Glenwood Springs resident sets sail for 2023 World Rowing Masters Regatta

Clem Kopf heads out during a training session at Harvey Gap State Park.
Clem Kopf/Courtesy

At 76, many are settling into the comforts of retirement. But for Clem Kopf, an illustrious 53-year journey with rowing continues to unfold. 

The Glenwood Springs resident is charting his course to the 2023 World Rowing Masters Regatta in Pretoria, South Africa, set for Sept.21-23.

In the upcoming championship, Kopf has his eyes set on three events: the 70-year-old Quad, the 70-year-old 4 with coxswain, and the 70-year-old 8 with coxswain.

 Intriguingly, the age groups for these events are not solely determined by an individual’s age but by the average age of the crew. With his years, Kopf often elevates the age bracket for his team, allowing crews in their 60s to compete in the 70-year-old category.

The team accompanying Kopf to the championships promises a melting pot of talent. With members hailing from South Africa, Austria, Minnesota, California, and, of course, Glenwood Springs, they bring a diverse set of skills to the boat.

In the lead-up to this prestigious event, Kopf’s preparation regime remains unwavering. He dedicates countless hours to training at Harvey Gap State Park north of Silt. 

His commitment was on clear display earlier this year, clinching two gold medals at the U.S. Eastern Regional Masters Championships in Delaware and, subsequently, two golds and a silver at the U.S. National Masters Championships in Indianapolis.

Kopf’s history with the sport stretches back to his youth. Growing up in the Philadelphia area, he was a cornerstone of a National Championship High School rowing team. In the 1960s, he donned the national colors, representing the U.S. National Team in three consecutive years. This stint witnessed multiple international triumphs, including a memorable victory against the highly-regarded German rowing team during a tour to Germany in the early 1960s.

“Rowing was all very new to me when I started,” Kopf said. “I attended this private school and we stood there; if you were tall and looked somewhat athletic, they brought you on for tryouts for the rowing team. It was never something I was interested in, but this sport truly is incredible.”

His accolades do not end there. In 1967, he was crowned champion at the Pan American games. Moreover, Kopf’s legacy led to remarkable experiences, such as sharing a meal with former Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat. He also showcased his prowess in multiple American Olympic teams from 1964 to 1968.

“It truly has been a blessing to be in the spot that I am in,” Kopf said. “I never thought this would be where I am, but this opportunity truly has given me and my family the chance to see the world and more.”

When reflecting on Kopf’s dedication and skill, former teammate Joe Henwood weighs in with admiration.

“For most people, we call rowing the oldest competitive sport in the world,” Henwood said. “For Clem to have the success that he has had, the dude has worked his butt off to be where he is today.”

“Back in the day, Clem was probably the strongest oarsman that I ever rode with,” Henwood added.

Outside the water, Kopf’s expertise extends to engineering, with him presently residing in the scenic Roaring Fork Valley. As he embarks on his South African adventure, the rowing world will undoubtedly be cheering for this stalwart of the sport.

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