Water from the Willamette River laps against the dock at Lake Oswego's Charlie S. Brown Water Sports Center. The few boaters on the water slow down as they pass, but the wake still creates a slight splash against the boathouse.
It's 9 a.m. on a Wednesday, and down at the boathouse there's a wide range of people, young and old, preparing to put their boats in the water for the morning's practice.
Among them is Roger Stevens, 81, of Wilsonville.
Stevens and his wife moved to Wilsonville from Chicago in 2016 after their kids moved to Portland a few years prior, but he says he didn't move to Oregon to sit back, relax and read a book. He's more interested in pushing the limits of what his mind and body can do.
Stevens isn't a rower by nature. In fact, he's more of a swimmer. He swam in high school and college, and continued into adulthood with masters competitions. At age 72, he checked off a bucket list item by completing an Olympics-length triathlon, and after watching Olympic rowing and videos of various regattas on YouTube, he added rowing to that list.
"I believe in making myself uncomfortable," Stevens said. "I have to have challenges. I have to be learning something new all the time. It's uncomfortable at the beginning, but once you grow and learn, it becomes fun."
Uncomfortable is a good way to describe rowing. It's a sport that requires you to sit in a narrow boat no wider than 3 feet and around 27 feet long. Preventing yourself from tipping over is only half the battle.
"Not only is it a full-body workout, but it's also a very technical sport," he says.
Before joining Lake Oswego Community Rowing earlier this year, Stevens had only rowed in an indoor tank at a local athletic club in Chicago, so the learning curve wasn't cut down by much when he started open-water training this spring.
With the help of coach Matt Dorio, Stevens has made some incredible leaps and bounds in his performance over the past several months, particularly in his solo sculling (using oars to propel a boat), an exploit that not many rowers attempt until they've become comfortable with two- or four-person rowing, according to Dorio.
"There's a lot of technical stuff to remember, but each time you come out you realize, oh I'm not doing this or I should be doing that. Matt will be out in the boat and he's yelling out to do this or that, so he's always out there coaching and helping with technique," Stevens says.
Some of the things Stevens tries to commit to memory each time he hits the water include placement of his blades in the water, controlling his seat slide, learning how to keep the boat in trim, not rocking, and being mindful of his elbow positioning.
He practices Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, sometimes twice a day at 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., rowing nearly 12,000 meters in a single practice.
That's no small feat, no matter what age you are.
"I'm still learning, but at least I can get out there and handle it pretty well," Stevens says.
Watching Stevens practice, it's hard to believe he's only been at it for a short time. His movements are as fluid as anyone's, and his demeanor is sharply focused when seated in his boat.
In June, Stevens put his hard work to the test when he competed in the Northwest Masters Championship regionals at Vancouver Lake in Vancouver, Wash. His goal was to stay afloat and finish the race, and he did just that. It was a proud moment for Stevens in his development as a relatively new rower, and he's excited to continue his training to keep improving little by little. It's all part of his plan to keep challenging himself as he grows older.
"Most people retire, they just want to kick back, take it easy and gradually age. I don't want to do that," he says.
Stevens recalls a book he once read by author Chris Crowley called "Younger Next Year." It's an installment in a series that focuses on taking advantage of growing old and focusing on self-improvement.
One part of the book discusses how the human body begins to decay after 40 years of age, but if preempted and pushed, you can continue to grow instead.
"I want to continue to grow as long as I can. Eventually, I'm going to level off and it's going to be downhill, but I don't want to just decay," he says.
For Dorio, he sees the willingness to take a risk a big factor in a rower's success. Rowing isn't something you just come across in your everyday life too often, so to get in a narrow boat hovering just inches above the water that is easily tipped takes guts.
"Roger has stepped above and beyond expectations on all of that. For someone his age to look at a racing single and say, 'I want to row that,' and to go further to say, 'I want to race that,' is incredible," Dorio says. "He's come down, he's had fun and he's enjoyed it. He's coachable, and he's taken the steps to become a better rower."