Tim Roske  /  AP
As the sun rises over their shoulders, eight rowers from the Albany Rowing Center pull their way up the Hudson River in Albany, N.Y. More adults are rowing competitively, some into their 90s.
updated 6/23/2005 2:22:44 PM ET 2005-06-23T18:22:44

For years, Deb Streeter watched her daughter, then her son, enjoy the sport of rowing.

“I repeatedly said that looked like fun,” she recalls. So for Mother’s Day, about five years ago, her husband got tired of hearing it and he bought her learn-to-row lessons.

Now at 54, she’s hooked.

USRowing loosely estimates 175,000 rowers in the United States, almost half of those “master” — age 27 or older. The sport’s growth the past 10 or 15 years has come especially among women, with more college and high school programs. The first women’s NCAA championship was in 1997.

And like other “lifelong sports,” more adults are competing, some into their 90s, said USRowing spokesman Brett Johnson.

Precise movements
Streeter is on a team of eight that rows the Hudson River regularly. She and others tout the benefits of this strength-and-endurance sport that has no age limits. Sometimes described in graceful metaphors, rowing is also defined by precise measurements and movements.

Older rowers say you start getting in shape simply learning technique a few days a week, then step up to competitive boats, where some people are more serious than others.

Jonathan Masters, 42, who joined the Albany Rowing Center almost eight years ago, said rowers are expected to keep the pace. “Once you’re in the boat, you’re in the boat.”

According to USRowing, physiologists say a 2,000-meter race, about 1.25 miles rowed in less than 10 minutes, is the equivalent of playing back-to-back basketball games. Ohio University physiology professor Fritz Hagerman, adviser to USRowing, wrote that he has measured increases up to 30 percent aerobic capacity in elite rowers from the offseason to the start of competition.

At 54, after one year of learning and four competing, Streeter rows six mornings a week. The season starts on dark mornings mid-March with bow lights, once the ice melts on the Hudson. A few weeks of practice follow the last autumn race in late October. Winter can mean rowing machines, or ergometers, indoors.

Help for back problems
One recent day also found Ricardo Lopez-Torrijos, 49, among the rowers.

He explained what lured him to the sport. “I was having back problems and I needed some exercise. And I rowed one day and the back problems were gone,” said Lopez-Torrijos, who said he started at 45 and loved it from the first. “The arms are just bringing the oar in. All the push is from the legs.”

Neil Evans, a restaurateur who learned last year at 59, said he lost 15 pounds that season without trying. Now rowing instead of running or biking, he can get out of bed and stand up straight in the morning, he says.

For former ballerina Sharon Wolin, the sport is poetry in motion. Now in her 50s, she says it’s the only athletics she’s found that requires the same focus, grace and rhythm as ballet. “I call it dancing on the water.”

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