I credit Google, the pandemic and my love of the water for my start in athletic rowing at 57 years old. A move to Florida in the first months of the pandemic left me searching for an outdoor activity where I’d feel safe from COVID.
I searched “Orlando rowboat,” thinking I’d buy a small boat for outdoor exercise. Instead, Google GOOGL,
My coach told me that rowing could change my life. Most rowing clubs have members in their 50s, 60s and even 70s, so I would not be the old gal. So I joined and found that Coach Laura was right. Rowing has improved my life on so many levels.
Rowing gains attention in the media
Since I joined the Orlando Rowing Club, I have noticed rowers and rowing in pop culture. For example, the New York Times bestseller, “Lessons In Chemistry,” features two rowers.
George Clooney is currently directing the film, “The Boys In The Boat,” about the unlikely victory of a ragtag rowing crew in the 1936 Olympics. The TV series, “Jack Ryan,” references the lead character’s rowing and shows a crew boat in the opening sequence. Even the U.S. post office offers stamps featuring women’s rowing.
I now understand the appeal of this sport that is low-impact on the body yet high-impact on its rewards.
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The perks of rowing
The long list of the benefits of rowing unraveled for me as I kept with it. The immediate reward lay in being outside in the sun on a lake. Often on a row, I take a serenity moment, noticing the warmth of the sun, the cool breeze and the beauty of the lake I have the good fortune to row on.
This moment of awe brings me into the present and fills me with gratitude. I also relish the exhilaration of gliding through the water and the satisfaction of having the skill and prowess to keep my boat “shiny side down.”
The oldest member of our club, Roseanne, a woman in her 70s, told me she took to rowing after far too many indoor rowing sessions at the YMCA staring at the walls. A poster on one wall showed a rower gracefully gliding across a lake on a sleek, incredibly long and relatively narrow row boat.
She thought, “Now, that’s where I want to be.” So she started lessons and took to the water for exercise afterward.
Besides being low-impact, rowing also reduces stress. The consistent and rhythmic nature of the rowing stroke calms the body and the mind, draining tension.
I find it so meditative when rowing in a quad (a boat for four rowers) that often, I am lulled into a trance by the hypnotic rhythm of the stroke and nearly forget to keep moving.
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Another bonus appeared from the workout offered in rowing. After a few months, a friend commented on my improved posture. Stronger shoulders and core muscles led to this.
I also lost the fat that formed my menopot, or menopausal belly. Fat gave way to muscle in my body. A neighbor commented on how lovely and muscular my legs were. Pudgy me being called muscular? What a win!
Research shows that rowing provides both aerobic and strength training workouts. The motion of taking a stroke works 85% of your muscles. In addition, the sport offers cardiovascular benefits and increases muscle and bone mass through resistance training.
Because you row while safely seated, this sport appeals to those dealing with troublesome joints or balance issues. In particular, I appreciate that my arthritic hands do not need to perform any intricate or strength-requiring movements. Instead, they act as clubbed mitts that cradle the handle of the oar. Furthermore, rowing engages the upper back muscles, counteracting a day spent leaning over a computer screen.
While the physical benefits are measurable, the most valuable return of rowing lies in the social aspect. Being a club member provides access to like-minded people along with exercise. The connections and camaraderie I found through rowing helped maintain my sanity when all else was in lockdown. The friendships I have formed continue outside the club.
There’s more than one way to row
Before you look into learning to row, understanding the two types of rowing can help you decide which best suits you. First, sweep rowing involves a crew of four to eight people (a pair is a sweep boat for two, but that is for advanced rowers).
Each rower controls one oar. Sweep rowers meet at set times, often before dawn, to accommodate work schedules. Some clubs have afternoon/evening workout times. Sweep rowing lends itself to all the perks of being part of a team. Besides, you receive coaching each time because a coach rides alongside your boat in a motorized jon boat.
Sculling differs because each rower has two oars and rows in a single, double or quad (four rowers). Once you have enough skill, many clubs allow you to row on your schedule. You can also join with other scullers.
For example, our club has four ladies who meet three mornings a week to row in a quad. They have been doing this for almost a decade. I have substituted in their boat before, humbled by the nearly 80 years of rowing experience among them.
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How to get started
With over 1,300 rowing clubs across the U.S., chances are you can find one near you. Search the U.S. Rowing website for a club or your city + “rowing club.”
Many clubs offer Learn To Row programs for beginners. You can also find rowing camps that offer intensives for new and continuing rowers.
For instance, Craftsbury Sculling Center in Vermont has a stellar reputation, as does the All-American Rowing Camp in Florida.
U.S. Rowing oversees the sport in America. Their focus is mainly on competitive rowing, but they promote a National Learn to Row day every year in June; this year, it’s on June 3.
In addition, rowing clubs host events so you can learn what the club offers. If the club nearest you doesn’t offer the best cultural fit for you, look to other clubs in your area. Two club members drive an hour or more to row with us.
Rowing offers global connections
At a fellow rower’s suggestion, I joined the Facebook group Masters Rowing International. Adult rowers are called Masters. This social media group connects rowers across the world.
Regularly I see photos of people rowing past castles, the Sydney Opera House, or rowers on the water in India or Ireland. Topics make the rounds — from stroke rates to blisters and calluses to techniques to improve speed.
People also post that they will be in London on such and such a date: Is there a club I could row with? The feeling of community I experience with other rowers broadens my worldview and provides a great sense of belonging.
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Your inner rower may be waiting to be untethered
While rowing is only for some, you will only know if you try. As with any activity, check with your doctor first. Whether you have a milestone birthday this year or want to try something new, I highly recommend rowing. While it doesn’t have the visibility of other sports, rowing is an activity many find worthy of their time.
Take the plunge. You might find yourself on a journey that feeds your mind, body and soul.
Amy Holm Stamey is a writer and editor with a master’s degree from a medical university and an honorary doctorate in advocating for her own health. She found her life’s purpose in the collection and dissemination of information. Amy explores health, wellness, remedies, and adventures. She started rowing in 2020 and aims to make rowing accessible to more people. You can find her here: linkedin.com/in/amy-stamey
This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, ©2023 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.
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