen not Oarswomen.”
When Nash moved to Philadelphia to coach freshman crew at Penn in 1964, he also began coaching women at Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club.
Others will have much to say about Ted Nash’s energy, enthusiasm, precision, and dedication. Perhaps knowing his loss was coming, Rowing News wrote this profile of him last January. It quoted Bruce Ibbetson, stroke of the men’s eight during the 1980s: “Ted made it possible to do things your body said you could not do. He trained us, seemingly every day, to push beyond each of our breaking points.”
And former Penn coxswain John Chatzky said, “There wasn’t a person there who didn’t love him, hadn’t been influenced by him, or whose life wasn’t better for having known him. He is magical and unique, and all whose paths had crossed with his were lucky indeed.”
Tributes are pouring in. To read more stories about this icon, see this today at US Rowing.