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Mrs. Judi Ford Nash
1122 Timothy Court
Geneseo, IL 61254
|Named Miss America 1969 in September 1968. She was the first woman athlete to win a varsity letter at USL.
Posted by Ed Dugas.
Sept. 2013 Spotlight Feature by Bruce Brown
Spotlight on Former Athlete: Judi Ford Nash, Gymnastics/Trampoline 1967 & 68, Miss America 1969
Ford put UL on glamorous map
By Bruce Brown
Written for Athletic Network
Judi Ford Nash describes herself as a tomboy.
Since 1969, the world has known her as Judi Ford, Miss America, a title she won in September of 1968 while a student competing in trampoline and gymnastics on an otherwise all-male team at USL.
Both experiences _ a brief stay at USL and Miss America _ made lasting impressions on the native of Belleville, Ill.
“I had been competing in diving since I was 8, and I started with the trampoline at 12 to improve my diving,” said Nash. “I remember Christmas of my senior year (high school), I was competing in Sarasota, Fla.
“I knew (USL coach) Jeff Hennessy, and he told me they had just built an annex to the gym for female athletes, if I was interested. This was before Title IX and there weren't a lot of sports teams for women.”
The invitation was accepted. Then, once in South Louisiana, Nash discovered a whole new world.
“It was culture shock,” she said. “I remember after about two weeks my roommate saying she was going to 'pass a comb through her hair.' I was always saying 'you guys' and the other girls said, 'We're not guys!' I remember asking, 'What cher? What's a Ragin' Cajun?'
“I'd had three years of French in high school, but I wasn't ready for some of the pronunciations (Hebert, Hebert; Melancon, Melancon). But I enjoyed being down there. I picked up on 'y'all' right away, and I adapted well to the food.”
Nash added a “wow” factor to the Cajun roster, but also caused frequent confusion for competition organizers. She often competed in men's events.
“There were not a lot of competitions in gymnastics,” Nash said. “That came later. I was a diver. The mechanics are pretty much the same in diving and trampoline.
“Now there has been a lot of change of equipment. Now you see women doing a full-twisting somersault on the balance beam. Are you kidding me?”
Just when Nash thought she was settled in to college life in the South and competing among men, her glamorous past caught up with her. On a whim, she had entered and won the Boone County beauty pageant at age 16. That led to a State Fair title, as well as the chance to compete in the Miss Illinois pageant.
She then won Miss Illinois, qualifying for a chance to be Miss America.
Nash wanted to perform a trampoline routine for her talent portion, and that broke new boundaries for the tradition-rich pageant.
“The state people said it could go either way,” Nash said. “To be an athlete was not considered that feminine a thing. If you were out running on the streets, people thought you were being chased.
“After Miss Illinois, I was sent to a modeling agency to teach me how to walk. I remember the woman saying, 'You walk like an athlete.' I said 'thank you' an she said 'that was not a compliment!' ”
There were roadblocks ahead to the trampoline routine, since no rules governed such a move. For example, entrants were supposed to perform alone on stage, but a trampolinist needs a spotter for safety reasons.
Also, dancers were allowed to warm up, but Nash was not allowed to prep for her two routines.
“I was really nervous,” Nash said. “Things can happen that the public doesn't understand. Your knees can buckle. It was a totally different thing from competition. I had a 2:50 routine and you try to keep the flow going. I also got very little sleep the whole week.”
The groundbreaking trampoline routine was a hit, more comfortable than the interview portion to follow.
“Earlier, we had filled out questionnaires,” Nash said. “I had forgotten about it, and hurriedly filled it out in the car. There was one asking, 'If chosen Miss America, what would be your biggest accomplishment?' and I said 'learning to live together.'
“I was the last one called for the Top 5. The first four were asked about being a music major, or about bacteriology, and I was asked about living together _ 'specifically, how would you do this?'
“I paused for a full 6 seconds. Really? I thought, the others get music and you're asking me about world peace? I said something about learning you're no better than your neighbor, and getting along, and I got through it.”
Suddenly, at age 18, the tomboy was Miss America.
“After Miss Illinois in July, there were six weeks before Miss America,” Nash said. “I figured there was no chance. I was athletic, blonde. A blonde hadn't won in 12 years. At 18, I was too young. My goal was to reach the Top 10, so I would be able to perform on TV on that Saturday. Anything else was gravy (lagniappe, perhaps?).
“Then after the question, when I didn't mess up, I thought the worst I could do was fourth (runner-up). Then they started calling names, and it was third, then second. When it was the final two of us, I said, gee, there's an outside chance I could win this thing. I was totally unprepared for the thought of winning it.
“It was kind of overwhelming. I was a tomboy. Pageants were not my thing.”
Nash was immediately whisked from Atlantic City to New York City to begin a whirlwind year that included 250,000 miles of appearances and living out of a suitcase.
Toward the end of her year, she learned 20-25 song-and-dance numbers for a USO Tour of Vietnam the next August.
“That was the most rewarding part of the year,” Nash said. “We were 7 miles from the DMZ (de-militarized zone) in the Mekong Delta. Incoming rounds would shake us out of bed and we'd take shelter in the bunker. Years later, I still hear from veterans who remember our tour there, saying thank you.
“You do grow up quickly and learn how to handle yourself. I also got $10,000, which totally paid for my college education at the University of Illinois.”
Aside from serving as honorary queen of the 1969 Bayou Classic, Nash did not return to USL.
“After I won Miss Illinois, I got a scholarship to attend a state-supported school in Illinois,” she said. “I thought I'd attend Illinois for a year, then transfer back (to USL), but USL had no scholarships for women. Also, I met my future husband and I had a lot of appearances to make.
“Logistically, I needed to be in Illinois, but I loved my time in Louisiana.”
Nash served for 8 years on the President's Council for Fitness and Sports under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, a group headed by astronaut Jim Lovell.
“They were looking to get younger people in it, so they chose me and (basketball star) Tom McMillian,” Nash said. “We'd meet three or four times a year and put together programs and plans for children and adults. I'd like to think we were partially responsible for the fitness boom at the time.”
That experience helped Nash later, after years as a corporate sponsor while raising a family, when she used her education degree for an 18-year career as a coach.
“I always wanted to be a PE teacher, and that (President's Council post) gave me perspective,” she said. “I enjoyed it a lot.”
Nash taught from K-5 to middle school to high school, including middle school basketball and track as well as high school golf among her coaching duties.
She and second husband, attorney Jim Nash, have a blended family of 5 grown children and 8 grandchildren. All 5 offspring were in college at the same time for a couple of years.
An avid golfer, the retired educator still looks like she could compete in any sport she'd care to pursue.
It has been a life well-lived, spiced by the brief stay in South Louisiana when she discovered crawfish were more than just bait.
Written for the Athletic Network
* * * * * * * * * *
Still a talented athlete today, Judi was a world-class trampolinist, having competed on both the national and international levels when she entered the Miss America Pageant as Miss Illinois. Her trampoline exhibition in the talent competition helped win her the title and helped change the image of women athletes. She used her Miss America scholarship to obtain her B.S. degree in physical education from the University of Illinois. She served as a member of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports for eight years, having been appointed by Presidents Nixon and Ford. After working for a number of years for various companies and organizations as their national spokesperson, she taught elementary school physical education and coached the high school girls' golf team for 18 years. She also coached middle school basketball and track during her teaching tenure. Now retired, in her spare time she enjoys playing golf, rooting for the Fighting Illini, and spending time with family and friends. Judi is married to Jim Nash, an attorney. She and her husband raised a blended family of five children. She has two grown sons, three grown stepchildren, and eleven wonderful grandchildren (so far)!!
Source: Miss America website
|Gymnastics/Trampoline:|| 1967, 1968|
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