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UMD pioneer Rynda dies days shy of 84th birthday

Eleanor “Ellie” Rynda, one of the true pioneers of Minnesota Duluth women’s athletics, died early Wednesday from cancer in her hometown of Montgomery, Minn., two days shy of her 84th birthday.

Rynda, who owned a master’s degree from Michigan State, started the UMD women’s track and field (1966) and cross country (1975) programs and coached both teams through 1993. She also served as the head coach for men’s track from 1969-90 (resurrecting that program after an 11-year layoff) and men’s cross country from 1968-89 and was an assistant professor of physical education at the college.

She was named to the UMD Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001, the NSIC Hall of Fame in 2000 and the DECC Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012.

Rynda directed the Bulldogs to eight conference championships and coached 11 All-Americans, including UMD’s first NCAA individual champions (high jumper Jodi Swenson in 1991), and more than 250 all-conference selections.

Her 1971 men’s cross country team was the first from UMD to qualify for an NCAA meet.

Rynda, the recipient of the 1989 NCAA Division II National Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coaches Association Distinguished Service Award, held the distinction of being the first woman in the country to be employed as head coach of a collegiate men’s track and men’s or cross country team.

Funeral arrangements are pending.