Being the best in the world at anything is usually an impossible dream. Yet Andrew Sudduth of Harvard was among the world's elite in two pursuits -- rowing and computer science -- in his all-too-short life.
Andrew Sudduth was known for his incisive intellect, athletic intensity, and quirky sense of humor. Tragically he died last summer at age 44, of cancer, a rowing legend and internet pioneer.
"Rowing isn't a sport with a lot of glory, but it's still a chance to be the best in the world at something," he told the Harvard Crimson while training for the 1984 Olympics. When his eights team came in second to Canada's gold medal-winning boat, he was frustrated, "It wasn't that we didn't win," he said to the New York Times. "We didn't show up with our best performance that day. I came a half second from quitting."
If he had quit Sudduth wouldn't have had his most famous race. In 1985 he began rowing single sculls, far different from rowing in an eight-man boat with coxswain. Considered an upstart he almost won the world championship, leading most of the race before being passed by three-time Olympic champion Pertti Karppinen.
Sudduth grew up in Brookline, Mass., and Exeter, N.H. At Phillips Exeter Academy he was a crew standout but also played football and hockey. He was known as a practical joker. His brother recalled one childhood April Fool's morning, when a complex series of breakfast-themed pranks culminated with an exploding box of cereal. It had been wired with firecrackers. Fueled by the same creative force, he set up his junior high school's first computer network in the 1970s.
From Exeter Sudduth went to Harvard, where his pranks got him suspended from school. He told the Crimson that though at the time he was "pretty upset" by the suspension, "looking back, they probably made the right move." He took the time to focus on his rowing and won his first world championship in 1981.
He returned to Harvard, and to legendary coach Harry Parker, where his eights boat won the 1983 National Collegiate Rowing Championship. Sudduth took another year off from Harvard to train for the 1984 Olympics.
In 1985 Sudduth won another national championship and was in the boat when Harvard won the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley -- the last time a U.S. college team has won that trophy.
In the Boston Globe Harry Parker described Sudduth as "one of the best rowers in the U.S., and certainly one of the best Harvard oarsmen ever. He had quite an extraordinary record." Fellow Harvard oarsman Gregg Stone called Sudduth "physiologically a unique specimen. He also had a single-mindedness, a real ability to focus on the task at hand."
He continued to row at the highest level for a number of years winning, among other championships, five consecutive singles titles at the Head of the Charles Regatta. But his rowing gradually took second place to his career in computers. In 1988, Sudduth, then at Harvard, issued the first-ever warning about an internet worm virus.
Sudduth moved on to American Internet Corporation (AIC) where he helped develop the servers that hosted the early internet. When AIC was purchased by Cisco Systems Sudduth went along and continued to work for Cisco until his death. He was allowed tremendous creative freedom because "he was technically one of the most brilliant people I ever worked with." recalled his supervisor, Brian Shorey.
In 2005 Sudduth was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas. By all accounts he lived the last 11 months of his life bravely and well. He died on July 15, 2006, surrounded by his family.
At the Head of the Charles Regatta that October there was a ceremony to honor Sudduth at Harvard's Newell Boat House. At its conclusion two boats rowed by, each with one seat empty. One contained the 1984 Olympic silver medal-winning U.S. eights rowers, the other the 1985 Eastern Sprints, U.S. National Champion, and Henley Grand Challenge Cup winning Harvard eights. A fitting tribute.
In a way Sudduth is still competing. At the 2006 FISA World Rowing Championships the U.S. men's eights won bronze. Their boat? The Andy Sudduth.
— Suzanne Eschenbach