By Christina Whiting
Jim and Karen Hurd are a Homer couple with two passions that take them around the world. When they return home, they don’t come back with souvenirs or knickknacks, but bronze, silver and gold medals.
“Rowing and skiing are a big part of our lives,” Jim said.
Jim and Karen have competed in international rowing competitions in World Masters Games and in national and international ski championships in U.S. National Masters and World Masters Games.
“World Masters Games are held every four years in different cities around the world,” Karen said. “There are thirty different sports and competitors range from 27 to 90 years old.”
It’s from these competitions that they bring home their shiny medals. Friends and neighbors refer to them as Animal and Zena, respectively.
Born and raised in Vermont, Jim joined the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Long Island in 1961. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree in Marine Transportation and sailed for seven years, traveling around the world on a freighter, taking supplies to Vietnam during the war, sailing on a tanker in the Persian Gulf and sailing to the Mediterranean, Europe, Japan, Taiwan and Hawaii. During this time, he advanced from Third Mate to Second Mate to Chief and then to Captain, achieving his Unlimited Master’s license.
Karen was born and raised in New Jersey. She took secretarial courses at Vermont College and worked as a legal secretary in Boston. She left work to travel around the country with a girlfriend for three months and then returned to California to save money to return to the east coast. A mutual friend introduced her to Jim and two years later, they were married.
Jim and Karen fell in love with Homer while visiting in 1971. Jim received a job offer from the Homer Pilot’s Association the next year and they moved to Homer in the summer.
Jim worked as a marine pilot, piloting ships in southwest Alaska until he retired in 1999. Karen worked as a stay at home mom, raising three kids and receiving her certificate in Massage Therapy.
Jim and Karen split their time between summers in Homer and winters in Anchorage and pursue an active lifestyle that’s both impressive and inspiring.
Jim played sports as a youth and Karen’s foray into athletics began while she was in her 30’s, when a friend asked her to go for a run with him. She could only run to the corner of the road and back, but with the friend’s encouragement and her own determination, Karen began to train.
“Over the years, I progressed to running longer and longer. I ran my first triathlon five years later, when I was 40,” Karen said.
Following the triathlon, Karen competed in numerous events, including Mount Marathon, California’s oldest mountain run The Dipsea, the Lost Lake Trail run and the World Master’s cross country ski race.
“I ran three mountain runs in one year,” said Karen. “And then I blew out my knee and that ended my running.”
Her desire to physically challenge herself remained intact.
Jim maintained his active lifestyle, including biking the Midnight Sun 600k Classic bike race with a team, cycling the scenic highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks.
In 2000, Karen saw a photo and headline on the front page of the Anchorage Daily News. It was about eight women rowing on Kenai Lake.
“The lake was turquoise. The women were rowing in unison. I thought, I’ve got to do that,” she said.
Karen joined the rowing club and began training. A year later, Jim joined.
Jim and Karen competed in the World Masters Games in Edmonton in 2005, in Sydney in 2009 and in Italy this August. In Italy, they competed alongside 1300 rowers and
between the two of them, brought home three bronze medals and two silver medals and racing in honor of Jim’s dad.
They train with the Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Club at Mackey Lake near Soldotna, rowing single, double and quad boats between mid May and mid September. During a year when they’re training to compete in World Masters Games, they row four to five days a week for two to three hours a day. In non-world years, they row three times a week for two hours a day.
They proudly display their large collection of bronze, silver and gold medals, medals they’ve won in rowing and skiing competitions since 1995.
“My philosophy,” said Karen, “is to do something new and different every year. I want to inspire people to push past what they think they can and can’t do.”
“Keeping fit helps me live better,” said Jim. “I want to be an example to my grandkids that an active lifestyle can be fun as well as healthy.”
Jim and Karen plan to keep training and to ski and row in World Masters Games for as long as they can.
“We want to be 90 years old and still be out there competing,” they said.
At the rate they’re going, no doubt they will be.
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