DAILY NEWS STAFF
Ripples break white caps,
and the Carolina blue skies
reflect the color of
Marj Martin Burgard’s eyes.
The winds are a bit more brisk than Burgard prefers, but not brisk enough to keep her out of the Beaufort water. The 76-year-old makes it look easy as she grabs the oars and places them by the dock. Then she quickly walks back up to the boat house and pulls down the 18-foot recreational shell and places it bow first on a convenient hand truck.
It takes less than a minute to push the shell through the parking lot. Then she’s back at the dock and ready to row. She moves at a clip more typical of a person half her age, then sets the shell gently into the water. As she steadies the shell she steps precisely into the center and sits down, oars in hand.
“Beaufort was made to row with all its little islands and inlets,” she said.
Within seconds she pushes off the dock and glides out toward the bridge that divides Morehead City with Beaufort. Cool winds blow her short curls into a tangle of gray. Seagulls dive for fish around her.
“When you’re rowing you don’t think about anything else,” she said. “It’s all about the serenity of being on the water, communing with nature.”
Rowing, once the sport of college teams in racing sculls, recreational rowing can be a great aerobic exercise for anyone wanting an all-body workout, she said.
It was her late husband, Arthur Martin, who designed the Alden Ocean Shell in their native Maine, the first single-seat shell. That was more than 25 years ago, but it was a move that opened up rowing to recreational users nationwide.
“You don’t need anyone but yourself to row,” she said.
These days, Burgard parks her Alden shell at the Gallants Channel annex in the Dr. Marcy Wertz Thomas Rowing Center’s boat rack, property of the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. There are about 40 active rowers who belong to Beaufort Oars, a club organized by Burgard’s daughter, Dizy Brown, in 1991.
Later, when Burgard, a certified U.S. Rowing Coach, joined, she began offering clinics for beginners to the more advanced recreational rowers. She also has others come in occasionally and once in a while offers children’s clinics. But it is her love of rowing that quickly infects others associated with her.
“The key thing with an older athlete is that if they can have fun while doing it they are more likely to stick to it,” she said.
Dawn Howd, who recently turned 47, lives in Richlands. She first learned about rowing about a year ago when she started searching the Internet for some form of exercise she could do.
“I started last February and it has been a quick love affair,” Howd said. “My cholesterol has gone down 60 points in less than six months just from rowing.”
Howd said she feels much healthier. Her cholesterol went down without medication or any special diet.
But it was when Howd was researching ECHO recreational one-seat shells that she found Burgard. “The first day she took me out she tied her boat to my boat,” Howd said. “I thought she didn’t think I’d do OK, but later I realized how easy it would be to drift away in the current.”
The first thing Howd did was go out and buy her own shell.
“You don’t even have to get wet unless you get in by the beach,” Howd said.
Most rowers own their own shells, but there are others who prefer to use the ones maintained by Beaufort Oars. Membership entitles members to use the facilities whenever they want; to row, train on the Concept 2 rowing machine, use the dock and boathouse and other equipment.
Of course, it’s not as busy in the winter as it is in the spring, summer and fall. But serious rowers don’t care what time of year it is, she said. They like being out on the water any time.
“I’m here nearly all the time during the spring, summer and fall,” she said. “My husband and I come and go from the Northeast, but my main focus is rowing.”
Burgard and her former husband were well known in rowing circles near Kittery Point, Maine. She met her current husband, Ralph Burgard, through friends in the Beaufort. At age 78, he also enjoys rowing and is quite competitive.
In 2001, the two of them won several medals in their age group in the Head of the Charles race in Charleston, S.C. Long before rowing became her sport, Burgard was a master swimmer.
“I was a national champion, but it seems like it was so long ago,” she said. “I was in my 50s then. Now, I’m in my mid 70s.”
She said it was something she had to get out of her system, the need to be extremely competitive.
“Now, I don’t care if I’m in races,” she said. “It’s about staying fit. When I get in a boat it keeps me young in heart and in spirit. I feel younger, more alive.”
Most anyone who can walk can row if they want to, Burgard said. It’s easy on the joints, but at the same time you’re working all the muscles in your body. Rowers rarely suffer from joint or muscle aches. And many doctors prescribe exercise for people with lower back and disc problems.
Rowing helps with circulation and places little strain on the back. The heart and lungs benefit as all the muscles in the arms, legs and torso work to propel the shell, she said.
But proper form is critical, Burgard said. Before she allows newcomers to give it a try, she sets them down on the rowing machine. Once they can show her that they can keep up a certain rate, she lets them in the water.
The machines allow people to get just as much of a workout, but in a controlled setting.
She sits in the seat and demonstrates. She leans back with her hips pushing back with her legs and torso.
“Because you’re sitting down, there’s really no stress on your joints,” she said. “Several runners have stopped and switched to rowing because of the pounding on their joints.”
Contact staff writer Diane Mouskourie firstname.lastname@example.org