Ladies of ZLAC — even at 90 — carry on rowing tradition
by Mariko Lamb
Published - 05/23/13 - 12:39 PM | 5746 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Annette Frank, 90, left, and Mary Grandell, 86, stand in front of  the ZLAC rowing club, where the duo have met for more than 60 years to embark on the waters of Mission Bay. 	MARIKO LAMB
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Despite their youthful vigor, ZLAC rowing club members Mary Grandell, 86, and Annette Frank, 90, insist they haven’t been drinking from a Fountain of Youth or sold their souls to the devil. The secret to their energetic and good-natured demeanor, they say, is blood-pumping rowing workouts, the natural wonders of Mission Bay in the early morning and the camaraderie they enjoy among their ZLAC Rowing Club sisters that keep the so-called “ancient mermaids” so young at heart.

Grandell and Frank began rowing at a young age, just as their mothers did before them. The sport has been in the women’s families for generations, with both of their mothers rowing on ZLAC’s crew six.

Grandell, Frank and the rest of their crew continue to row every Thursday morning without fail.

“It’s just a release from the stress,” said Grandell. “It’s a lot more fun to go out together, even though you’re not conversing when you’re rowing the boat. Just getting together, getting out and keeping moving [is the important thing]. I think that’s the secret — just getting the blood circulating.”

Although their crew’s numbers have dwindled over the years, the ladies who remain said they are having more fun than ever before.

“We get together twice a month and have our lunches at the clubhouse,” said Frank. “We used to have a real big group, and it went down. We started to get worried, but then we realized we have more fun in the small group than we did before.”

Over the years, many things have changed. A few more aches and pains have encumbered the ladies’ physical ability getting the boats out on the water, they contend with more water-activity traffic on the bay and the frequency of getting the crew together has lessened.

“It’s a lot different from 10 years ago even,” said Grandell. “The waterskiers come out with our little gunnels, and with the height — there’s not many inches there — a lot of water comes in, then you have to go to shore and empty your boats. In the olden days, you didn’t have all the traffic and you could really enjoy yourselves.”

Despite the challenges, rowing remains a constant just as it always has.

“Numero Uno is always Thursday morning rowing. That takes priority,” said Frank.

The ZLAC clubhouse on Mission Bay acts as a second home for Frank and Grandell, and their rowing sisters are always at their side for support when they need it.

“When I lost my mom at about 1 in the morning on the day of my crew meeting, it meant a lot to me to come out and be with my buddies out here,” said Frank.

She said it is a special experience being involved in ZLAC, from the camaraderie to the annual activities like the Crew Classic.

“I still love going out there every year, working one way or another,” said Frank. “Just to see all these wonderful athletes, all these young people who are dedicated — it’s just a wonderful thing. It’s a wonderful sport.”

More than anything, Frank and Grandell said they delight in the sensation they get from the first few strokes that send their narrow shell gliding through the serene morning waters of Mission Bay.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” said Frank. “After you’ve dug into the water with the cast that sends your boat and it sends you along, seeing the sea lions and all the different birdies and jellyfish. It’s almost a spiritual experience.”

For more than 60 years — throughout the changes to the bay and the friends who have left — Frank and Grandell have carried on the longstanding women’s rowing club’s priceless traditions — and they intend to continue to do so for the indefinite future.

“I plan on doing this forever,” said Frank. “It’s just something special.”
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