Finding friends and fitness in a lifelong sport
written by Viki Eirdam, photography by Daniel Stark
Back in 1964, John Alberti was a sophomore at the University of Washington, seeking a sport to balance out the academic side of his college experience. More than fifty-five years later, rowing has carried him into his retirement years with no plans of hanging up his oars.
At 75 years old, Alberti still consults part-time as an acoustical engineer, but he’s just as likely to be found on his Erg Concept 2 rower, rowing a nearby lake or crossing the big pond in a jet to compete in an international rowing competition. That’s exactly what he did last September when he traveled to Budapest for the 2019 FISA World Masters Rowing Championship, held on Lake Velence, and returned home with two gold medals.
The 2019 regatta was his third world-level competition and he already has his eyes on the 2020 championship in Linz, Austria. Having won the men’s fours twice in a row now at the FISA World Masters, he and his crew feel duty-bound to defend their title.
Typically part of a doubles shell, Alberti also competes in quads and as a team of eight. The strong camaraderie found in rowing is a large draw for him. Through hundreds of competitions over the years, Alberti has friends in places like Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands and France, as well as all over the U.S.
Alberti has been rowing with the same mixed doubles partner for nearly four years. Since the gold in their category eluded the duo by mere seconds in 2019, Alberti sees 2020 in Austria as “unfinished business.”
Standing at 6 feet 3 inches, Alberti does not take his health lightly. Now residing in a senior living center that helps him care for his wife of nearly thirty-eight years, he is surrounded by daily reminders of how lifestyle and factors beyond a person’s control can weaken an aging body.
“This sense of being around people who are very functional and very active, it becomes part of your world,” Alberti said.
After NW Ergomania and Big Climb Seattle in the first quarter of 2020, USRowing NW Masters Regional and National Championships will keep Alberti in top form through the summer before he heads off to FISA in September. Fall brings sprint race season, bookended by Head of the Charles in Boston and Head of the Lake on Lake Washington. As long as Alberti has a say in it, he’ll be primed to do it all again in 2021.
John Alberti. Oarsman
John trains on and off the water throughout the year. A lymphoma survivor, John challenges his endurance during the Big Climb Seattle, a 69-story run up the Columbia Center held each March. During race season, John’s workouts consist of three high-intensity interval training sessions per week (on the water or his Erg Concept 2), two weight-training sessions a week and a weekly circuit-training round with a fitness coach. NW Ergomania, an indoor rowing event, keeps him honest through the winter.
A balanced diet of fruits and vegetables with a focus on quality proteins is the foundation of John’s eating plan. He aims for more than 100 grams of protein per day, including skim milk with each meal, protein powder in oatmeal, eggs for breakfast, low-fat yogurt and high-protein snacks to fill in gaps. He has fish oil every day for the omega-3s and opts for a banana and green tea for dessert.
It’s been John’s experience that an oarsman stays in shape for his teammates. His circle of rowing friends exchange articles about nutrition, workouts, rowing mechanics and “goad each other into doing stuff.” John was also fortunate to be mentored by two icons in the NW rowing scene who have since passed away—Dick Erickson, former coach at the University of Washington, and Frank Cunningham, former coach at the Lake Washington Rowing Club, among others.