Proof It’s Never too Late to Master Rowing

Brett Freeman rows 2 seat in the PBC Senior Masters Eight at HOCR 2015.
Brett Freeman rows 2 seat in the PBC Senior Masters Eight at HOCR 2015.

When I met Brett Freeman in 2011, he was just figuring out the difference between squared and feathered. At 38, Brett was five to ten years older than the majority of his masters learn to row classmates. He might not have known it then, but his 6’2, 170lb frame was built to row, and over the past few years he’s honed it to row like a champion.

Why did you start rowing?

I have lived in several cities where I have watched rowing from afar. Several years ago I was ready to get involved in something in DC, looked into rowing and found a LTR program that worked great with my schedule. It was meant to be!

After LTR, why did you continue rowing?

I didn’t just want to learn the sport, I wanted to be good at it.  I realized I had a long way to go, so kept at it.  

How did you feel the first few weeks of the 2012 season, as a first year rower on a competitive program?

Excited and “small.” I was regularly behind a veteran rower and I could tell from watching their stroke and slide that I wasn’t anywhere close to being as smooth or as efficient.

What was it like, in 2012, when you rowed HOCR for the first time?

Brett Freeman (in 5 seat) on the HOCR course with his DC Strokes teammates in 2012, less than a year and a half after learning to row.
Brett Freeman (in 5 seat) on the HOCR course with his DC Strokes teammates in 2012, less than a year and a half after learning to row.

I remember the excitement of being in Cambridge and the sensory overload of all things rowing related. Our men’s masters 8 practice row on Friday was late in the day. It was dark with heavy mist but by the next morning, race day, we had absolutely beautiful conditions on the course. I also remember how quickly the experience was over. In fact, every HOCR since then has played out like that. Time flies by once you start down the course.

You made the move to Potomac Boat Club (PBC) in 2014 and have found great success there. Tell me about the impact your decisions to work with a trainer and choose a gluten free diet had on your rowing.

The regular weight training added on top of the daily rowing practices is invaluable. My trainer has been great at developing a program that compliments where I’m at in the rowing season. In addition, making sure I’m sticking to proper form, especially on leg days, has helped me avoid injury (knock on wood).

As for a gluten-free diet, which I started for health reasons long before the current fad took hold, I have more energy and less joint issues. It also changed how I approached eating in general. When I went gluten-free I didn’t try to replace everything I had been eating with a like product, so I also eliminated eating things I would just pick-up whenever…like a pizza, hamburger or similar unhealthy edibles.

This year you were the only rower in PBC’s HOCR Senior Masters 8 who didn’t row in college. Considering the elite level of rowing at PBC, this is really impressive. Are there other PBC members who began rowing as Masters?

As far as I’m aware, there are no active rowers on the Men’s Sweep Program who started rowing after college.

Your boat started 56th of 60 and finished in 14th. What was the crew’s focus for the race?

It was pretty straightforward. We knew we were likely to walk a number of crews so part of the focus was to keep our heads in the boat. The other part of our focus was driven in to us by our coach, and that was to trust. Specifically, it was to trust each other and trust in the practices and pieces we had worked on leading up to HOCR. To trust that we were properly prepared.

As a masters rower, what keeps you motivated? Do you have a personal mantra?

I’m motivated to be the best and I’m surrounded by lots of reminders that help with that. For starters, rowing for a club that launches out of a historic boathouse that has produced many outstanding rowers on the world stage never hurts. Plus, I row with a bunch of fantastic guys who are determined, focused, and talented. Finally, we have a number of elite rowers like Sam Stitt and Esther Lofgren at PBC whose excellence in the sport serves as its own special kind of motivation.

As for a personal mantra, what we use at PBC, “Row Like A Champion Today,” resonates deeply with me and I believe that is as good approach as any.