Aug. 30, 2011
UW Athletics Hall of Fame
Every day this week leading up to the induction ceremony, one of the seven members of the University of Wisconsin Athletics Hall of Fame class of 2011 will be celebrated.
The Hall of Fame induction is Friday, Sept. 2 outside the Camp Randall Memorial Sports Center. The 6 p.m. ceremony is open to the public. Today's celebrant is former Wisconsin women's rower and head coach, Sue Ela.
One of the founding members of the women's rowing club in 1972, a member of the 1975 national championship varsity eight and head coach for nearly 20 years, Sue Ela is one of the most influential figures in Wisconsin's rich rowing history.
While women's rowing had been a sport on the Wisconsin campus since 1895 it wasn't until 1972 that the women's rowing club was founded, thanks in large part to three students, including Ela. In 1974 women's rowing was one of 12 sports that became part of the newly established UW women's athletic department.
In 1975 Ela was a member of the national championship varsity eight boat, which was the first national championship for the UW women's athletic department.
After two years as an assistant coach, Ela was named head coach of the women's rowing program in 1979, a post she held until 1997. As head coach, Ela continued the tradition she established as a student by leading her boats to several national championships. In 1986 she co-coached the varsity eight to a national championship with assistant Jane Ludwig.
In 1996 UW won the Sprague Trophy for the best overall team performance at the 1996 Collegiate National Championship, as all of Ela's boats medaled.
After retiring in 1997, she returned as interim head coach in the spring of 2004, during which the program made their first NCAA championship appearance since 1999.
During her storied tenure as head coach the varsity crews finished in the nation's top four a total of 12 times. the varsity eight was a perfect 26-0 at the Midwest Rowing Championship, and UW boats won two titles at the Eastern Sprints, the San Diego Crew Classic and the Head of the Charles.
Ela was a prominent coach on the national scene as well, coaching the United States women's lightweight team to their first ever gold medal at the Canadian Henley Rowing Championship in 1981. While at Wisconsin she coached 10 Olympians and 13 national team members.
Ela was named UW rowing's "Woman of the Year" in 1989 and the Eastern Association of Women's Rowing Colleges Coach of the Year in 1995. She was inducted into the Madison Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008.