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Remembering Blake Nordstrom, ‘82

“In a sport like this – hard work, not much glory – there must be some beauty which ordinary men can’t see, but extraordinary men do.” – George Yeoman Pocock

Blake Nordstrom, class of ‘82, Washington Rowing Steward and former Rowing Steward Chair, passed away on January 2, 2019, just months after being diagnosed with lymphoma.

Since joining the Stewards in the early 90’s, Blake was a constant presence in the program. As the years progressed, he became increasingly active, but always behind the scenes. He was co-chair of the Stewards from 2013-2015; generously supporting efforts to enhance the program’s communications, all while relieving the coaches of administrative and maintenance duties so they could spend more time with the student-athletes.

His pride and joy at the shellhouse was the Husky II. In 2011 he took it upon himself to rescue the classic coaching launch, at the time considered unsalvageable as the bottom had rotted through. Wrapped in plastic and slowly towed to Larsson Marine on Lake Union, Blake oversaw the complete re-building and restoration, spanning two years and countless hours of detailing. Re-launched on May 3, 2014, the Husky II is again the flagship of the Washington Rowing program.

Blake understood the importance of connecting our past with the present and the future. The Husky II was just one of a number of large projects he undertook to connect the generations, and to make the program better.  But mostly, Blake was tirelessly dedicated to improving the lives of our student-athletes. He did that for decades, and all of us at Washington Rowing are better for it.

Excerpts from Michael Callahan’s eulogy delivered at Blake’s memorial service on January 12, 2019.

“Washington Rowing is a tradition-rich, forward-thinking and innovative rowing program that highly values the physical, mental and spiritual attributes of a rowing university, where all of our student-athletes thrive, and become the best rowers, and best people, they can be.

That’s my elevator speech . . . Blake made me write that!  It is one of the first things Blake told me I needed back in 2007 when I got this job. But that wasn’t all. He took me under his wing when others were asking why I was hired to lead this program. He believed in me.

He was like all good coaches: tough on me, unrelenting, demanding, detail oriented, encouraging, inspirational, positive, high energy and knew what he stood for. And he always had my back. He was especially supportive when it got hard . . . almost upset if we didn’t lean on him when things were getting overwhelming. He wanted that burden off of me and he wanted it on him. That was who he was.”

…….

“We talked about growing the sport and having a vision for the future. ‘What seeds are we planting today that will pay dividends later. How can we reach further to be more inclusive?’ With his influence, we added more women to our Board of Rowing Stewards, and worked to get women alumnae involved at every turn. I speak for Yaz today – our women’s coach – who said this: ‘I was overwhelmed when I came here two years ago to see the support from the alumni here. It is like nothing else in rowing. Blake was one of the very first to reach out to me, and I will never forget what he did for me, or the energy he brought to the team, whenever he was here.’”

…….

“Last year we needed a furniture upgrade for our lounge upstairs (at Conibear Shellhouse). Blake said ‘I’ll do it.’ But that’s not the story. The story is this:  just almost casually he said ‘do you want my single to put in there?’ But this is no ordinary single. It is the last single shell George Pocock ever made. And I said absolutely.  So, if you ever visit the shellhouse, look to your right when you enter the main doors. That’s Blake’s single shell, floating perfectly above the students studying there.

And if you do that, keep going. Because there is not one part of our building that does not have the Nordstrom touch. It is everywhere. And every time I get into the Husky II now, I know he is there with me.

Blake’s spirit will live on with us. He so highly valued rowing, and his teammates, and our current students, and all of the tradition we have at Washington. And he valued me, and he believed in me, and I will never forget him.”

Excerpts from Eric Cohen’s eulogy:

“I met Blake on our first day at Washington in September of 1978 standing in a line—with 100 other freshmen—on the docks of Conibear Shellhouse. We were told to wear shorts and a white t-shirt, and a coach came by and wrote “Cohen,” in permanent marker, on the front of my t-shirt and then wrote “Nordstrom” on his. And we were all the same, all of us beginning our journey together as the class of ’82.

Rowing at Washington is a brotherhood. It is steeped in tradition . . . a tradition that—over the decades—has created this unique culture in athletics. We learned to row in Old Nero, practiced and raced in Pocock cedar shells, and lived together on freshman row. We got up at 5:30 in the morning, launched our shells in the pitch black, and spent hours in the rain on Lake Washington without another soul in sight and only the sound of oars lapping at the water.”

…….

“There is a spirit found in rowing that transcends athletics; an intangible quality of eight rowers striking in harmony, mirroring motion, trusting implicitly in each other. George Pocock said: ‘It isn’t enough for the muscles of a crew to work in unison. Their hearts and minds must also be as one. Eight hearts must beat as one.’

Blake knew every part of that. And he valued it as a metaphor for successful teamwork throughout his life, and he wanted to share it. That is what rowing did for him, and what he did for rowing.   And although he wouldn’t want me to say it, his impact on the program here at Washington was as big as any, and will be felt for generations to come.”

Blake Nordstrom was an extraordinary man. Washington Rowing extends our deepest sympathies to Blake’s family, classmates and friends.

 

Video: Missing Man Row

 

When we lose a member, the team continues. But in their honor, we row without them, and we find the swing for them. Watch the video.