October 22, 2021

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How a Marathon Runner Gets a Low-Impact Fitness Fix With Rowing

2 min read

When Juan Carlos Zarate entered his 50s, his knees started to yell: Stop running. The longtime marathoner and cardiologist completed his final 26.2-mile race four years ago, at age 55. Like many former runners, he turned to road cycling as a low-impact alternative, but grew concerned by the growing number of cyclist deaths caused by vehicles.

Dr. Zarate, 59, lives on a protected bay in the town of Niceville on the Florida panhandle. Rather than hit the gym, he turned to the waterways around his home for a safe place to get his fix of nature and exercise. The younger of his two sons, Lucas Zarate, rowed crew in high school, which inspired him to try sculling.

Sculling is a rowing discipline requiring two oars. The narrow boats, also known as shells, range from a 27-foot-long solo craft to a 58-foot-long boat that seats eight. Shells are outfitted with sliding seats, with the oars attached to the boat.

Dr. Zarate signed up for a lesson and was surprised to find the sport worked his legs just as much as his upper body. “You drive through the legs to initiate the power of the stroke,” he says. “People think rowing is about brute force, but it’s really about technique. It is a very technical sport. You are always learning and improving.”

He bought his wife, Robin Zarate, a shell and now they’re both hooked. The couple joined the Pensacola Rowing Club, just over an hour away, and he’s considering starting a local club.