The Book of Ted: Excerpt from Chapter 3, ‘Ted the Tactician’ – Rowing Stories, Features & Interviews

The Book of Ted is a fascinating compilation of motivational, heartfelt, often humorous anecdotes from dozens of men and women who were coached or touched by legendary Olympic medal-winning rower and Olympic and University of Pennsylvania rowing coach Ted A. Nash (1932-2021 ). This full-color, coffee-table book features rarely seen photographs and race plans, letters, and speeches from over the decades. The Book of Ted is by Sean Colgan, who was coached by Nash for fourteen years through Penn and eight national teams and the Olympics. “Ted was never ‘just a coach;’ he was a coach of men,” says Colgan.

To many, Nash was legendary for his strength, strategy, and ferocity, but he was also a father figure, team player, and champion of the underdog; The Book of Ted explores all of these qualities: this excerpt is from Chapter 3: “Ted the Tactician.”

Bob Espeseth – Olympics ’84

We won the 1986 4- at the World Championships in Nottingham because of a large list of at least twenty circumstances that all came together. First, let me say that if the West Germans (the defending World Champs whom we beat by six inches) had known how fast we were, they would have beaten us. They were the better crew. We were lucky to have them in the heat and semi-finals. All we wanted to do was advance. We led the first 1000 meters, but then let them go through us.

Here is where Ted came in. During meetings, all five of us had a say and we agreed on each race plan, so we knew in the final what we were doing on each and every stroke of the race. Instead of dictating or trying to force things, Ted listened and worked to create a race plan that everyone had a voice in determining. It was an interesting process and had us totally committed.

The biggest disadvantage we had in 1986 was that we had not raced internationally together. The biggest advantage we had as a boat is that we had not raced internationally together (so no one really knew what we could do).

Had the Germans known we could go longer (and would not “fade” in the second 1000), then they would have adjusted things and beat us. Each of them was bigger than any of us. But, as in poker, we did not show them our cards until the very end.

Stuart Thorn – Penn ’78

It was Ted’s tradition the day after the annual Madeira Cup with Cornell in Ithaca for the team to run stadiums. Schoellkopf Stadium was curved at the top, so the longest set of steps was in the middle. Which is exactly where he put the varsity. The JV, third varsity, first freshman, and second freshman crews were arrayed on either side. Everyone had to run at the same pace, so the varsity had a lot more stairs to cover in the same interval. For the entire team, but especially for the varsity, it was a ballbuster workout. This was less than one week before the national championships and our biggest race of the year, and right after we had just had a full-out race. No letting up here.

Carter Harrison – Penn ’79

Ted was known for precision beyond what could be calculated by mortal estimation. I remember listening to him guide coxswains when his launch was off to one side of our boat, a position from which it can be difficult to judge a shell’s heading. Ted would give coxswains precise steering directions, often by half a degree.

About fifteen years ago, my son Benjamin was training for the national team. He emailed me a video of part of a practice, and his only instructions were to ensure I had the volume turned way up. I clicked on the video. He was rowing in a straight pair. Over the drone of the launch’s engine, I heard a familiar voice call, “Harrison.” I was immediately taken back to the Schuylkill. I felt as though Ted was about to give me some instruction – and I wondered if I was slumping at the finish. I sat up straight in my desk chair. Ted then continued his instructions to Benjamin: “Steer one and a half degrees to port.”

Among the many, many stories my children heard from me as they grew up, quite a number were of rowing days with Ted. When I responded to Benjamin’s email to let him know I appreciated the video and hearing Ted’s voice, he replied, “I thought maybe you were exaggerating about him, but he’s just like you said.”

Steve Christiansen – Penn ’79

It was 1979, our senior year. Our varsity results had not been great: we beat Princeton to start and then lost every race thereafter. Our last race against Cornell offered a chance to finish the season with a win. As captain, I was assigned the bunk next to Ted’s in the athletic dorm, a single room filled with twenty bunk beds. I had never fully focused on how frenetic Ted was with his yellow pads, pens, and constant tinkering. He had this large, loopy handwriting, and his notes were so direct and earnest that when you got one it was a thing to cherish. The big man had taken some time out to think about you.

Ted sat on his bunk jotting notes throughout the night. He even had a headlamp he would turn on to write something else down. If he slept at all, he must have napped, but I never saw it. The next day we won by about a foot, and of course ran stadium stairs afterwards, in the great Penn tradition. I have never come across anybody since with Ted’s energy and enthusiasm.

Curt Kaufmann – Penn ’72

I was one of a handful who rowed for Ted for all four years at Penn, as our freshman year coincided with Ted’s last year as freshman coach. Ted’s real genius at Penn was his recruiting abilities. The man could sell the proverbial refrigerator to an Eskimo. I went to a Catholic high school just outside the Detroit city limits. No one had ever gone to Penn, or any other Ivy League school for that matter; to my knowledge, no one had even gone to school on the East Coast.

One day our admissions director showed me a letter from Ted. To this day I don’t know how he found my school: this was way before computers and databases. The letter asked if the AD had any suitable candidates to send to Penn to row. Our high school did not have a rowing program. I had never even heard of rowing.

The AD asked if I was interested, and I was, to say the least. The summer of ’67 had seen not-so-peaceful protests in Detroit, as well as in several other cities around the country. I could hear gunfire from my house. We were under blackout conditions at night and instructed to stay away from the windows. Before the opportunity to go to Penn presented itself, I was planning on commuting to the University of Detroit.

I did a campus visit, and Ted was still interested. My grades weren’t all that good and I wasn’t an all-state athlete. Ted must have had some pull with the admissions department and seen something he liked in me.

My recruiting story isn’t unique. Penn crew was fairly successful before Ted came on the scene, but once he commanded the recruiting duties, it skyrocketed. Four of the nine people in our ’72 IRA champion boat had not rowed in high school. We used to call ourselves “instant oarsmen”: all you had to do was add water and Ted.

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