Do you ever have days when you feel a bit too old and creaky for rowing? Do you watch the next masters category approaching faster than an Empacher at Henley and feel as though life is running away with you? Do you fear the day might come when you’re just too ancient to row? Or, if you’re young, do you ever look ahead to the onset of old age with horror, dreading the idea of squeezing a sagging body into lycra? If you do, I want you to stop right there and say two words to yourself. Arthur Jackson. For Arthur Jackson is still rowing every single day. And he’s not masters E, F, G or even H. No, Arthur is 100 years old – soon to be 101 – and he’s damned if he’s going to let the number on his birth certificate stand in his way.
I had the pleasure of meeting Arthur a few weeks ago at his home in Haworth in Yorkshire, where he proudly demonstrated his Topliner rowing machine. He bought it more than 30 years ago at a car boot sale for the princely sum of £18 and it – like him – is still going strong. “I go on it before breakfast and before tea,” he tells me. He does 200 strokes in the morning and 150 in the afternoon. Then there’s the twice-daily trek up steep steps to the attic where he keeps his erg – no mean feat in itself, though Arthur climbs up with little apparent effort.
The machine itself is quite unusual by modern standards. There’s no wheel and the handles come out to either side of your body as you reach “backstops”. But I had a go myself and can vouch for the fact that it gives you a workout as thorough as any fancier indoor rower. In fact, Arthur’s technique rather put mine to shame, even though he’s never set foot in a rowing boat..
It helps, of course, that Arthur has always been fit. A farm worker for 40 years and later a labourer for Yorkshire Water, he’s no stranger to hard physical work, and was always a keen cyclist and motor cyclist (he gave up his bike in his early 90s). But the rowing has remained constant, and Arthur has only ever missed a day through illness – a rare event. “I think it’s done me good,” he says. “It uses every muscle in your body.”
Of course age has taken its toll. “I’m not as fast as I used to be,” he says. But I think we can agree that he’s not doing badly for 100.
It would mean the world to Arthur to have some birthday messages from rowers around the country. If you’d like to wish Arthur well for his 101st birthday on 9th December, put your message in the comments below or tweet it to me at @girlontheriver.