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The Book of Ted

BY ANDY ANDERSON
PHOTO COURTESY

What? Another book about a legendary rowing coach? (Does everyone who coaches for more than 50 years become, ipso facto, “legendary?”) I’ve added books on Harry Parker, Thor Nilsen, and Jürgen Grobler to my Amazon cart in the past two years. Here I go again. The Book of Ted, a compendium of the greatest stories about Ted Nash, will arrive shortly, timed to coincide with the Head of the Charles. It’s going to be one that you’ll want to own.

It’s neither a biography, nor a psychological study of a master motivator, nor an attempt to determine where Nash fits into the pantheon of successful rowing coaches. Seàn Colgan has done the rowing world a great service by stepping away from such traditional forms of appreciation of great men by focusing entirely on stories told by men and women who were coached by Nash. There are no attempts at interpreting the stories, no putting them into historical context. Just pure unadulterated storytelling. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll never be bored. Did he really say that? Do that?

Colgan knows his subject well. He rowed at Penn for Nash and then trained at Vesper, next door to Ted’s Penn Athletic Club on Boathouse Row in Philadelphia. Colgan was in the 1980 U.S. eight that did not get to race in the Olympics because of the US-led boycott of the Moscow Games. Ted Allison Nash was a devoted godfather to Colgan’s first child, Eimile Allison Colgan. 

In one of the classic non-rowing stories, Colgan writes, “After Ted left Penn in 1983, I hired him as a troubleshooter for a shipping company I ran. One time in Hong Kong, the unloading of a ship full of fertilizer was going very slowly. The dockworkers had to fill up 100-pound bags from a huge pile on the ship, and they were slow. Every day a ship sits at the dock costs $10,000, so you want to unload, reload, and sail.

“Ted flew in, saw how leisurely they were working, and went out and bought T-shirts for everyone, four colors. He divided all the dockworkers into teams, assigned each team a color, and told them there would be a cash prize for the team that filled up the most bags. He blew a whistle, they started working. With his push, they went from 1,000 tons a day to almost 5,000. Competition works.”

Ted Nash died last year at the age of 88. Colgan contacted 200 people, most of whom had rowed for Nash. About 100 responded, contributing the pieces that make up the book. Colgan, channeling Nash, appointed a few people captains and asked them to oversee the contributions. “It was a cooperative effort; so many people wanted to help memorialize this man.” Through the years, there have been writers who wanted to do a biography of Ted, but Colgan decided that simply collecting the stories about him would serve to burnish Nash’s memory best. “People were starting not to believe them; I wanted grandchildren to hear about this iconic coach.”

And so we have the Ted Nash who dove into the Schuylkill to save a young man who had driven his car into the river. Ted Nash the Special Forces operative who might at any moment have his Zulu number called and have to zoom off. Ted Nash who listened to the head of the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen (the forbearer of USRowing) admonish him that “you’re making a big mistake with all this women’s rowing stuff,” and Nash pulling out a tape recorder and asking him to repeat what he had just said.

Although TAN is primarily known for coaching men, he was one of the founders in 1962 of the National Women’s Rowing Association. In 1966, he coached the first NWRA national champion eight. Throughout his whole career, if you would work hard for him, he would work hard for you. He treasured loyalty, and there are tributes from a number of the women he coached.

There are also great photos of the man and his crews through the years—even, yes, the famous short shorts. I asked Colgan if he had any final words about his lifelong friend. He thought a moment and said, “I think he meant so much to so many people because he always put the individual first. He was completely dedicated to the oarsmen who rowed for him, not to the organizations that directed rowing.”I won’t be the first to buy a copy of The Book of Ted—there are 1,500 preorders on Amazon—but I’ll be at the Head of the Charles to get my copy. If you like mythic tales, I’ll see you in line.

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