Canoe at any age

Jean Boatman

More than 2 million people paddle in Britain, according to the British Canoe Union (BCU), the sport’s governing body.

With its extensive network of waterways, lakes and coastline, the British Isles have a lot to offer canoeists.

“Whether you live in the middle of inner city London or in the countryside, there is water near you,” says BCU spokesperson Tamsin Phipps.

Canoeing can be a team game or an individual test of speed and ability. It can be a sociable hobby or a way of escaping the crowds.

“However you chose to do it, it’s a great way of keeping healthy and having fun,” says Jean Boatman, a keen canoeist who, at 79, is still a regular on the water.

Canoeing can improve muscle strength and co-ordination, is good for your heart and lungs, and reduces stress. “It is a full body workout,” says Jean, from Reading.

Jean's story

With a surname like Boatman you might think Jean was destined to be involved in water sports, but she discovered canoeing later in life. 

“It never occurred to me that a housewife with young children could do water sports,” she says.

While she may have been a late starter, Jean certainly made up for lost time. When she retired from work in her 60s, Jean took up marathon racing, which initially involved racing a distance of 6km (four miles).

Jean decided to take part in the 200km (125 miles) Devizes to Westminster (DW) race after fellow members of her canoe club joked in the newsletter that she and a friend, Gill, looked like they were training for the famous race.

“When we saw the remark, we looked at each other and said: ‘We’ll show them we really can do it,’” says Jean.

After 50 hours of paddling and two stops to sleep, Jean and Gill, who took part as a pair, received their well-earned medal at Westminster, joining a roll of honour that includes adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown.

Not content with this achievement, at the age of 67, Jean attempted the DW again, this time without stopping. She and her canoeing partner Jim completed the race in 27 hours, finishing 50th out of 150 canoes.

“We were also awarded the trophy for the oldest crew to finish that year,” says Jean. “For me this is my greatest personal achievement.”

World cup race

Jean’s competitive streak didn’t stop at the DW. Her club encouraged her to enter the Canoe Kayak Marathon Masters World Cup, in Stockton-on-Tees, in 2001.

“At the age of 70, I found myself in the 45-plus age group race as there were no other women in my age range,” says Jean.

“The other participants asked how long I thought I’d take so I returned the question. When they said three hours, I said I’d do the same.”

In fact, she did much better than that. Jean completed the 22km (14 mile) race in two hours and 25 minutes, finishing third in her category.

“I was surprised when two local newspapers rang to take a photo as I didn't think of this as being out of the ordinary,” says Jean.

Since then, Jean has overcome breast cancer and managed a 6km (four mile) race just six months after her operation.

“Now here I am at the age of 78, still racing, still having great fun, still making lots of new friends and still part of a wonderfully sociable activity.

“I might be slightly slower than in my 60s, but I am still out paddling all year round and having a great time.”

Page last reviewed: 16/07/2013

Next review due: 16/07/2015

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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

ossiejoe said on 23 February 2010

wELL DONE YOU !!!!!!!

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Steven said on 08 August 2008

Thank you for your comment. The text has been amended. Thanks.

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trouble said on 07 August 2008

I suspect actually she didn't row for 50 hours. Its quite hard to row a kayak. I suspect she paddled. Its still a great achievement

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