William Reimann: I’ve Been Rowing for Six Decades

Reimman, 80, is a retired Harvard art senior preceptor and sculptor. He's a seven-time winner of the Head of the Charles Regatta.


Photograph by Trevor Reid

William Reimann

Age: 80
Occupation: Retired Harvard art senior preceptor. Sculptor.
Passion: Rowing. Seven-time winner of the Head of the Charles Regatta.
It Helps That…: He lives down the street from the Cambridge Boat Club.
The Goal: Eternal youth.

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William Reimann, a professional artist and retired Harvard senior preceptor, has been a rower since his high school days on Philadelphia’s Main Line. He’s a gentleman in corduroys who didn’t go for the typical sports: “I tried football, but I didn’t like getting hit. But I didn’t mind hitting,” he says, flashing a puckish grin.

After competing in Olympic trials in the 1950s, Reimann began setting intramural records while teaching at Harvard.

In 1972, he was invited to join the Cambridge Boat Club, where he continues to row. “I got together with one guy who was my rowing partner for 20-plus years: strong, determined, conservative. I seemed like Bernie Sanders compared to him,” he says with a chuckle. “Another great big guy, my partner for some years, was a plastic surgeon who fixed cleft palates. Hands like a bunch of bananas!”

Reimann retired from his academic appointment in 2002 and won his last Head of the Charles two years ago. He doesn’t race anymore. “My cardiologist—I call him my ‘cardio electrician’—says it’s not a good idea to race over 3 miles at full tilt. He says it ‘greatly increases my chances of an unrecoverable heart incident,’” Reimann says with a sly wink.

No matter. He’s still up daily at about 5:45 a.m., logging some 1,600 miles in 2015. “More miles than anyone else in the club of any age. More than the young toughs,” he says.

Why do it? I ask. Why go out in the dark every morning to face the chilly, choppy Charles? Reimann peers at me over his gold-rimmed glasses with eyes the color of a foggy New England dawn. Then he smiles. “Survival,” he answers.

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