81 Years Young – Two World Records. What’s Next?

Meet Joan. She’s 81. She holds the 5K Master’s World Record and most meters rowed in 30 minutes for her age category on the ergometer (rowing machine). Joan says it’s a worthy accomplishment; but she has other goals in mind. She wants to row faster on the water and more efficiently. And she has a plan to make that happen. Joan says she’s not competitive. But we say she embodies the competitive spirit.

Like most accomplished people, Joan is averse to showboating and dwelling on her achievements. She is sharp, witty, and has a sense of humor that she’s not afraid to reveal or hide. While slight framed, Joan is not a delicate lady. She walks with purpose and resolution. Rain or shine, cold or warm, she’s always at the boathouse by 5:20 am; and well after practice has ended at 7:30 am, she walks her dog, Kody, a fiery auburn dog, a good walk around a nearby park.

Getting started


Seven years ago, Joan was a member of the Alameda DragonFlyers–a dragon  boat team on the Oakland Estuary. During a waterfront festival, she quite by chance hopped onto an erg in the booth next to her club’s. The booth and erg belonged to East Bay Rowing Club, and she was asked by those who were there, if she would like to try rowing.  Joan’s late husband was a champion rower in his native Poland so she was familiar with the sport but had never really thought to try it. It was his sport.

Eventually after 3 weeks of “Learn-to-Row”, she decided to take up rowing purely for practical reasons – in the Bay Area, rowers train on the water all year long, and dragon boaters do not paddle during the winter months. “

The world record (s)

When I ask her about her world record, Joan laughs and tells me she just broke another world record that week,  the most meters rowed in 30 minutes in her age category! “The coach tricked me into it,” she tells me. Instructed to erg for 30 minutes, the group started the session following a suggested pace. “During the 1st minute, I decided I could go a little faster,” she assures me. By the end of the piece, Brandon Caesar, the team’s coach, announced that Joan had just broken another record.

“The funny thing about Joan setting world records erging, is that she doesn’t even particularly like erging. She only ergs in order to train to race on the water. She’s great to have on the team. She’ll happily try her hardest in any position in any line-up and she holds her own even outside of her age category. – Brandon Caesar, Club Team Coach

5K & 30 Minutes Masters World Record

Joan's 5K World Record

30 Mins Most Meters Rowed World Record

Age and performance


Joan says, “I’m still learning how to handle my age. There are few role models of older women rowers, so in some ways I have to be my own teacher, and I am continually gauging my physical ability with so-called “age-related limitations.”  This requires her to be even more aware of the body’s needs.

“I’m learning that recovery takes much longer with age. Persistence and regularity are key. I have to learn when to train harder and when to just get more sleep!  It’s a fine balance. Luckily I’m rowing with teammates whose erg scores I’d die for! It’s great inspiration, and it keeps me going.”

As strong and determined as she is, Joan is aware that rowing is also a mental sport, and mental toughness does not care about age. “You can always get better, but there are aspects of aging that naturally can slow the pace of improvement. You have to honor this and not be overly self-critical.”  

Joan would love to have a few more rowers her age join EBRC to form a good competitive squad. While not overly competitive, she admits that if she’s rowing alongside any boats, she wants to get ahead of everyone. She recognizes that maybe as a younger person her competitive nature was expressed more externally. These days her focus is equally on “smart rowing”, and leveraging and utilizing the mental aspects of the sport which she believes are crucial to good performance, especially with age!  Bottom line. “I want to row well for as long as I am able. It’s FUN!”

Join Joan on May 6 through May 20 during our Learn to Row session and learn how to master the oar, work in tandem with others…and who knows? Maybe break a world record or two while you are having fun.

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