BY VOLKER NOLTE
PHOTO BY ED MORAN
When I first began studying the specifics of training older people, I didn’t feel like I belonged to that group yet. I was in my 30s and participating in masters races seemed still far away for me despite the fact that I was already fitting into the first masters age categories. Although the days of elite training were behind me, I still considered myself a competitive rower. I continued enjoying myself as I trained regularly and purposefully. Having been fortunate enough to be involved with high-performance athletes as a researcher and coach, I was always in an environment that gave me access to excellent training facilities, and my interest in rowing- equipment development put me in touch with the latest rowing and boating innovations, so it was easy to keep my “toys” up to date.
The main motivation for continuing to train regularly has been fitness and health. I have tried always to maintain a level of athleticism that enables me to row on exciting crews, experience good boat speeds, and even compete. I have learned that I don’t like touring rowing, poorly maintained and rigged equipment, or just drifting around on the water with no destination. I realize that many other rowers love touring rowing or don’t mind getting on the water with “normal” equipment to just enjoy the elements.
Masters rowing is not a “one size fits all” activity. We have to choose the options that are ideal for us individually. Of course, certain compromises must be made in order to come together as a crew or training group in a club, but this can be done in such a way that everyone gains satisfaction, confidence, and enjoyment. The goal of the rowing outing must be clear and shared by all. For a touring rowing group, the goal may be to navigate a particular current on the river, to be able to manage refreshments and snacks during a two-hour rowing trip, or to be able to row very steadily and effortlessly together. The goals of the training rowers may be to balance the boat better, achieve a certain stroke rate for a certain number of strokes, or maintain a certain speed for a few five-minute pieces. As long as everyone is making an effort toward the agreed-upon goals, and areas of progress can be identified, positive feedback will ensue, leading to a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
All of this is easier said than done, but we need to begin working toward these goals. It takes communication and preparation to get things off the ground. Sometimes it even means re-evaluating goals, especially in light of getting older. There’s no getting around the fact that some biological abilities decline with age. But that makes it all the more important to keep realizing positive accomplishments. It may well be that outings need to be shortened, that more time is needed for recovery, or that splits on the ergometer become slower, even though training is maintained. Along the way, there are always many positive achievements that can and should be celebrated.
My friend Wolfgang Fritsch and I used the term “successful aging” in our book, Masters Rowing, and by this we mean the ability to achieve an overall positive balance sheet with increasing age. Practicing our sport in a healthy way, as either a recreational or competitive rower, enables us to maximize developmental gains while minimizing losses. In fact, rowing is one of the few sports that allows us to enjoy far-reaching exercise benefits even in old age. It is a low-impact weight-bearing activity that builds strength and endurance and fosters balance, agility, and coordination—all at once.