UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: Reunion stirs memories for Hall of Famer Ela

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inboatcoachaction.jpgDespite her success as a rower and women's crew coach, Sue Ela wasn't sure how to react to the news that she was one of seven new inductees to the UW Athletic Hall of Fame.

"I'm deeply honored," Ela said, "but that was a real shocker; it took me by surprise."

She didn't have to guess on how her former rowers might react to her induction because many of them were in Madison recently for the 25th anniversary of the 1986 national championship season.

"People don't change much in 25 years," Ela said. "They looked the same, they acted the same, and they sounded the same. But the stories definitely got better.

"That's one of the reasons why I encourage reunions because as you get farther and farther out, the stories get more elaborate and spirited, and there's more contention about what really happened."

Ela shared many of her memories from that winning boat with Jane Ludwig, who shared the coaching responsibilities - out of necessity. Ela, who is married to the first UW women's rowing coach, Jay Mimier, was pregnant at the time.

"I remember meeting with Jane, our freshman coach, at the Union Terrace," Ela recalled. "That's where I spilled the beans and let her know that I was pregnant.

"She was excited for me and then she said, 'What are you going to do, Sue?'

"This was new territory. No one had been in this position before; no one had been in my shoes before - a pregnant woman in the athletic department. There was no such thing as maternity leave.

"So I recruited Jane to coach the team at the point when I couldn't anymore. The doctor said I couldn't travel in the spring. I was due April 17, and my daughter, Julia, didn't come until May 1.

"While I pushed papers and did stuff at home, Jane took the team on the road and coached them and did a fabulous job. She was a great coach in her own right.

"She had been one of my freshmen - one of my first rowers - and she had the spirit that we think of when we think of the Badger rowing program.

"Looking back on that season, we had the best of both worlds. If there hadn't been someone like Jane to step in and do the job, it would have been real sad for me because it was a culminating year.
"We had six seniors in our boat, four in the junior varsity boat. A lot of them went on and rowed internationally. It was just a great bunch of kids.

"Jane and I both laughed at the memories. When you look back on those years, you realize that sometimes the early years are the best years because everyone is learning from everyone else."

Ela said that Jane Ludwig is now a social worker at the Veterans Hospital in Madison. Her daughter is going to be rowing at the University of Minnesota as an invited walk-on.

Ela's daughter, Julia, rowed for one year at Iowa before transferring to UW. She didn't row for the Badgers but she got her degree here and is going back to school in the fall to become a teacher.

Ela's son, Mike, will be a freshman at the UW. Since leaving coaching, Ela has been heavily involved in fundraising as the Booster Club president at Madison La Follette High School.

Many of Ela's former rowers have children in the sport.

Moreover, one of her former coxswains, Yasmin Farooq, has enjoyed great success as the head coach of Stanford's women's rowing program. She's won her own national title with the Cardinal.

Another former UW coxswain, Kim Santiago, has been involved with the UW Alumni Association and had a hand in bringing the Thai Pavilion to Olbrich Gardens.

"Modern technology - Facebook and emails - has helped keep people connected a little better than in the past," Ela said. "We're hoping the '86 reunion will be a springboard ..."

Or a launching point to generate momentum for the 2012 reunion which will celebrate the 40th anniversary of women's rowing at Wisconsin. Ela's goal is to "unify the program" to a higher degree.

And she will get the chance to do so as a UW Hall of Famer.

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