The many roads to masters rowing
The ways and reasons that see people become masters rowers are as wide as they are varied. It encompasses a huge piece of life from the age of 27 through to, well, death. That’s a lot of decades of rowing.
Some come to masters rowing due to injury in other sports with the low impact nature of rowing being the attraction. Some follow their teenage kids to practice and regattas and then into the sport. Others continue after finishing their career as elite rowers. Some try a learn-to-row class and get hooked.
Whatever the reason, these individuals become part of the growing world-wide masters rowing community and in the lead up to the 2020 World Rowing Virtual Masters Regatta, World Rowing introduces you to some of them.
In the north German city of Hamburg, Sebastian Franke has known a life of rowing. Franke first rowed when he was ten years old. He was fascinated by the sport right from the start and grew to be a member of the German national team competing internationally and becoming a World Champion.
When job commitments meant that training at the elite level was no longer feasible, Franke left the German national team. He continued to train and compete, but more on his own, fitting in rowing around his work. Franke eased out of elite level training by lowering the training load over the next five years. He knew the negative impact of breaking completely from high level training over a short period of time.
Franke was already at masters age when he finished elite competition, but for the next few years he continued to do top regattas including the Henley Royal Regatta and German nationals.
Hamburg had won the bid to host the 2004 World Rowing Masters Regatta and Franke joined the organising committee. As part of preparation for the regatta, Franke went to the 2003 World Rowing Masters Regatta and while there decided to join in on the racing. This was Franke’s starting point in masters racing. He was 40 years old and had never stopped rowing.
“I’ve always liked competitive rowing,” says Franke, “and I love sitting at the start line; that moment with the blood pulsing through your veins, it still gives me the inspiration to train.”
Franke, who is now 57, says he’s remained competitive but admits that he needs more pre-race preparation to cope with lactate and also more time to recover from racing. “It’s harder for me now to cope with two races a day.”
Franke has a training group and continues to row regularly. Some of his rowing group have known each other for 30 years. He does some other sport including cycling but likes rowing best “for what it is.”
“I get in better shape in a boat that biking or swimming,” says Franke. “I also love the beautiful motion and the early mornings when no one is there except me and nature.”
At Franke’s rowing club, Svenja Michaelis came to rowing as an adult at the age of 25. It was not a sport that she had any knowledge of, but when her roommate asked if she wanted to come along to a new rowing course, Michaelis agreed.
Five years later Michaelis is still rowing and as a masters rower she went to the 2019 World Rowing Masters Regatta. As Michaelis says; “It’s a sport for young to old.”
For Chris Toovey in Wellington, New Zealand, he was 55 years old before he stepped into a boat for. Toovey’s route to rowing came through his children as all three of them took up rowing at high school. Toovey, along with the other rowing parents, would follow their children to the various school regattas.
“We’d sit on the side of the lake watching our kids in the sport,” says Toovey. “In the third season one person said, ‘why don’t we row?’ Only one of us had ever rowed before.”
Toovey had no experience with rowing himself but had seen what his kids had got out of the sport. The ‘Dad Squad’ was formed and despite his kids no longer at high school and no longer rowing, Toovey continues to row. His group gets together at least twice a week working their sessions around full-time jobs. They have also done some training camps and he says after two years the group is still the same and the dedication remains.
“We’ve raced at New Zealand Masters Championships and the Head of the Yarra (Melbourne),” says Toovey. “Everyone is pretty dedicated. It’s a great bunch of guys. We have a laugh – that’s really more important.”
Brock Sampson knew nothing about rowing until he moved from North Carolina to Austin, Texas in the United States. “I had no idea about the sport,” says Sampson. “It wasn’t a part of my world growing up.”
When Sampson moved to a new city, he was looking for a group activity. “I wanted to do something outside of basketball and (American) football and I heard about learn to row. I got into an eight, I pulled on the oar and that was it. It changed my life.”
Sampson was 31 years old and from then on, his life rotated around rowing.
“I took every opportunity to get into a boat. I went in all the boats that I could, I raced and I volunteered.”
Sampson’s club, Austin Rowing Club, had a very good men’s head coach and Sampson says that right from the beginning he was well coached and was inspired to learn more.
As well as rowing and competing at both open and masters events, Sampson immersed himself in all parts of rowing and was soon teaching Learn to Row classes and then advanced rowers. He has now worked at all levels including in the development of Ugandan rowing.
Sampson sees the need to build rowing in all communities and he has used the sport as an outreach tool, going into areas that don’t have rowing. His passion for this comes from his own experience of having no rowing in his own community growing up.
“One of my largest hurdles has been to demonstrate that rowing isn’t just for elite athletes and university students and those that have the means,” says Sampson. “It is truly a transformative sport and we need to showcase what rowing can do for everyone, not just a few.”
With that Sampson has established ‘Rowing Without Limits’ (www.rowingwithoutlimits.nl) and now living in the Netherlands, he continues to work in all things rowing.
To join in the 2020 World Rowing Virtual Masters Regatta: http://www.worldrowing.com/events/2020-world-rowing-virtual-masters-regatta/event-information