Carie Graves, who is absolutely revered as one of the most fierce and also fun rowers in her era and beyond, passed away due to complications from Alzheimer's disease on Sunday, December 19 2021, surrounded by her entire family. Graves was 68 years old.
Carie is survived by her son Ben; her mother Derry; and her siblings Ross (Ann), Tia (Greg), Leslie (Eric), and Alison (Bill); and many cousins, nieces, nephews and dear friends. Her father Robert Graves is deceased.
Graves was born June 27, 1953 in Madison, Wisconsin. She walked on to the University of Wisconsin women's rowing team as a sophomore in 1973, and by 1975 had helped Wisco win a national championship as well as stroked the US women's eight to a silver medal at Worlds in 1975 in the eponymous 'Red Rose Crew.'
Carie's rowing resume is long and packed with highlights; here are some peak moments at the elite level:
-1975 Worlds, silver, women's eight, stroke seat
-1976 Olympics, bronze, women's eight, six seat
-1979 Worlds, women's pair, fifth
-1980 Olympics, won gold in Lucerne over East Germany before the US Olympics boycott, women's eight
-1981 Worlds, silver, women's eight, six seat
-1983 Worlds, silver, women's eight, four seat
-1984 Olympics, gold, women's eight, four seat
Graves also won the CRASH-Bs a heap (see Carie Graves Winning C.R.A.S.H.-B.'s since 1981 and CRASH-B 2016: Hammer Sisters, set some world records on the erg, and more, including three Hall of Fame inductions:
-NRF Hall with 1976 Olympic bronze medal women's eight
-NRF Hall with the 1984 Olympic gold medal women's eight
-NRF Hall with the 1980 Olympic team
-First female inductee in the Wisconsin Athletics Hall of Fame (on which she is on the wall of fame as well per Jean Strauss, maker of Kiss the Joy: "My husband is a Wisco alum, and we were on our way into a game, when I stopped to look at the huge wall outside the stadium where the names of great players and UW athletes (about 100 of them) were engraved. At the time there was only one woman on that wall. Her name was Carie Graves...")
And of course, she literally had a book written about her, as Graves was the central figure in Red Rose Crew by Dan Boyne; read our look back at the book here: Rediscovering 'The Red Rose Crew'.
But Graves was famous even before the book; Carol Bower found rowing after seeing Carie featured in People magazine, hauling on the oar of course.
After her rowing career, Graves served as the head coach first at Radcliffe, then at Northeastern for 10 years, and then as the first head coach at the University of Texas for 16 years, from where she retired from coaching in 2014.
Carie's friends remember her intensity clearly and vividly, and this has been her legacy as an oarswoman as well - but a different portrait emerges as they shared deeper memories in recent days, that of a fun and sometimes goofy teammate.
To wit, see this story about clowning in the boats from a letter Jan Harville sent to Carie, which belies Graves's rep as 'all intensity:'
"Remember when we used to try to make each other laugh when we were rowing? And Holly (Hatton) would yell 'What is going on?' Then you would repeat what I had just said - taking credit for my jokes? Well, at least you thought it was funny!"
Carie's coaches cherished their time coaching Carie, and were not without amazement at her abilities and focus. 1984 Oympic gold medal coach Bob Ernst called her a 'true rowing goddess' and 'the apex in our country and an icon in the world;' Curtis Jordan shared a story of calling for a three-minute piece, and Carie going so hard that he was afraid she thought he had said 30 stroke piece.
Carie was also a serious family person. In the past week, in the formidable stream of memories, tributes, thanks, and shared love and grief flying around in phone calls and emails to Carie and among her family and friends Carie's teammate Kris Thorsness noted that, despite a life spent in rowing, ' the most important thing in her life was her son Ben and her family,' which personally I found to be wholly the case. Carie and I usually caught up a bit at the CRASH-Bs or NCAAs, and in Indianapolis in 2019, we started talking about rowing, as you do, but within moments Carie was telling deeply felt stories about her son Ben and her family and some of their very unique projects and passions. A few other folks joined in, and soon it was a full -blown non-rowing discussion about all kinds of things, all marked by and prodded on both by Carie's intensity - but also the enthusiasm that coursed underneath that intensity, which is the thing that I think endeared her to so many.
She wasn't merely fierce - though she was damn fierce - she was passionate. This happened almost every time we spoke over the years - even in the midst of the very most hardcore rowing scene and rowing people, you had an actual conversation with Carie. It was always a blast talking with her.
Following are remembrances from Carie's friends and teammates (for order of posting, I used college teammates, US team boatmates, Carie's coaches, and rowing friends and colleagues).
Ed, thank you for this wonderful tribute. Carie was truly an icon, a legend, and a remarkable person.
Many people you've heard from knew Carie as peers and teammates, though I initially came to know her through a different path. The first time I ever saw Carie (we didn’t really meet until years later), I was a Wisco frosh rower in the spring of 1979. It was Mills Day, that massive, three workouts in one that was held each year on the day of the spring rowing team banquet. We were on the last segment of the workout, doing sets of 100 jump squats on the deck beside the old dead water tank. We were exhausted -- after having run stadium stairs, rowed in the tank and lifted weights already that morning -- and were barely able to get ourselves off the ground.
Then, the door opened, and in walked Carie and Peggy McCarthy, wearing their USA team jackets. Nobody said a word, but we knew who they were; greatness had just strolled into the room. Of course, they paid no attention to us, instead going to chat with Sue Ela, our coach and their old teammate. Again with no word spoken, we found a reserve of energy for our jumps. We literally threw ourselves into the air, not wanting Carie and Peggy to think that we were shirking our responsibility to live up to their example. When the set was finally complete, we collapsed onto the mats, spent but also inspired by the presence of our heroes.
I cannot express what an honor and privilege it was to race with Carie in 1983 and 1984, and to be her friend in the years that followed. She lived life large in every way, and I will always remember her laughing, with her head thrown back. All women who row in the US today owe Carie a debt of gratitude for her courage, determination, dedication, and general badassedness. She showed us how it's done, and we do our best to follow that example.
Here’s another Carie story you might enjoy, which reveals her kind side:
My brother John rowed at Washington, but he was never in the top boats. Still, he loved the sport, and was the one who suggested that I go out for rowing at Wisconsin. John was a spectator at Henley one year when Carie was racing there in a four. Knowing that she had rowed at Wisconsin, he introduced himself and told her that his kid sister was a Wisco rower too. Probably thinking it was a bad pickup line, she ignored him.
At the 1984 Olympics, I told Carie this story and mentioned that John would be at the post-race picnic. Of course, she didn’t remember meeting him, but when we got to the picnic, she had me point him out to her. She walked up to him and said, “it’s John, right? Didn’t we meet at Henley?” He was so thrilled that she “remembered” him, and she never let on that she hadn’t. (I never told him, either.) It was an act of real kindness on her part.
Words are hard to find, and so many others have spoken so eloquently, but suffice to say that she leaves a legacy of power and grace.
Carie, my idol, mentor, housemate and friend--
I heard tales of you (from my brother) before I even got to UW. I was a 17-year-old freshman, it was late fall, and we were frozen or blown off the lake, on one of our interminable, famous, Wisco running workouts. This presence, this force, this aura--came up alongside me, and we talked for a good bit. You, the Senior, took me under your wing, and little did I know that a few years later we would be driving your old, green Oldsmobile (or was it a Buick?) straight through from Madison to Boston, laughing--belly-laughing--the whole way, arriving in time for a rowers' New Year's Eve party. We were housemates, with, eventually, five of us, training for an Olympics that wasn't to be. The adventures we had, the hard work, the disappointment--and the laughter, always the laughter--are the memories that I carry from that experience, all those decades ago. I'm glad we stayed in touch, saw each other at major regattas--and am especially grateful that we both made the effort to get together the last time I was in Madison, after you retired and moved to Spring Green. We always seemed to pick up right where we left off, and that day was no exception.
This picture is how I'll forever remember you and your unstoppable life force.
Rest Easy--You are eternal,
Thank you for keeping us posted. Very sad news-. Carie was just an inspiration and "over and above "in all she did, and inspired us to do. She will be greatly missed. What great times we had all our years together in college and traveling to such adventurous places for our races. Then 20 years later, Carie coming up with the great idea for us to have reunions every 5 years, but ot the normal kind, we would race in Master races together!! What fun and success we still had- and to top it off- winning the National World Master's when we were all about 50. Our 5 year Master races continued until our last Reunion in 2015, the only one we didn't actually race, but did lots of other crazy athletic feats.
Oh Carie, we will so miss you. Grave's family will be in our prayers. Till we meet again- and catch up on all our old crew stories. Thank you for how you so inspired all of ys.
1995- 1st "MASTER;S"- ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA. (Started about 18 years after we'd been out of college!!)
I knew this would be hard to write but it’s turning out to be even harder than what I imagined. It’s not just that a team mate is gone, it’s also a soul mate has departed. We strove together to be Olympians at a time when that meant we were breaking down barriers in the sport of rowing as we powered through uncharted waters.
Even in those uncharted waters, there was a starting line and a finish line. It was an amazing experience to be in the racing shell with Carie, on the line, in the Olympics as the starter polled the crews. in high level racing each member needs to trust her team mates to perform. Trusting Carie to perform was not the issue. The challenge for me was to trust that I could match Carie’s intensity from catch to release and do that over and over, and over to the finish line.
Carie was one of those larger than life personalities. I knew of Carie Graves before I became a rower. While waiting in line at my local grocery store I picked up a copy of People Magizine and saw this black and white photo of a muscular woman grimacing as she suspended her 6 foot frame on the oar handle. That article is what first piqued my interest in the sport of rowing.
To break up the monotony of training in the lead up to international competition, the rowing teams put on a skit night to entertain each other. In 1980, in Ratzenberg Germany, our 8 performed a song about the spy Mata Hari. Carie of course was MH; , the rest of us were her back up dancers pantomiming the words to the song that Carie belted out to the crowd. We wore our team issued parkas, hats and tube socks. Carie was attired in a pink leotard and tights supported by her Huarache sandals that she always wore when not rowing. As with her rowing, Carie’s performance was all there; within her being and spilling out to the whole crowd.
To know Carie’s intense personality was also to feel her warmth. When I was at a particularly low point in my life, I called Carie. She would listen, give caring support and then sound advice. This is the legend of Carie that I am left with and will always hold in my heart while on land - and even more in a rowing shell on the water.
December 15, 2021
I have a photo of our 1980 Olympic Team 8 in my bedroom and look at it every day. I see you and think about how much fun it was and how fast we were. It was extremely disappointing not going to the Olympics that year, but we did have an experience that created a special bond between you and me as well as the rest of our teammates that year.
I first met you in 1979 on the National Team but didn't really get to know you until 1980. We got put in a pair early in the camp and went out together to practice several times. I really felt lucky (and maybe a little intimidated) to row with such a rowing icon! That pair rowing started our friendship when we ended up rowing 5 and 6 seats in the 8. It was a blast watching your back when we were doing power strokes - it really helped me take my rowing to a higher level. I will always thank you for that.
Remember when we used to try to make each other laugh when we were rowing? And Holly would yell what was going on? Then you would repeat what I had just said - taking credit for my jokes? Well, at least you thought it was funny!
That one summer created a unique friendship. We were both coaches, you on the east coast, me on the west. I didn't get to the Head of the Charles very often, so we didn't see each other much. But we did call each other randomly throughout the years and usually talk for an hour or two. I don't think we talked about rowing that much, in fact, I really don't remember what we talked about except that we laughed a lot. I do know that I always felt better after talking with you.
I feel so lucky to have rowed with a superstar like you! That one summer impacted my life forever! Thank you!!
Jan Harville (1980 Olympic 8 - 5 seat)
'Holly, how much rest?'
That's the only question Carie would ask me as we trained for the 1980 Olympic Team. Carie never worried about the work because all she knew was 100%. She just needed to know how to use the rest time to get ready for the next 100% effort. 41 years ago, our USA eight with Carie in the engine room, was the first western crew to beat the East Germans in Lucerne. The US boycott took us home and the Germans went on to win gold in Moscow. That summer sealed our fate as teammates and friends forever. We raced together every year from 1980 to 2018 at the Head of the Charles.
Carie had many passions, at the top of her list were her family, son Ben, her coaches, the many women she raced with and coached and her Wisconsin roots. She was a Badger through and through. Oh, yaa, Oh, yaa was one of our favorite laugh phrases.
She was Wonder Woman in rowing gear. Carie could look a little intimidating walking into a room but she broke the ice right away, she was a warm, caring person. Once â€œRed Rose Crewâ€? was published, she loved to share that story hundreds of times over. She had a fan base!
Those who had the privilege of racing with her, we honor her and say well rowed.
I know Carie less well than most of you, but remember her vividly and with awe as the "queen" of our 1975 Red Rose Crew, when we ventured together into the unknown - an untested USA eight against East Germany, the Soviet Union, in the world championships. I have always remembered Carie as the "Warrior", going into battle fiercely and unafraid - strong, tall, alive, dynamic. She is for me, and will always be, a larger-than-life figure who somehow lived live more fully, more deeply, and more fiercely, than the rest of us. It is one of my most cherished memories to have rowed "6" behind Carie. And whatever her condition now, I know that "the real Carie" will go forward joyously and bravely. Be well all,
We lost a great one today, a legend, a pure force of nature. There will never be another like Carie. Well rowed, our dear Sister. You have won the race ?? and we rejoice in your victory but miss you very much. Mary O'Connor
Carie was the 6 to my 7. She had my back 100%. I will always know she is with us.
Still today I remember the very first time I coached her. 1983, Princeton. We were in 4's. You were part of the group. We were doing 3' pieces on the green bridge stretch. I said 'Go" …I looked at how hard she was pulling I was afraid she misunderstood and thought it was 30 strokes. Never seen anyone go that hard, unreserved. She has my prayers and always my respect. Curtis
Certainly one of the highlights of my career was coaching you and all your tough sisters to the gold medal in the 84 Olympics. What a great crew that was, so strong and so dedicated!!
It was such a unique opportunity to perform for your family and friends in our country.
Not only winning at Lake Casitas, but the thrill of marching into the Los Angeles Coliseum that was filled with super charged screaming Americans.
You all got the job done to everyone's delight.
Carie I loved it when our paths crossed as coaches. On the recruiting trail looking for young ones to be future Long Horns or Huskies or when you Jan and I would sit on the picnic tables at the Crew Classic in San Diego and watch the races. What fun!!
You are very special to me Carie, a true 'rowing goddess,' a great coach, and a dear friend.
I had the pleasure of getting to know Carie in my 7 yrs as assistant coach of the men's team at Northeastern before she left for Texas. Then had the unenviable task of taking over as Head Women's Coach after her. She was a legend as an athlete, a coach and a person. I am fortunate to have been able to call her a friend and colleague.
Our alums who rowed for her are completely devastated. Carie's coaching style was much like her rowing. She was a force of nature in the shell, as well as the coaching launch. They just can't believe this powerful woman, whom they idolized, can be taken this way. There were a number of them who have made the trip to Wisconsin over the past few months to see her. They put together a website with pictures of her and her crews to help keep her memories alive. Our alumni eight that raced in the Masters 8 at the Charles was a group of alums from '90-'98 who rowed with shirts with Carie's name on them, and they raised money to support Alzheimer's research. They rowed in our boat named the Carie Graves. Since I took over, we have always had a boat named the Carie Graves, and we will continue to have one as long as I am the head coach.
Dan Boyne, author of Red Rose Crew
Conversations With Carie Graves
I first got to know Carie when I decided to interview her about the 1975 US Women's eight that she had stroked, which became known as the 'Red Rose Crew.' Armed with a notebook and a tape recorder, I had no idea of the incredible stories that would come pouring out of her, session after session. We'd actually been colleagues for several years before, but I had no idea of the full arc of her career. I was completely spellbound, and instantly knew that her life and the lives of her teammates needed to be recorded for posterity.
In today's day and age, where people can become famous for simply posting a YouTube video, it is difficult to imagine how a phenomenal athlete and colorful figure like Carie Graves had largely managed to escape the public eye.
We hit it off straight away, since we were both from Wisconsin. The gentle rhythms and cadences of her voice were familiar to me, and I laughed out loud at her depiction of the uptight nature of the New England rowing scene. When Carie had arrived in Boston, back in the 1970's, the east coast establishment didn't quite know how to handle this bohemian, midwestern farmgirl, who could destroy you in a seat race or an erg piece, and then say something like: 'Aw, shucks, better luck next time.'
Of course, beneath that laid back, midwestern demeanor lay the heart of a warrior.
What struck me most about Carie Graves was her unique combination of gifts as a human being. She was much more complicated than she first appeared. Openly gregarious and always up for a good prank, she was also a bit of a lone wolf. She loved to laugh, but she could also dip into the dark side of her being in order to shatter a record on the erg. While most people knew her as an Olympian figure in the sport of rowing, behind all her medals lay a sensitive, compassionate soul who had endured more than her share of challenges. It was no wonder that after her rowing career had ended, she became a coach; for she would sit down with any young rower and listen patiently to them.
Like many of her Title IX era teammates, Carie had constantly challenged the status quo against her own set of metrics. But beyond that, she strove for something even more elusive, which lay beyond the reach of most mortals. From our many conversations it was clear to me that Carie longed for transcendence from the humdrum ways of ordinary life. Rowing, it seemed, provided her with that means of transcendence, at least for ephemeral moments.
One of her favorite quotes was from William Faulkners' book, As I Lay Dying:
"We move with a motion so dreamlike, so soporific, that it is as if time but not space were decreasing between it and us."
We kept in touch over the years, following the publication of The Red Rose Crew. And when she retired from coaching and made her way back to Wisconsin, I somehow wasn't surprised to hear she was living in a cabin out of cellphone range. Our conversations became less and less frequent, but she often talked lovingly about her son Ben, her sisters and family. She'd come home at last, after an incredible Odyssey, to take some rest and find a separate peace.
What an honor and privilege it was to know this wonderful, and wondrous, human being. If angels row eights up in heaven, I'm sure she'll be stroking the boat.
Links to published memorials: