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'Wheaton Whippet' Harry Nash enters hall of fame

Wheaton, Minn., native (and longtime Duluthian) Harry Nash in his racing prime. Submitted photo

Growing up on a farm in Wheaton, Minn., Harry Nash was always an active child. To get from place to place, he would often run -- yet he never thought of himself as a runner.

"I liked to run," explained the western Minnesota native, who now calls Duluth home. "On the farm I would run out to the field rather than walk."

In the ninth grade his recreational mode of transportation became something more when his school held its annual interschool track meet.

Nash's teacher assigned a track-and-field event to each of her students. Nash was asked to participate in the 100-yard dash.

He ran the event on the dirt track at the local fairgrounds against his classmates and beat the school record by one-tenth of a second. From then on, Nash never looked back. Sprinting became his passion.

"I ran 10 seconds flat the first time I ran a race," Nash said. "It was the first time this had been done."

Nash said he wasn't nervous to run the event; he just did as he was told at first, not even realizing how fast he was.

It was after this inter-school meet that he joined the Wheaton track-and-field team.

Nash added that coaches of other sports were also after him to participate when they learned of his speed.

As time went on, he won a number of high school races and even placed and won in events at the state tournaments in 1950 and 1951.

In 1951, he took first place in the 100-yard dash and second in the 220.

Nash became known as the "Wheaton Whippet" and was even called Minnesota's fastest sprinter.

Nash credits his running ability with giving him the opportunity to go to college.

"I was recruited to the University of Minnesota by Jim Kelly, who was the track-and-field coach at that time," he said. "I had met him when I won the state meet in the 100-yard dash. ... He came out to our farm and said to my dad, 'Harry's going to the U, you know?' And my dad said OK."

And to the U Nash went. While there, he studied parks and recreation management and continued to run and set records.

"I hold the 100, 220 and 330 marks at the university in training," Nash said.

Occasionally, Nash got nervous before races.

"Imagine coming from a little country school and then, in just a couple years, running at Michigan and Ohio State and the Los Angeles Coliseum," he said. "It was quite a culture shock for a farm kid from western Minnesota."

Nash even helped recruit Garry Bjorklund, famed Grandma's Marathon participant, for the U of M.

"Roy Griak called me when he was recruiting him ... he called because Gary was nervous about going to the big University of Minnesota," Nash said, mentioning that, like himself, Bjorklund was raised in a small town -- a fact not lost on Griak. "... I was able to talk to Gary. I told him, 'It isn't all that big. Once you get on the track team and you hang out around the athletic facilities, it ends up not feeling so big.' He ended up going to the U, but I don't know if my words had a positive impact on the situation."

Nash came to Duluth in 1960 to manage the parks and recreation department for the city. He has called Duluth home ever since.

To complement his record-breaking runs and numerous race wins, Nash was recently inducted into the Minnesota Track and Field Hall of Fame.

"I was surprised, and happy, of course," said Nash. "Three weeks ahead of the ceremony I had an inkling that something might be going on because one of my old coaches had asked for some information."

Griak was the coach who nominated Nash.

Nash's daughter, Patty Sertich, credits her father's teacher with helping him find his passion.

"It just goes to show that you shouldn't be afraid to try, you don't know what you're going to be good at, you could even find it when you're 40," she said.

Nash agreed.

"I knew I could run fast, but it wasn't until the teacher pinned me down and had me run that race that I knew how fast I could be," he said. "It was always exciting. I enjoyed it. Plus, I got to see a lot of the country with all my running."

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