Old Oxford Blue Recipient of USRowing Medal of Honor

17 October 2019

By Göran R Buckhorn

USRowing announced yesterday that the organisation’s highest honour, the USRowing Medal of Honor, goes to Christopher ‘Chris’ Blackwall of Philadelphia.

USRowing writes on its website that Christopher Blackwall came from Great Britain to the United States in 1979, taking up the position as the new executive director of the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen (NAAO), then the national governing body of U.S. men’s rowing. With Blackwall at the helm, the NAAO later merged with the National Women’s Rowing Association to form USRowing.

‘Throughout his rowing career, Christopher Blackwall has held many official titles. Unofficially, he has been described as a competitor, visionary, leader, mentor, volunteer, boatmate, official, role model, friend, and gentleman,’ USRowing writes on its website.

‘I am truly shocked at the news, but at the same time, humbled and grateful to the Board of Directors of USRowing for deeming me worthy of selection as the 2019 recipient of the organization’s prestigious Medal of Honor,’ Blackwall says. ‘For 60 years, rowing has led me down many a path to adventure, challenge and fulfillment, in many places around the United States and elsewhere in the world, both on and off the water. At every juncture or location, I have experienced the joy of meeting, working with, and being inspired by countless remarkable people. Whatever I may have accomplished could never have been done without them.’

Blackwall, who was born in Kenya, began rowing at Radley College, England, at the age of 14; his stepfather had rowed in Oxford’s winning boat in the 1938 Boat Race. Attended Oxford University, Chris Blackwall rowed at six seat in the 1967 Boat Race – in front of him, at seven seat, rowed Dan Topolski, who would rise to fame as a Dark Blue coach. Oxford won the race. Blackwall is also a three-time winner at Henley Royal: the 1965 Thames Cup, 1969 Wyfold Cup and 1971 Prince Philip Cup. He was also a member of the British national team and a coordinator of the men’s national team in the 1970s.

At the 1967 Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge, Dan Topolski rowed at seven, while Chris Blackwall rowed at six (head down).

Becoming the head of the NAAO in 1979, Blackwall joined University Barge Club in Philadelphia, later becoming the club’s president. He co-founded Philadelphia Rowing Program for the Disabled (now Philadelphia Adaptive Rowing). When Blackwall stepped down from USRowing, he got involved with the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta, later becoming the head of the competition, a volunteer job he held for more than 30 years.

Among the positions Blackwall still holds in the world of rowing, he coordinates the races at the Gold Challenge Cup Foundation Regatta in Philadelphia.

Together with the recipients of this year’s awards for male and female seniors, under-23 and under-19 athletes, Blackwall will be honoured at the 2019 Golden Oars Gala on 7 November at the New York Athletic Club’s Manhattan location.

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