British Rowing |

‘I still row because I love the river experience and the camaraderie’

Masters rower Liz McVeigh from Medway Towns RC shares her passion for the sport and masters community

I love getting out on the water with the older veteran group (Masters H plus) at our club on a Tuesday and Thursday morning, occasionally being joined by younger members of the club when available. We also all enjoyed the company of two Cambridge undergraduates (unknown to each other before they arrived) last summer and over the holidays. They are just starting their rowing adventure and didn’t seem to mind at all the 50-year-plus age gap to crew members when learning from us all. Their sculling has improved no end, and I am sure will add to their sweep oar skills at university. I find it quite extraordinary how youngsters today don’t seem to worry about age – I recall going to my first eight’s race, when I was already 24, with someone of 32 and I was horrified, being convinced that she was far too old… but we won so I began to get over this age issue…

To me, one of the greatest pleasures in going out on the river is NOT having any form of measuring device, but just feeling the flow of the boat going across the top of the water, enjoying the company of the plentiful birdlife and occasionally one of our seals and just bedding down in rural escapism (although, of course, there is always the background voice in my head – sounding surprisingly like a familiar coach or cox – encouraging me to row better and harder). I may be in a single or with the others in a crew (when the intensity is inevitably a bit less), but nearly always a pleasure (weather can be an issue!) and, as many will concur, the best bit is the socialising afterwards. The conversation is wide-ranging, frequently challenging, often funny and never dull.

“I have learned to listen to my body and go with the flow a bit more than before”

I also love the fact that the 80-year-old who spent all of last spring announcing that he would retire from active rowing when reaching his full four score, is still going out on a regular basis (and has even taken to using the ergo when the weather dictates – a first for him!). His crew have the use of a trolley to get the boat down to the river, enabling access to the water even as strength declines. Strength may decline but, as we all know, as long as you can sit in a boat without upsetting it, you will contribute to an enjoyable outing.

My main concern is the number of our rowers with heart issues (from triple by-passes to stents and pacemakers), but they are good at keeping ratings down and limiting harder work to a few strokes at a time. Hearing loss is another issue, but all are very good at guessing what is going on! I am lucky that my only issue to date is that I needed a new hip and the new one, provided some four years ago, enabled me to get back to racing – it is amazing how much easier it is to push down on the legs when both go in the same direction…


So, why do I still row and what changes with time? I still row because I love the river experience and the camaraderie. As I get older, and especially as dear friends become infirm and unable to exercise as they used to, or worse, I appreciate the time on the river even more than ever and focus on asking my body to maintain that ability to do the simple “hands, body, slide”. If this needs to be at a low rate and power, so be it – I have learned to listen to my body and go with the flow a bit more than before. A couple of ergo sessions a week are sufficient for me to keep an eye on my “splits” and check that the decline is not too hasty. Interspersing rowing activities with others, such as cycling and Pilates, also help add variety and flexibility.

But, of course, all this is just a stepping-stone to keeping me fit and flexible enough to join in with a suitable masters racing crew at any opportunity…