Being old is something wonderful
At each World Rowing Masters Regatta, the octogenarians – rowers over the age of 80 are awarded medals for their participation.
World Rowing spoke to the two oldest competitors racing at the 2012 World Rowing Masters Regatta in Duisburg, Germany - Charles Eugster of Switzerland, and Galina Vercherkoskaia of Russia – and found they wouldn’t want to be any younger.
Charles Eugster: “Being old is something wonderful”
Charles Eugster is 93 years old. His twinkling eyes and sharp sense of humour is not lost on anyone who meets him. Born in 1919, Eugster first discovered rowing at the age of 16 and it is the sport which has shaped his life. He now rows for Ruderclub Zurich, in Switzerland.
“My teachers at school said to me, ‘if your brain were to be put into the skull of a sparrow, it would rattle.’ It was very true. Nevertheless, I wanted to excel at something. I was sickly as a child and I thought sport would help and rowing was one of the sports that appealed to me.”
The appeal of rowing for Eugster is many things, “The three Fs – fun, friendship and fitness. But you have other bonuses. You have contact with nature; you have to confront the elements. One rows early in the morning, when the swans and other birds seem to take over the water. Of course, you also have the companionship – you meet the most enjoyable, wonderful people. And then you have training – the good thing now about rowing training is that there is also strength training, which we didn’t have in the past. If one wants to be healthy and have a good body, one must rebuild the muscle you lose when aging. If you are an oarsman, you are used to the discipline of training. Today, the fourth most important cause of death is inactivity. Activity is very important.”
Whilst some masters rowers would say rowing “keeps them young”, Eugster rejects this concept.
“Young – I don’t like that expression. I don’t want to be young. I want to be old. Being old is something wonderful – it’s absurd to think that being young is better than being old. I want to be 93 and at my best. I want to have a beach body when I’m 94.”
“The most important thing about successful aging is having a job,” says Eugster. “Retirement creates invalids. That is number one. Number two is diet and number three is exercise. Once you have those three you have it made. I was a dentist until I was 75 and then I was publisher until the age of 82 and at 90 I found a new job with a fitness group. Now I want a new job and a new girlfriend.”
Amidst laughter and admiring looks, Eugster exclaims: “What’s so funny! I need a new job. It must have something to do with fitness. I am also writing a book about aging. At least I think that’s what I’m writing about.”
Galina Vercherkoskaia: “In sport, you are like family”
With a medal swinging around her neck and a smile on her face, Galina Vercherkoskaia encapsulates what masters rowing is all about. At 86 years old, Vercherkoskaia is the oldest female competitor at this year’s World Rowing Masters Regatta and she is proud of this.
Vercherkoskaia competed in the ‘J’ women’s single sculls and won her race. Last year, she was also successful, winning a medal in the mixed double sculls. She wishes to row next year, if only to maintain her place in the Guinness Book of Records as the eldest female competitor.
“I was 21 when I first started rowing, in 1949. It was just for fun, it was not hard work and at that time I was studying medicine at university. I was on the Russian Masters team, and was five-time European Rowing Champion, first winning the title in the W4- in 1955.”
In 1962, Vercheckoskaia left rowing to start a family. She had a son, who also rows. This lady would not get back in to a boat until 2010 in St. Petersburg, when she was 83.
“During the break, I tried different sports but I found that rowing is really the best sport anyone can do,” she tells us. “It’s the best for the body, it’s in fresh air, and it’s on water. It’s the best.
For Vercheskoskaia, whose family is based in Germany, rowing is not only the best way to stay healthy, but also her way of socialising and communicating with the world. Living alone in St. Petersburg, fellow masters rowers have become family.
“It is not a big team sport, like football. In rowing, there are just 4 or 8 people at most, and you have to be very similar to each other, you have to do the same thing. Everybody knows each other, it’s one big family – rowers from St. Petersburg, from Mosocw are all part of one team, one country.”
The Russian grandmother trained three times a week, for around 1 hour per session and the joy she feels during rowing is evident: “It makes me so happy to be on the water, doing this. Sun, water, air and the healthy exercise – I love it.”
Her message to any other eighty-year olds sitting at home?
“In life, you should stay healthy and rowing helps. It keeps your body healthy and keeps you young. If you can row when you’re older, do it! I don’t feel my age. I am younger. Rowing keeps me young.”