For a competitive athlete, a lifetime offers many different sports and activities to approach, understand and conquer.
Some athletes find the sport they love and excel at an early age. Take Tiger Woods for instance. There is video of Tiger crushing the ball off the tee and sinking 12-foot putts at the age of 2. Fourteen majors and $100 million later, we all know how that turned out.
Other athletes stick their toe in several different sporting pools, looking for just the right temperature before they dive in.
For world rowing champion and Nevada City resident, Landon Carter it took 48 years and countless sports before he found his passion for rowing, and he’s been dominant ever since.
Most recently, Carter, 70, earned his second straight World Masters gold in single-scull rowing, winning his age division despite a start that would have doomed most.
“I had the worst start I ever had in all my races,” Carter said. “I almost tipped over three times. Whatever it was, I was too tense. I literally almost tipped over three times. If I had been a more inexperienced rower, it would have been over.
“They called it early and I wasn’t ready. Usually, I row right to the front, and I can control the race and, in the middle, pull away a bit and be ready for a sprint at the end. Well, in this one, I was two boat-lengths behind. That’s a good four seconds. So, I’m down four or five seconds at the start, and we hadn’t even gone anywhere. I thought, ‘I haven’t come this far,’ and I just went. Maybe 15-20 strokes and I’m up with the leaders, and I think to myself I hope I haven’t gone out too fast.”
Carter didn’t. Despite the atrocious start, Carter finished a boat-length ahead of the field, shocking his fellow competitors and winning the gold.
Carter, a lanky, muscular and emphatic man, would also go on to win a gold medal as part of an eight-man team and a silver with a four-man team.
The medals earned at the World Masters Games in Italy will likely go up on the wall in his office with the hundreds of others he’s earned in his 22 years of rowing.
And while Carter still practices five to seven times a week and seems as if he was born to row, the road to the to the top of the rowing world only came after Carter had put his hat into several different sporting rings.
Carter went to Andover, a private high school on the East Coast, where he shined in football, skiing and lacrosse. After high school Carter attended Yale, again starring on the football field and even garnering offers from pro teams.
“I didn’t take them, thank God.” Carter said as he rocked back in his chair and chuckled a bit. “I thought, ‘I’m too light and too slow. I’m going to get killed in the pros.’”
Carter instead opted for Harvard Business School where he also captained the rugby team.
After college, Carter said he ran 13 or 14 marathons, ran a 50-mile race, competed in the Iditarod, and even competed on a Marin-based lacrosse team in his 40s.
“I’ve always done something,” he said.
It was 22 years ago when Carter discovered his love for rowing.
“I was consulting with Polaroid in Boston, and I saw people on the Charles River, between Cambridge and Boston, rowing every morning, and I thought, ‘Man, that looks so cool,’” Carter said. “So I talked my way into borrowing a boat from MIT boathouse and flipped it over the first day. I tipped it over, Nobody told me anything, so I thought I should get some coaching.”
Carter returned to Marin County, where he was living at the time, and sought the help of Tim Ryan.
“I could just go out there and wail on it and do all right, but you learn a lot of bad habits,” Carter said. “But I thought, ‘Man, this was such a cool sport. It’s a zen sport. I might as well learn to do it right. Build it up and take my time and do it properly.’”
Ryan got Carter started with drills and slowly brought him along through the first few months, but after only a year of training, Carter took first in the U.S. Nationals in his age group.
“I practiced every single day and did exactly what the coach told me to do,” Carter said.
From there, he won the next six national events along with several Canadian Masters Championships.
In 1997, Carter even won the very competitive Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston.
“It’s a really hard sport,” he said. “It’s very much about perfecting the stroke. It’s unbelievable how much there is in the stroke. After 22 years, I’m just now perfecting the stroke.”
In 1998, Carter, along with his brother, immigrated to New Zealand. While living among the Kiwis, Carter would row all over the world, putting his boat down in Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, France, Vienna, Argentina and Peru, just to name a few.
Now back in the states and at the age of 70, Carter said he usually practices on Scotts Flat Lake anywhere from five to seven times a week and is always looking to improve, despite getting older.
“That’s the interesting thing about aging, and it’s the No. 1 topic of conversation I have with other aging athletes — is how do you adjust your mental expectations when the curve is going?” Carter said. “It gets obvious that there is no way I can work hard enough to pull what they are pulling. So how to I adjust to that? Where do you push it? Where is the line?”
Carter said his best times were in his 50s where he was clocked at 3 minutes and 37 seconds, but now, as he enters his 70s, he finishes closer to the four-minute mark.
Coaching is the way to thwart the aging process, he said. Carter recently got some stroke help from Xeno Muller, an Olympic gold medalist in rowing.
“He corrected my stroke quite significantly,” Carter said. “I got faster because I got more efficient, and it took me two years to perfect that stroke.”
Carter’s massive success is in large part due to his wife Diane Covington-Carter, he said. The two have co-authored a relationship book, and the support she gives him spurs him along.
“Her support of me with all the training and being tired afterwards and taking naps was a big part of me winning the gold,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without her support, and I think that having support is part of any athlete’s formula for success.”
Despite Carter’s numerous medals and accolades he said he’s far from done.
Carter has plans to compete in an October race in Petaluma, and then two weeks later go for the gold at the Head of Charles Regatta.
The same river where it all started 22 years ago.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.