One of the great and unexpected joys of rowing is the fact that at 40-*cough*-something I am considered a bit of a spring chicken. In a largely veteran squad, the prize hens (if you’ll let me stretch the metaphor just a little further) are those who can push the crew’s age average up into the older Masters categories, gaining those crucial few seconds’ handicap. For these purposes I’m unhelpfully youthful. Our squad picked up a fair old haul of medals at last month’s British Masters and the grey heads proved nothing but an advantage.
But it’s not just the medal potential that’s the happy result of old age rowing. It’s a sport that stretches you physically and mentally, often much further than you thought you could go. And quite apart from the benefits this gives your heart, lungs, bones and muscles, it’s good for the soul. Watching The Town that Refused to Retire last night, in which the Apprentice’s Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford followed the progress of a bunch of pensioners as they went back into work, what struck me was that those who were really able to cope were the ones with a twinkle in their eye. They weren’t just physically young; they were young at heart.
Of course ill health and frailty sap the spirits and perhaps the youthful ones had had the advantage of an easy ride, but I’m absolutely convinced that a positive attitude and refusal to acknowledge the passage of the years is essential for staying young. And there’s nothing like a strenuous sport that’s endlessly difficult and challenging to demand that you stay positive.
We have people well into their seventies still rowing competitively in our club, and I once raced in a boat with an 81-year-old. Let’s hope I’ll still be rowing when I get to that grand old age – though calling me “Girl” on the River might be pushing it a bit by then…