By Linda Dillman
Indoor rowing was not part of Tyson Whitt’s exercise regime five years ago, but the world class athlete accepted a challenge by a workout partner to join a competition that has taken him virtually and in person across the ocean.
Earlier this year, he traveled to Paris, France, and raced in the 2023 European Rowing Indoor Championships.
“The arena was electric and the adrenaline rush from it was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced in indoor rowing,” said Whitt, of Canal Winchester.
When Whitt was first introduced to the sport at age 40, he said he never rowed with any serious effort.
“After rowing 500m as hard as I could go, I’m surprised I ever got back on a rowing machine. It completely wiped me out for the rest of the afternoon,” admitted Whitt.
Since the competition spanned a two-week period, he tried the 500m two more times. Each time, he got a little faster and it hurt a little less. By the end of the competition, Whitt was hooked and purchased a rowing machine for home.
The top five finishers in the challenge were rewarded by having their name and result posted on the gym’s whiteboard. The winner of the competition was awarded a gym bag.
“I really wanted to be on that whiteboard, but I finished just outside of the top five at the end of the two-week competition,” said Whitt.
He did not pursue competitive indoor rowing until early-2021, and by that time, competitions transitioned to virtual due to COVID. He found it amazing that the sport had the capability to hold world championship events virtually with very little equipment requirements.
According to Whitt, a competitor basically only needs access to a Concept2 rowing machine, a computer and an internet connection. The 2022 World Rowing Indoor Championships were completely virtual. Competitors from 66 countries competed in the event, some of which were former Olympians and professional athletes from other sports.
“Competing during COVID was a great experience and virtual events do have their advantages,” said Whitt. “For example, athletes that may not have the means to travel long distances to compete are able to race from home or their local gym. The larger events are typically broadcast live, so anyone can watch them in real time. In my opinion, the viewing experience is better for virtual events due to the viewing format and presentation.”
Whitt feels racing organizations are now in a transitional phase where they are trying to determine what works best. Some events are in-person only, some are virtual only, and his most recent event—the 2023 World Rowing Indoor Championship—was hybrid.
Prior to COVID, all races were in-person only.
Over the past two and a half years, Whitt raced in 11 events, winning seven gold medals and two silver medals. He won a gold medal in the 2022 World Championships for the age 40-49 lightweight men’s division for five hundred meters. He was a silver medalist in the 2023 World Championships for the same event.
Races (virtual or in-person) are managed by racing software that collects data from each of the rowing machines in real-time. During the race, competitors can see their current standing and how many meters ahead or behind they are in the race.
Whitt typically trains one and a half to two hours per day six days a week. His regime consists of aerobic base building, strength training and high intensity workouts.
“My goals and my inner competitiveness are what keeps me rowing,” said Whitt. “They give me a purpose, which is vital in order to stick with it and not get burned out. I also want to be a good role model for my kids. I want them to see first-hand that if you put your mind to something and put in the work, good results will come of it. I have a mentor that helps me plan my workouts. He has been instrumental in my success in the sport. With his instruction and wealth of knowledge, I’ve been able to obtain results I never would have thought were possible a few years ago.”
Outside of the gym, he plays recreational sports including baseball, softball, and basketball. Whitt recently acquired local sponsorships for indoor rowing and said their generosity helped make it possible for him to travel to Paris earlier this year to compete.
He plans to travel to Prague, Czech Republic, for the 2024 World Rowing Indoor Championships.
So far, no one in Whitt’s family followed him in taking up the sport, but he said his wife’s support is vital to his success and he is hopeful one day his children will take an interest in indoor rowing.
“Even if they don’t pursue competing, indoor rowing is a great training tool to help improve fitness as well as creating mental toughness,” said Whitt. “These skills are a great addition to any sport they may pursue. I would highly encourage indoor rowing to anyone to improve their fitness and health. It is a great, low-impact, exercise that works almost the entire body. Even if you don’t pursue competing, there are enormous benefits from consistently using a rowing machine.”