The Conversation: Nancy Hogshead-Makar

Olympic swimmer, legal expert, athletic equity champion

Photograph by Tiffany Manning

Nancy Hogshead-Makar was a 1980 Olympian and Duke University’s first female scholarship swimmer when, as a sophomore, a man raped her while she was on a run through campus. In the aftermath, she suffered from PTSD. She received “empathy, along with academic, housing, financial aid … even parking accommodations that every victim should get, but frequently do not,” she says. A supportive Duke administration allowed her to recover enough to return to the pool a year later. She went on to win three gold medals and one silver at the 1984 Olympics, the most decorated swimmer at the games. She graduated with honors from Duke in 2016, and received the President’s Leadership Award.

She is now an internationally recognized legal expert on access and equality in athletics, using sport as a vehicle for social change for women. In 2014, Hogshead-Makar founded Champion Women, which focuses on the intersection of sexism and sports, including traditional athletics Title IX compliance, along with pregnancy, LGBT and employment discrimination. In 2019, she received the international Play the Game Award; a recognition for her advocacy for integrity in sport. In the spring of 2020, she will receive the Miriam M. Netter ’72 Stoneman Award, named after Kate Stoneman, the first woman to graduate from Albany Law School in 1898 and the first to be admitted to practice law. This award “honors trailblazers in the spirit of Stoneman” for those in the legal profession who have a commitment to seek change and expand opportunities for women. 

Born in Iowa, Hogshead-Makar’s family moved to Jacksonville when she was eleven, in 1973. She swam on Episcopal’s swim team under coach Randy Reese, who guided her career from gangly eleven year-old to international champion at age fourteen. After launching her law career, she returned to Jacksonville to work with Holland & Knight, where she met her husband, Scott Makar, now a judge on Florida’s First District Court of Appeal. They live in Avondale with their three children. 

Nancy, what do you recall about your early experiences in Jacksonville?  

Everything changed when we moved to Jacksonville; we all got a lot busier. My dad, or “Big D” as we call him, went from medical academics at UF to being the president of the Cathedral Rehabilitation Center, what is now Brooks Rehabilitation. He also had a full practice in spinal orthopedic surgery at three hospitals, Baptist, Wolfson and Nemours. My mom, aka “Mutti,” served on numerous boards throughout the city and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for needed projects.  

When we first moved here, Jacksonville felt so big and sophisticated. My mom frequently got lost. This was way before GPS, back in the days of tolls on our bridges, and a missed turn often meant two more tolls. My parents have never lost their Midwest frugality, so we’d really hear about those wrong turns. 

And of course I started training on a whole new level when we moved to Jacksonville. Big D’s job dictated that the three of us kids would go to the school where I met Randy Reese. Randy and my very-ambitious teammates changed the course of my life. We weren’t even moved into our house when I called to find out about swimming practice, and I went that afternoon. People talked about “national cuts” and skipping practice wasn’t done. Lanier Drew, Lauren Mahoney, and the Hobart family made sure I got to practice. Within a year, I was going to two practices a day, plus more yardage on Saturdays.

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Author: Arbus

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