From novices to national champions

From gym rowing machine to national sculls title in one year. That's the oar-some achievement of Sue Ryan from Eaton. And her rowing partner Frances Kemp, who lives in Brooke, had only learnt to row the year previously.

Both women attended the Learn to Row course at Norwich Rowing Club and haven't looked back, landing a British Rowing Masters title at the National Water Centre in Nottingham earlier this month.

Sue, 49, said: 'I used to use the rowing machine a lot in the gym and used to enjoy it. Someone said 'why not have a go in a boat?' I went to Norwich Rowing Club and they had a taster session. Then they ran a Learn to Row course where they taught a group of us – 18-year-olds up to me. I just got completely hooked.'

At the club she was introduced to 58-year-old Frances and they formed a double crew, starting a training programme for on and off the water under the eye of coach Graham Brown. And all their hard work paid off when they won gold medals for the women's double sculls novice class in the age group 45-55 (average age of crew).

In 'dreadful' weather conditions, they beat their rivals over the one kilometre course with clubmates encouraging them from the side.

Sue said: 'It was absolutely incredible. We were very shocked and surprised we won. We were very proud to do it because of our age and because we hadn't been doing it very long. It was neck and neck up to 250 metres and then we managed to pull away from them, a big push. We beat them by four seconds. I could never have imagined winning a gold medal. I have just taken it off – five days is enough. I still have it in my handbag.'

Frances added: 'We weren't really very confident because although we had been rowing regularly it's a step up to race in a national race. I was very surprised and absolutely delighted. I don't suppose you can take up many sports in your late 50s and compete in a national championship.'

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The duo's achievement has been the talk of the Whitlingham Broad-based club.

Coach Nick Francis said: 'The whole club is thrilled at their success. It is a reward for dedication and hard work towards a clear goal of just competing at the National Championships, and then surpassing expectations by winning. It shows that rowing is genuinely accessible to all ages. This is borne out by our Learn to Row courses: participants are aged from 12 to beyond 60.'

Frances explained how she came to take up rowing: 'I started in May 2009. I have been generally fit all my adult life. I used to travel into Norwich on the train, and out of the window saw people sculling and I thought 'that looks lovely'.

'It has been a fantastic way to get fit and improve at an age you might not think you could improve any more. I still think we can do better.' She is now ladies' captain at the club, which is currently building a bigger clubhouse to help accommodate all the new members.

Sue said she liked rowing because: 'It's technically and physically demanding and it's incredibly good for fitness. I don't think I have been fitter in my life than I am now.

'It's non-impact, that's the beauty of it, and you really can't beat being out on a summer's evening on the River Yare. It's absolutely beautiful down there. You have the river to yourself sometimes. There is a huge demand for the Learn to Row course run by Nick Francis. It's superb – the way they teach it and support you.

'You can start this sport at any age and do well. The first time I had a go at it I was dreadful, unco-ordinated, legs one way and arms another,' she laughed. 'You start to practice and it just grabs you.'

The inspirational duo are now hoping to take part in this autumn's Boston Marathon – where competitors row the 31 miles from Boston to Lincoln.