This post comes to us from Sarah Fuhrmann, owner of UCanRow2. UCanRow2 provides inclusive flywheel-based workouts, training programs, and Concept2 certification to athletes and coaches of all ages and stages around the world. She is also the author of 101 Best Rowing Workouts. When she's not teaching her online rowing class she can often be found taking photos around her home in Michigan's scenic and snowy Upper Peninsula.
In the world of indoor rowing, age is never a barrier. Not to getting fit, competing, or teaching others the joys of our sport.
Meet Lou Ellyn Helman, Helen Hossack Driediger, and Polli Schildge—three incredible women whose stories exemplify what we’ve always said: Rowing meets you where you are and takes you as far as you want to go.
Lou Ellyn Helman: A Journey of Friendship and Competition
Lou Helman’s journey into rowing began in Houghton, Michigan, in 1978 when she purchased a rowing shell.
Frustrated by her inability to row without her oars hitting her knees, she turned to a new acquaintance, US National Team rower (and UCanRow2 Founder) Terry Smythe, thinking there was something wrong with her boat.
“It’s not the equipment, Lou, it’s the operator,” Terry said with a laugh after watching her row.
So began Lou’s inspiring relationship with Terry, and rowing.
Lou joined Terry’s rowing classes at a local gym, then many years later, when Lou was 83, Terry submitted Lou’s SkiErg results to Concept2.
“Congratulations, you have just set a world record,” Terry told Lou.
“Wow, what what a shock!” Lou says. “But I guess that inspired me to start competing.”
And compete she did. Lou went on to set a number of American and world records on both the RowErg and the SkiErg.
Years later, Lou brings that competitive spirit every week to a live rowing class on Zoom. She’s also looking forward to January and her 90th birthday, when she’ll be at the bottom of her age group again and likely more competitive.
But the biggest rowing benefit Lou finds is her ability to keep doing what she loves every day. “Most friends my age use canes or walkers and are all hunched over,” she says. “Yesterday I was out cutting down branches, climbing a ladder to change light bulbs (I’m careful), and walking down the street and back. I am so very, very thankful for what I still can do, and I credit it all to Terry and her favorite saying, ‘Use it or lose it.’”
Helen Hossack Driediger: Rowing Her Way to Mobility, Balance, and Fitness
“I am not your typical rower. I am a badass senior rower!” says Helen, 70, from her home in London, Ontario, Canada.
The former swimmer and active athlete traces her rowing roots back to the days of the Concept2 Model A, when she and her husband brought their first erg into their home.
“Back then there wasn’t as much emphasis on technique,” she says. “You just got on and rowed hard.”
Time and some health challenges have Helen favoring longer, slower rows these days, but she still loves it and sees the results. She marvels at how rowing has improved her mobility, balance, and cardiovascular health.
Helen's mission extends beyond personal achievement, though.
She recently completed the Concept2 instructor certification training through UCanRow2, and aspires to combine that with her extensive background in healthcare and education to inspire other older athletes to rowing fitness.
“There are so many badass rowers and potential badass rowers like me out there who can still reap great benefits from the machine with some adjustments. I want to help spread the word,” she concludes.
Polli Schildge: From Rowing Skeptic to Rowing Evangelist
Polli Schildge's journey into the world of indoor rowing began a decade ago when she was 60 years old. A competitive cyclist and fitness professional, Polli's on-water rower friend introduced her to erging.
“I was not a fan initially,” Polli says. She found herself struggling to grasp the mechanics and didn’t see what the excitement was all about. Undeterred, Polli persisted and finally found her groove with the help of some expert coaching.
She stuck with it not only because of the progress she saw in her own rowing, but also because she realized that rowing was exceptional cross-training for cycling.
“I was also training for a powerlifting competition (which I won!) and my rowing was improving as I gained strength with lifting,” she says. “I got my rowing certification and now I work with people of all fitness levels.”
“The erg is the best tool in the gym and having the skills to use it effectively is invaluable.”
Polli is paying it forward, too. Inspired by Arshay Cooper’s A Most Beautiful Thing, she has obtained a donation of ergs from a local university to enable her to start a youth indoor rowing program in her town of Asbury Park, New Jersey.
Indoor rowing has become an integral part of Polli's life, contributing to what she describes as the most rewarding time in her life. Alongside her partner and extended family of six children and 13 grandchildren, she continues to inspire others through her fitness business Getupkeepmoving.com.
Whether you're discovering erging for the first time, overcoming physical challenges, or setting world records, the rowing machine can be a ticket to empowerment and health at any age. It's not just about the equipment; it's about the operator—and these women are proving that the sky's the limit.