He has a leaky heart valve, a knee replacement, type 2 diabetes, and dodgy lungs but it’s his iron will that makes 84-year-old Richard Morgan a winner at indoor rowing, a sport he took up aged 73.
Currently in training for the over-80s World Indoor Rowing Championships in Boston next February, Richard won gold at his first outing in the national championships about a decade ago.
“I was very disappointed,” he says, “when I discovered I was the sole competitor. I asked the chap in charge what the record was in the 2000m and I told him I’d be back to break that record the following year. And I did.”
Encouraged to take up rowing by his grandson, former Irish Apprentice star Breffny Morgan, Richard wasn’t long setting his sights on a world title and came fourth in his first attempt. The following year, 2006, he took bronze and in 2007, gold. He made history when it emerged it was the first time a grandfather and grandson had competed in the same World Championships.
Richard’s progress is all the more admirable against a backdrop of trips to a cardiologist on foot of the leaky heart valve and a knee replacement at the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork. What did his orthopaedic surgeon think of his endeavours? “I don’t think I mentioned it to David [Mulcahy] at the time,” he says.
Richard trains for an hour or two most days on the Ergometer Concept 2, not in a state-of-the-art gym, but in his garage in the Cork suburb of Ballinlough, surrounded by tools and gardening equipment.
“It’s mostly endurance training or short intense bursts, 500m at a time, an hour or two most days,” he says.
His reduced lung capacity leaves him breathless at times. “I was a very heavy smoker, 60-a-day until I gave up aged 45,” he says.
It was on foot of a wager. He was in Japan with work colleagues and the Japanese cigarettes weren’t going down well. “We made a bet that we could stay off them until we went back home, but by then, I was the only one still off them. The boys had switched over to American cigarettes.”
He’s also suffered from tinnitus (a ringing in the ears) and a form of lockjaw that he says was cured by the anaesthetic he was given prior to his knee replacement op.
None of this has been enough to stop him from winning two bronze, four silver, and one gold medal over six National Championships, and his goal next February is to set a new record.
Wife Rita is understandably anxious that the rowing will wear him out, but Richard says his grown-up children encourage him.
He’s also inspired by competitors, including the American Paul Randall, who at age 96 is probably the oldest rower in town. “He’s hoping to be still competing in the over-100s at the World Championships. For me it’s all about competing. Medals don’t count anymore,” Richard says.
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