Senior rowers learn it's never too late


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Many of the high school kids racing in Saturday's Head of the Ohio rowing event had been on the water for less than a year. Similarly new to racing was Dave Reckless, a graduate of Philadelphia's Lincoln High School -- Class of 1953.

Mr. Reckless, 78, of McCandless, wasn't the most senior athlete in the 27th annual sculling and sweeping event that brought 2,000 rowers to the Allegheny River. That honor might have gone to Jack Harnick, 83, of Hampton.

Mr. Reckless, however, may have been the oldest new rower to brave the 2.5-mile course. And he may have been one of the few to follow in a grandchild's wake.

"I decided this past winter that I would try it," said Mr. Reckless, shortly before launching his boat behind the Three Rivers Rowing Association boat house in time for a 10:10 a.m. race start time.

Around an hour later, after he docked his eight-person shell and reunited with his wife, Charlene, on shore, he declared the experience to be "awesome."

"It was a dream of mine to start and finish my first race," said the slightly winded former owner of 3 R's Plus, a tutoring center.

"No crabs!" he boasted to his wife. But more on that later.

The annual event brings 500 teams, the majority affiliated with high schools or colleges, to Washington's Landing. They ease down to the Fort Duquesne Bridge, from which, one by one, they dart back upstream, slicing through 4,200 meters of river in timed heats.

It's "a pretty awesome way to show off the city," said Three Rivers Rowing executive director Rick Brown, who headed a handful of professionals and nearly 200 volunteers who staffed the event. The natural beauty, the skyline view from the river, the exhilaration of well-timed exertion -- plus, this year, the presence of a huge rubber duck along the course -- make it a great introduction to the city.

Rowing is egalitarian, Mr. Brown added. "You don't have to be a certain size. ... You don't have to have any athletic background."

Sanctioned by U.S. Rowing and refereed by seasoned volunteers from all over the country, it's a prestigious face-off for teams from the University of Pittsburgh, Ohio University and West Virginia University. A good men's college team can complete the run in under 15 minutes.

It may mean even more to rowers in the "masters" category, which encompasses everyone over the age of 21.

Mr. Harnick raced in the first Head of the Ohio and nearly every one since. He rowed Saturday for a team called the Grand Masters, which boasted an average age of 70, entitling it to a minute-and-a-half reduction in its official time.

"They keep me around because of the handicap they get," he joked as he emerged post-race from the dock, arm in arm with his wife, Yvonne.

Mr. Harnick rowed in high school in Buffalo, dropped it for 40 years, then picked it back up around the time he retired from a career in construction project management.

He rows twice a week. Why? "I'm crazy, I guess," he said.

"He's had some health issues and this has helped him tremendously," said Mrs. Harnick.

His rowing inspired his son, who took up skulling, and his grandson, who rowed last year for Pine-Richland High School.

For Mr. Reckless, the influence flowed the opposite way.

His son, Dale, a physical therapist, used to take patients out on the water as part of their rehabilitation. Grandsons Adam and Aaron took it up, and the former holds records at Ohio State.

Dave Reckless attended one too many of his grandkids' rowing events, and decided he should be on the water, too. It became one of his "newies" -- new experiences which he logs in a datebook and marks with the code letter "N."

A month ago, seven Recklesses from three generations -- along with a family friend -- rowed in a special Mixed Masters Day event. They wore T-shirts that read, "We all have a Reckless side."

Rowing isn't without risk.

Remember those "crabs"? That's when an oar comes out of the water at the wrong angle. The momentum of the boat through the water can cause a loss of control, potentially slamming the oar into the rower's chest.

"It can actually knock somebody out of the boat," said Mr. Reckless.

Fortunately, that didn't happen, and his team logged a time of 22 minutes and 46 seconds. Because their average age was 45, their adjusted time was 22 minutes and 30 seconds.

Mr. Harnick's team finished in 23 minutes and 44 seconds. Because of their higher age handicap, their adjusted time, 22 minutes and 11 seconds, was a hair better than Mr. Reckless's squad.

Of course, it wasn't about the times. It was about what Mr. Brown called the friendship, the competition and the fitness.

For Mr. Harnick, it was about the good feeling you get when you've earned a break. "I'm going to take a week or so off," he said.

neigh_city - sportsother

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord


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