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Harvard Coaches Recall Kennedy As Frail and Mediocre Athlete

By Garrett Epps

John F. Kennedy would hide in the shower room when newspaper photographers came to take pictures of the Harvard swimming team.

Kennedy, who graduated in 1940, swam for Harvard when his father was U. S. Ambassador to England. "And, of course, the family name-the photographers would come down to take pictures of swimmers, and the first fellow they always wanted to get hold of was Jack Kennedy. And Jack would hide. Always hide in the shower room. And it took tremendous efforts to finally bring him out to have his picture taken," his swimming coach told researchers for the Kennedy Library.

Two Harvard coaches-Harold Ulen, who retired in 1958 as Harvard swimming coach after more than 20 years here, and James Farrell, who was football trainer when Kennedy played freshman football, gave their recollections as part of the Library's extensive oral history project on Kennedy's life.

Ulen coached Kennedy as a backstroker for two reasons. Although Kennedy "compared fairly well with the backstrokers of his day," Ulen said, he never set any records.

"His physique wasn't anything outstanding," he explained. "As an undergraduate at Harvard, he was rather frail, as I remember."

Ulen said that he had not known of Kennedy's political ambitions, although "he was very popular with his teammates."

After Kennedy graduated from Harvard and entered the Navy, Ulen read of his famed PT 109 exploit-in which ?e saved several members of his PT boat crew by swimming with them to a ?tropical island, dragging one crewman by his teeth.

"When he swam out from that island where he was, for rescue work, I followed that. I said at the time, 'It's a good thing he's a good swimmer or they would've been in trouble," Ulen said.

Farrell, whose interview was conducted by sportswriter Bud Collins, remembered Kennedy from his days on the freshman football squad.

"When Jack arrived on the scene, he didn't look much like an athlete. He was a big, tall stringbean," he said, adding, "You could blow him over with a good breath... As far as his football ability was concerned, he didn't have much physique to play that particular game..."

Farrell also remembered a touch football game when Kennedy was a Senator. At the conclusion of the game, he said, a small boy asked him to autograph a football.

When Kennedy signed it "John F. Kennedy, NP," the boy asked if he meant "ND" for Notre Dame. "No," Kennedy replied, "NP for Next President."

Both men remembered John Kennedy's brothers. Farrell said, "Teddy developed into the best football player... Teddy became a specialist in catching a pass."

Ulen said that Robert Kennedy was "a fairly good swimmer, but he was a little heavy in the water... he would sink very easily."

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