Sculling coaches remember Norm Graf

As we prepare to embark on the 2019 sculling season at Craftsbury, we asked our coaches to share remembrances of Norm Graf, legendary rowing coach and Craftsbury’s sculling director from 2003-2012. Norm passed away last fall at the age of 92.

My relationship with Norm Graf spanned 5 decades. Whether he was Norm or Coach depended on the context of our interaction. Likewise, he inhabited many roles: mentor, motivator, confidant, friend, role model, antagonist, professional foil, father figure, innovator, and keeper of the rowing spirit. Words like these describe not only my experiences with Norm but also the experiences of countless others who were lucky enough to have known him. His influence on the Craftsbury Sculling Program was timely and profound. His character, insights, commitment to excellence, and overall demeanor created an expectation and level of professionalism that has become the standard for the sculling program that we enjoy today. Norm is iconic and will not be forgotten. – Ric Ricci

Norm had this distinctive grace and way of looking at you, seeing you. After a challenging coaching session, he gently took me aside and asked how things were as he’d picked up some quiet body language. That’s when Norm told me that women were tougher than men gave them credit for. The right words at the right time from someone I greatly respected – his words sincere and forthright. Another marvelous memory of Norm – his infectious laugh and laughing so much with him that you ended up gasping for breath, ribs sore. – Maura Conron

Over the span of 20 years, beginning my first year in college running through my late 30s, Norm was a beloved mentor and friend. His influence on my personal and professional development was extraordinary. Professionally, as a teacher, leader, and coach he was exacting in his expectations, uncompromising in his standards, and inspirational in his messaging. Personally, as a friend, (grand)father-figure, and partner-in-crime, he was hilarious in his repartee, joyful in his socializing, and a master at pouring wine. Since his death, I find myself regularly recalling his most-familiar, habitual mannerisms: his dramatic throat clearing before a declaration or command; his tendency to bark names at a shocking volume (I was never Kevin, but rather KEVIN); his Marceau-level pantomiming of an aspect of the rowing stroke; his radiant smile as he shared bottles of his homemade wine; his squinting eyes and a hand covering his belly as he convulsed with laughter. Norm Graf; a man in full.  – Kevin MacDermott

Norm was a magnet. Where he was, I was drawn to. Whether it was the launch, the lawn in front of Tamarack with Pattie, a table at wine and cheese: his presence was a comfort. I was very lucky to receive his mentorship as a sculler, a coach, and a man. Those moments at wine and cheese will stay with me forever. In between socializing with campers, picking right up wherever we left off last, me as a sponge, soaking Norm’s wisdom up, one conversation at a time.  – Ed Slater

What I will always remember about Norm is how gracious he was, and what an attentive host. Making sure that the non-sculling spouses at Craftsbury’s camps were entertained and having a good time was something he attended to without fail. Whenever I went by his room at the Outdoor Center after a long day at the waterfront, he would invariably ask “would you like a glass of wine?” and if he could see or sense more than baseline fatigue he would add “or maybe vodka?” Norm loved dogs, and his own talent for picking up on the moods and difficulties of others and knowing when to offer a kind word, a relevant story, or just to be silent and present for you seemed to reflect a canine sensibility, something that he shared with his black Labrador, Pattie – not that she ever offered any words or anecdotes – they were as well-matched, temperamentally, as man and dog ever were.  – Troy Howell

Looking back on all the good times and years I spent with Norm at Craftsbury – on the water, in the coach boat, or at morning coffee –  I reflect on how he made a strong impact on me as a sculler; he helped me nail down my bladework and “spit the watermelon seed out” to catch acceleration after the release. Every stroke I take on the water has a little bit of Norm’s voice in my ear. When coaching with Norm, and as his assistant director in the early days of his leadership, he was incredibly supportive of my development as a coach and all my professional endeavors. He wanted all his athletes and fellow coaches to succeed. He inspired us to excel, to hold on to the passion of coaching, enjoy all the rowers we work with, and keep the fun in it. Norm filled a very special part of my life. I will think of him often and even ask his advice from time to time. – Marlene Royle

I coached with Norm at COC and Wesleyan. I also raced against his Trinity Lightweights when he was at Trinity and I at GWU. We won the race and received all the betting shirts from other teams but not Trinity. When I got to Wesleyan to coach, I met Norm and told him I never received my hard earned shirt years earlier. A month later I had the shirt.  – Amy Wilton

By far, my stand out memory was the ‘capillary’ speech he gave to the entire Trinity squad in front of Bliss Boathouse as we went into “Training” each Spring… a seemingly endless period of no alcohol designed to expand and preserve our capillaries and aerobic capacity… which we broke with great glee after returning to Campus following the Dad Vail. – Bob Reichart

I always loved Coach’s empathy. Who can forget how when watching an oarsman do an erg piece from a few paces away, he would jerk back at every stroke? It’s no wonder he went home exhausted. He must’ve done twenty pieces a day. – Andy Anderson

Row2k Tribute to Norm

Craftsbury interview with Norm from 2006

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