By Jeff Hoyt
At 65 years young this year, I still love climbing into a rowing shell with our junior rowers once a year to see what it feels like to fly across the water like I’m on a bullet train. That’s what’s special about the annual Spring Scrimmage. For most of the races, we mix young and old. In what other sport will you find both 9th graders and retirees competing together, swinging in unison while powering through the water against our friends, scattered in mixed-age boats across the race course?
In the marquee event at the June 15 Spring Scrimmage on Quartermaster Harbor, Vashon Island Rowing Club’s (VIRC) junior mixed eight defeated VIRC’s masters mixed eight, retaining the coveted Guinea PigCup for the 73rd consecutive year (actually, it only seems like it’s been that long to the masters).
At last Saturday’s scrimmage, VIRC Coaches Ben Steele and Maya Krah put a fascinating lineup of men’s quads on the water. To my left, I saw two of our best masters rowers, Bob Horsley and Chad Magnuson, in a boat with juniors Mateo Nigretto Ellner and Joshua Kyles. They looked formidable.
To my right were three more masters rowers, Scott Engelhard, Jeff Good and Mark Burns, with junior Eric Ormseth in bow.
Imagine my surprise to find myself as the only fossil (I mean, “masters rower”) in my boat. I would anchor a lineup that included sophomores Nick Winkler, Kincaid Cummings and former Vashon junior Seth Rosen, now rowing for Colgate University. Oh, and by “anchor,” I mean I was the drag component holding them back.
Coach Steele lined us up and we were off the line for a start sequence that was easily four strokes faster than I ever see with my teammates. Earlier, I had shouted out to fellow masters rower Su DeWalt that I might just let the oars go during the race, hold my hands over my head and scream like I was on a rollercoaster.
At the higher rate, I knew I had to avoid burning all my energy too early, but with the boat slicing through the water so smoothly, I went all in and pushed for everything I had.
At the 500, we were neck-and-neck with lane four but Seth was having none of that from bow.
“I want open water, boys! Let’s go!” he yelled, and I could feel the change in both pace and power. This added push was happening quite a bit earlier than it usually does for us older guys. The burn was building quickly in my legs and my gasping for air had to be a little unsettling for Kincaid, rowing in front of me.
Our burst opened up a lead and we started to pull away, with Seth calling on the boat to begin our sprint. That meant an even higher stroke rate and even more power. As the pace came up to well north of anything I’ve rowed on a racecourse in years, I wondered when I’d start either hallucinating or traveling through time.
At the end, we finished with a sizable open water win (what you’d expect from the youngest boat on the water). If corrections for age had been officially taken into account, the “Old Guys Quad” in lane one(average age 72) probably won the race but I easily had the most fun.
Twenty minutes later, once I regained the ability to think clearly, I pondered the life reminder that comes from events like this:
We Masters were that young and strong once upon a time and while age does what age will do, it’s reassuring to know that for four minutes, on any given Saturday, any of us can sit in a boat with kids young enough to be our grandchildren and still help make a boat go really, really fast.