Every year in August, rowers from all across the continent compete in the U.S. Rowing Masters Nationals Regatta.
Some of them even form teams from across North America without so much as training together.
That's what local rower Diane Ziff did. The 74-year-old cancer survivor went down to the event in Camden County, N.J. from Aug. 13 to 16, and came back with a pair of first-place prizes for her efforts.
In winning the women's lightweight G double, Ziff teamed up with longtime doubles partner Fran Tuite from Chicago, while in winning the women's lightweight E quad, she rowed with friends from Sunny McLean (Florida), MJ Wurster (Colorado) and Linda Merk-Gould (New York). Representing the Lincoln Park Boat Club, Ziff and Tuite took the doubles final by 3.6 seconds over Treasure Coast A Composite and with the Saugatuck B team, took the quad final by 6.8 seconds over Rocket City A Composite.
"These are people that I row with once a year and we just jump in the boat and do it," she said. "You hope that you get in the boat and everyone's in sync. We've all been training for many years and everyone I row with is an accomplished rower. It just works."
Ziff's performance in the doubles race was particularly impressive, especially considering some of the competitors were a decade younger than her.
Though she noted Tuite often prefers to make a late charge and win, the pair had gotten out to a lead and held on.
"This one, they tried to gain on us and we put on more power. We ended up finishing one boat-length ahead of them," she said.
As well, the race marked the first gold for Ziff and Tuite since the World Masters Championships in Croatia in 2007.
Ziff also took part in the individual lightweight H event, taking a bronze medal. With only a single race per day, the schedule was manageable.
"It made my life quite simple," she said, noting there weren't any heats in any of her divisions.
While the timetable was cooperative, the conditions generally were not. Competitors were forced to compete in weather that was both hot and windy.
"When we row, we like flat water," she said. "Sometimes we have more challenging conditions such as a crosswind. We have to adjust for that."
She said she went to the Garden State not overly worried about results, but just looking for an enjoyable time, crediting coach Marlene Royle.
"It's more a mindset that I had. Instead of stressing out about the competition, I went with the mindset of having a good time," she said. "I was very, very well trained. I have a great coach in Whistler and it just all went together."
Ziff was proud of all the women who raced, especially in similar age categories to her, as they make up the first vanguard of women who are competing at such a high level at this point in their lives.
"Now there's a whole generation of women over 70 who are training and competing at a high level," she said.
In addition to beating breast cancer in 2011, Ziff has also suffered several head injuries in the past six years.
"I've worked very hard to come back. I never gave up. I just kept on going. It's the only way I know to get through tough times."
Ziff's year isn't yet over. In addition to racing locally, she'll be back to the East Coast in October for the five-kilometre Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston.
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