This 84-Year-Old Woman Just Set a World Record in Indoor Rowing

Narberth resident Sybil Terres Gilmar set the World and American records in her age group for the 60-minute row with what she calls "stubborn persistence."

world record indoor rowing

Sybil Terres Gilmar, of Narberth, set the indoor rowing world record for the 60-minute row in her age group last week. / Photograph by Amy McBlane

On March 27th, Narberth resident Sybil Terres Gilmar set the Concept2 Indoor Rowing World and American Records for Lightweight Women, ages 80 to 89, for the 60-minute row. It was her 84th birthday.

Taking on this challenge wasn’t on Terres Gilmar’s radar when she and fellow rower Amy McBlane walked into the Whitemarsh Boat House that day. But McBlane proposed Terres Gilmar try something new, especially since it was her birthday. “When Amy suggested breaking the record,” recalls Terres Gilmar, “I asked myself, ‘What is the possibility of doing something like this?’ I realized it would give me a challenge and a sense of adventure. That’s how I wanted to celebrate my 84th birthday.” With self-proclaimed “stubborn persistence,” Terres Gilmar rowed 8,608 meters, claiming the 60-minute row record for the lightweight, female, 80-89 age group. “We have to get over the idea that older people can’t make a difference in the world,” Terres Gilmar says. “Whether it’s taking a walk, rowing on an erg, going on a hike, or gardening, there’s always something you can do to make you well. You’ve got to do it, no matter your age. I certainly won’t give up on the idea that I can still make a difference in my health and in the world.”

Born in 1935 as the child of immigrants, Terres Gilmar grew up without any kind of athletic background. Living in the Bronx, she traveled by subway to get to school, where she didn’t participate in any sports. Her school didn’t even offer gym class. Growing up, she focused on her studies, eventually receiving her doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania and serving as a teacher and later the coordinator of a gifted and talented program.

It wasn’t until middle age that Terres Gilmar introduced fitness into her daily routine. When she was 59, she moved to Costa Rica, founding and serving as board president of the Cloud Forest School, a bilingual, environment-focused school. While there, she immersed herself in nature, taking regular outdoor strolls and listening to the constant rolling waves. When she returned to the United States at 69, Terres Gilmar sought to maintain her peaceful connection with nature and signed up for rowing lessons, hoping that she could eventually command her own boat (which she did and still does!).

While she credits her rowing instructors for her abilities, Terres Gilmar asserts that her “stubborn persistence” constantly motivates her and keeps her healthy. She views the erg as a tool that can keep her heart pumping, blood flowing, and lungs expanding, while providing an extraordinary sense of focus. “And I can do it all sitting down!” she jokes. But Terres Gilmar’s active lifestyle doesn’t come without struggle. She lives with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a cancer that produces an abundance of white blood cells. Because its major symptom is fatigue, Terres Gilmar treats her CLL with exercise, healthy eats, and sleep. As she says, “I feel very lucky and blessed, so I always try to make the most out of what I’m given.” Clearly, her outlook is working.

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