Living Stronger: 76-year-old rower preaches preparation as key to success

Rowing stronger

Living Stronger is a "CBS Evening News" series celebrating the people leading the way to longevity -- and inspiring the rest of us.  

OLD LYME, Conn. -- Few sports are as physically and mentally grueling as competitive rowing. It takes strength, stamina and perfect tempo.

Seventy-six-year-old Maxine Shepatin has been rowing for 15 years. She is the oldest member of her team, the Blood Street Sculls.

Shepatin on the water CBS News

"The whole idea is to literally row as one so that the boat moves together," Shepatin said.

Maxine Shepatin CBS News

As a 26-year breast cancer survivor, Shepatin was looking for a new challenge, and took up the sport on a lark. During one of her first races, she didn't believe the coxswain, the man steering the boat, that they were actually in the lead.

"And the coxswain says, 'guys keep it up! We're in first place!' None of us believed him. We thought, "OK Dave, you're just saying that," she said.

Turns out, they won that race, and many others. She has a table full of medals.

How many? "I never counted. A couple dozen, maybe three dozen," Shepatin said. "But it's not for the medals… I just enjoy being able to do it."

Shepatin's medals CBS News

"Being able to do it" means four days a week on the river and up to five days in the gym. She says her key to living stronger is preparation; She doesn't want to let her younger teammates down.

"There's no senior citizen discount on effort," she said. "You better be prepared... It's not fair if you don't bring your A-game, whatever that A-game may be."

Shepatin hits the gym up to five times per week CBS News

"When I was in elementary school, I was on a swim team with her kids. So I knew her as Mrs. Shepatin. And now we are teammates. So that I think is kind of cool," said teammate Kristy Dorsey.

Shepatin took up another challenge when she was in her sixties, and became a black belt in Muay Thai kickboxing.

"When [my grandchildren] were younger they called me ninja grandma," she said.

There are those who avoid difficulties, who dread life's turbulent waters. And those, like Maxine Shepatin, who face them head-on.