Tacoma man, 90, takes on rowing championship

Burk Ketcham
Burk Ketcham courtesy

Burk Ketcham of Tacoma will be the oldest participant Thursday and Friday at the World Masters Rowing Championships in Belgium.

Ketcham is 90 and will compete in a 2- and 4-man boats in a regatta that includes about 3,500 rowers ages 27 and older.

He grew up in New Jersey, graduated from New York’s Union College, earned a master’s degree from Columbia and spent 40 years working for planning consulting firms.

He moved to Washington in 1997 and has rowed with local clubs ever since. Several years ago his vision deteriorated to the point where he gave up driving, but it hasn’t kept him off the water. Ketcham took a few minutes to field questions before leaving for Belgium

Q: How did you get into rowing?

A: In 1989 my wife died of cancer, and I became a widower. At the time we were living in Cohasset, Massachusettes … Sometime before my wife died, I read an article in the Boston Globe about rowing as a sport which could be continued into your senior years. While she was dealing with cancer, it was not a good time to try something like rowing, but a few years after her death I read in the local paper about a guy in Cohasset who wanted to teach anyone interested how to row. I followed up and at age 67 became a rower.

Q: Who are your teammates at worlds?

A: I will row a double with my long-time doubles partner Art Wright (80), who rows for The Ancient Mariners in Seattle and lives in Shoreline. In the other race, ... Art and I will join with Otto Schaefer (84) from Germany and Zdzislaw Adamik (89) from Poland. In both races we will be in the oldest age group (85 and over average age).

Q: What’s is your training regimen like?

A: My current regimen is to row 3.5 miles in my double shell on Tuesdays and Thursdays with David Anderson, who owns Bill’s Boat House on American Lake in Lakewood. David is kind enough to pick me up in Tacoma and drive me home after our row. During the winter months I keep in shape on the ... rowing machine I have in my apartment.

Q: What are your past experiences at worlds and how long do you plan on competing?

A: I first started to participate in the FISA World Masters Rowing Championships in Strathclyde, Scotland in 2006, and in subsequent years rowed in Princeton, New Jersery; Zagreb, Croatia; St. Catherines, Canada; Vienna, Austria; Poznan, Poland; and Varese, Italy. I have a few gold medals and a number of second-place finishes in both sculling and sweep boats.

Q: What is it like to travel halfway around the world for a race you only have to finish to win?

A: When we made the entries we had no idea that we would not have any other entries in our age group. So the challenge for us will be to see if we can, over 1,000 meters, beat any of the “young guys” in the five or six boats (80-84) in the same heat.

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Burk Ketcham

The 90-year-old from Tacoma will be the oldest participant at the World Masters Rowing Championships in Belgium, competing in 2- and 4-man boats in the regatta.