Fritz Hagerman Wins the 2013 Jack Kelly Award

Dr. Fritz Hagerman. Photo: USRowing

On 29 October U.S.Rowing announced the winner of this year’s Jack Kelly Award: Dr. Fritz Hagerman. Sadly, the following day, 30 October, Dr. Hagerman passed away. Read his obituary here. On the 29th USRowing wrote,

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 go 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, an 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 ten 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 [would have been] honored at the 2013 Golden Oars Awards Dinner on 20 November 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. He 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 (bronze in the single sculls in 1956) from Philadelphia, who was the son of John B. Kelly, Sr., an Olympic champion in the single sculls in 1920 and two-time champion in the double sculls in 1920 and 1924 (both times with his cousin, Paul Costello). In 1920, Kelly Sr., was denied to enter the Diamond Challenge Sculls, the single sculls event at Henley Royal Regatta, because of two reasons: he had worked as a brick-layer and the Henley Stewards had put a ban on rowers from Vesper Boat Club since they had “misbehaved” at an earlier regatta. His son, Kelly, Jr., entered the Diamonds in 1946, 1947 and 1949, winning the Cup in 1947 and 1949.

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