In Darien, Connecticut , USA (population 27,000) there is a senior erging group. The goal to set an indoor rowing World Record was something the group determined to do only months into their first experience with the sport. That ambition became reality late in 2016 when Sid Zacharias (age 101) set a new World Record of 8:24.8 in the men’s lightweight 100+ age group over a 1000m distance and Waldo Jones (age 87), became a new US record holder with 8:22.5 in the women’s lightweight 80-89 age group over 1000m event.*

From learn to row to the world’s fastest

At Atria Senior Living in Darien, the kernel of an idea to get a group of seniors active through rowing turned from an introduction to the sport to a quest to become the best in the world.

It started with a Google search for a water-related lecturer to come and talk at a monthly meeting of a group at Atria. “We came up with the US Veterans’ Rowing and Kayaking Organization,” says director at Atria Becky Gallucci. “After the rowing lecture, when asked if they wanted to participate, the entire room said, ‘Yes!’”

Things got started early last year with learn to row sessions on the ergometer. The group then coordinated some indoor tank and on-water sessions with the Maritime Rowing Club in Norwalk, Connecticut.

“The first goal was to get rowing out on the river close to our community,” says Gallucci. “They did and then said, ‘Okay, what do we want to do next? Let’s break a world record.’”

Personal bests

Despite the overall goal of aiming for a new world record, the participants were keeping things realistic by focusing their training on setting personal bests along the way. “We are competitive with ourselves,” Gallucci says of the group’s mentality. “Some days are better than others, but that’s okay with a group focused on setting personal bests. They row to beat a time, not a person – to be the best they can be at any age.”

“When we opened the programme, it was just for veterans and their spouses in our Darien community,” Gallucci explains. “Since then it has expended to other Atria communities (in the United States and Canada) so that any resident who wants to participate can.”

The wider population got involved including students from the local high school, members of the public and the mayor who were on hand for the world record attempt. “It was to the walls with people,” says Gallucci.

Keeping active for life

“The thing that is most overlooked in this industry (senior care) is fitness,” says Gallucci. “We talk about memory improving diet and other things, but fitness is key; 70 per cent of your wellbeing as your age is based on exercise. It is a crucial part to having a total life and it is looked upon as an important part of Atria’s programming.”

Gallucci sees activities like rowing as especially accessible to older populations given the number of people living with restricted mobility or disabilities. “When you get in the boat (or on the ergometer), all disabilities go away,” she says.

This ability of rowing to have a positive impact is something Gallucci has seen firsthand. “I had a woman who could barely walk,” she recalls, “but she wanted to get on that rower and because she knew she could do it, all the staff just stood back and said ‘okay’, let’s do it. After she got off that rower, she stood taller, she smiled from ear to ear and the sense of pride was absolutely marked.”

“This is true for everyone who gets off the rower,” she concludes. “They say ‘Wow, I did it!’ Like swimming, it is the best thing you can do. Some just can’t stop, but for everyone they can say ‘I did it!’”

Atria’s rowing group world record attempt click here.  

Indoor rowing world records click here

*World Rowing has been informed that recently Sid Zacharias and Waldo Jones both passed away of non-rowing related causes .