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Going For It: Philip Foster

“You have to forget the mortgage, or the M25, or the other things that may be dwelling on your mind. You’ve got to focus on the rowing”

"I want to keep rowing twice a week"

When you first think of rowing as a sport, your mind may conjure up images of young students and punishing workout regimes designed to extract the most out of the human body at a time where it is at its peak of physical fitness.


Philip Foster, however, started rowing at the age of 63 – and hasn’t looked back. Jack Rayner spoke to Philip to find out more.

Hi Philip – so, why rowing?

I was working in management training, and my wife and I had our own company, but I realised that I wanted to branch out a bit and not be too focused in what I was doing. I saw these people at Phyllis Court in Henley, rowing, and thought, “They’re having fun, I fancy doing that.” So I made some enquiries and they introduced me to a rowing coach.

How has the challenge been for you, physically and mentally? How does it make you feel when you’re out on the river?

It’s blissful. There’s a phase when you’ve got the boat in the water and you’re pushing off, after about ten strokes, you begin to feel like you’re in a more relaxing world. You have to focus on the rowing, and as a result you have to forget the mortgage, or the M25, or the other things that may be dwelling on your mind. You’ve got to focus on the rowing.

How is it different for a man of your age, compared to the younger sportsmen?

Well, I was 63 when I started, so someone 50 years younger than me would be lighter and would be more flexible in the knees, hips and lower back. They’d also have a better sense of balance.

So how is the process of rowing different? Is there a different style, or do you use different equipment?

We use a training double to start with, which is very stable. The novice sits at the stroke seat and the coach sits behind, and rows with you – and off you go. The coach can then mutter in your ear about slowing your stroke rate down or squaring the blades earlier – all the techniques. It’s not that different at all.

How does Phyllis Court go about catering for all the age ranges?

We have three of these training doubles, and do more one-to-one coaching in the doubles initially, but other than that there’s not much that you need to do differently. Of course, people over 50 years old appreciate the fact that they’re going be looked after.

What’s your ambition when it comes to rowing?

I just want to keep rowing twice a week – we row about 7km per session. I like to get back to the pontoon and find that the legs are a bit wobbly – that’s how you know you’ve had a good workout.

How does it make you feel after you’re done?

There’s the adrenaline rush immediately afterwards. We have a quad at Phyllis Court who row together, and our combined age is over 280 years. We like to have a laugh. After a few months you feel that the back and legs are stronger, and the core muscles are better developed.

What would you say to someone of your age who is a bit daunted by the idea of vigorous physical exercise?

I would suggest that they visit the British Rowing website, and there is a section called ‘Find a Rowing Club’. If you go on to that and put in your postcode, it will suggest some clubs that you can approach and ask to give you some rowing lessons. In the meantime, I would suggest that these people go to a gym and use a rowing machine for a while, and have a physical check-up.

What else do you like to do in your spare time?

I go to my local gym and do spinning classes. I also like to read about history and jazz – and I have grandchildren who take up a lot of my time as well. I’ve also taken up watercolouring, and family history; I just went into the classes, explained that I’m brand new and that I’d like to learn, and you’ll find that people are extremely helpful and welcoming, so don’t be inhibited. Take a deep breath and go for it, and if you make a few mistakes – so? I remember having a boss decades ago who said to me whenever I made a mistake, “Has anyone ended up in hospital as a result of this mistake? No? Then just rectify it and get on with it.”


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