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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020 4 months ago

Prose and Kohn: Row, row again

Sarasota resident gets back in the boat after decades away.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

Sarasota retiree Don Burrer is 87 years old. 

Don Burrer got in a rowing shell for the first time in about 20 years on Feb. 9. He spent the morning training with Sarasota County Rowing Club coach Dragos Alexandru. It wasn't a leisurely row. Burrer was pushed to his limits, he said, like back in the old days. 

See, Burrer has been a part of the rowing community at-large since he attended MIT, joining at the behest of his friends. In 1954, his MIT team won the Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges Regatta at Princeton and received an invite to compete in the Henley Regatta, the most prestigious rowing event on Earth, in England. They even won a heat there, according to the MIT Museum, defeating London Rowing Club's B team. 

Every five years, the 1954 team would reunite to row again, leisurely, until communication slowed down in recent years. That's why it had been so long since Burrer had rowed. That and age: Rowing isn't exactly pickleball on the joints. 

But on Feb. 9, at the prodding of some friends — just like the first time — Burrer got in again. 

Don Burrer and Dragos Alexandru rowing together. Photo courtesy Larry Chlebina.

"It felt good," Burrer said. "It felt the same mostly. You're still pulling like hell."

Then he laughed, and a grin leaped across his face.

It is rowing, Burrer said, that taught him about goal-setting, and perseverance, and working together with people to achieve something. Those are all things Burrer has put to use in his life, he said. Those are things we could all stand to use a little more. 

Burrer was modest in our chat. Multiple times, he said he did not quite understand why people would be interested in his story. He's just a guy trying to live his life and stay out of trouble, he said. But that's just it: Burrer is just a guy. Just a guy who, at 87, decided for whatever reason to pick up the sport he thought he had left behind, if only for a morning, if only for a few laps. 

I stopped playing baseball when I got to high school, save a backyard game here, a beer league softball season there. I was burnt out on the sport, even though I loved it. I often wonder how my life would be different if I had kept playing. I wasn't amazing, but I was a solid player. Maybe I would have gotten a scholarship to a small school. Maybe more than that. I'll never know now, but what hasn't changed all these years later is my love of the game. In talking to Burrer, I realized it's never too late to jump back into the sport I love. 

It's never too late to try something brand new, either. I have always wanted to get more into tennis. Now, I'm thinking about buying a racket. Whatever your thing is, just do it. Try it. Burrer is proof you can do what you want, no matter your age, if maybe not at the speed you once could. 

The Sarasota Invitational Regatta, which is sponsored by the Sarasota County Rowing Club, is this weekend at Nathan Benderson Park. If you're thinking about making rowing your thing, this is a wonderful opportunity to check it out. Teams of all ages, including Masters rowers, will be competing. 


I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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