Sue Ela – CRCA Hall of Fame Class of 2008
Sue Ela’s 26-year association with the Wisconsin women’s rowing program spanned from its creation though some of its greatest moments.
Ela began as a UW student athlete from 1972-1975. Along with Kathy Wutke, Ela is considered a founder of women’s rowing at Wisconsin – first as a club sport in the late fall of 1971, and through the transition of the sport to varsity in the fall of 1974. As an undergraduate, Ela rowed in the club’s first eight in the spring of 1972 against the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Boat Club; she finished her undergraduate rowing career as member of Wisconsin’s first varsity eight, winning the National Women’s Rowing Association (NWRA) National Championship in 1975.
Ela went on to serve three years as an assistant rowing coach before taking over as head coach in 1979. She was the first female head coach for Wisconsin rowing, and she was the first full time head coach for the program as well. She held the head coaching position for 18 years, wrapping up her career in the spring of 1997.
As a UW assistant coach, her novice crews went undefeated in three years of competition. During her tenure as head coach, the Badger varsity openweight eight won the 1986 national championship, and posted top-five national finishes in 12 of 18 seasons. Her varsity eight crews went unbeaten at the Midwest Rowing Championships and won two Eastern Sprints titles, as well as a Head of the Charles and San Diego Crew Classic championship. She led the varsity eight to the PricewaterhouseCoopers Cup as winner of the College Eights Race at the 1995 Women’s Henley Regatta.
As the coach of the first U.S. National Women’s Lightweight Team that won gold at the 1981 Canadian Henley Rowing Championship, Ela was honored by USRowing as the “Woman of the Year” in 1989. She was also recognized as the 1995 Eastern Association of Women’s Rowing Colleges (EAWRC) Coach of the Year. She was inducted into the Madison Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.
In 2004, Ela returned to the water as UW’s interim head coach and directed the Badgers to their second NCAA championships and first since 1999.
In her career, Ela coached 11 of Wisconsin’s 14 Olympic women’s rowers and started a coaching tree that reaches from Stanford and Texas to Iowa.