Out & Active Champions: Peter

Peter Gumpesberger (Facebook crop) 72 dpi

Peter: London Otters Rowing Club

Grandpa Otter finds his family and support at the Rowing Club

I started rowing three years ago when I joined the Otters Rowing Club. I would have been about fifty-three or fifty-four and the nick name Grandpa Otter came about because I was at the time the oldest member of the club.

I moved from Toronto, to London and I joined Meetup groups – guitar – sketch comedy writing – cider drinking – but you’d never see the same people twice. I’d never rowed before and thought it would be a good thing. The Otters were offering lessons on how to row. So, I thought if I got involved in a team sport there was more likelihood of some sort of bonding, and of course there was and I’d also get some sort of exercise. It was a moment when the club was all coming together and I was in a group of what ‘Mama Otter’ would refer to as his ‘pups’. These were the new participants taking the course in the first year. As it was very early on in the life of the club there was a great will by everyone to be inclusive – to socialise and hang together and I’d never seen such a well-intended and inclusive group. Gay men can sometimes be a little bit judgemental or catty – there was none of that.

One of the benefits is learning to work as a team. I’ve done other sports like skiing and gymnastics which are all solo activities where it didn’t really matter what anyone else was doing. It was interesting to realise how you are affected by other people and how other people are affected by what you do, there’s a lot to be learned by that. The club has now become my London family, my social community. I love the camaraderie and right now I go out with some of the people I’ve met more often than rowing. I’ve stopped rowing for a bit as I’ve had some chemotherapy so I’m just getting on my feet again and I hope to be back at it this Spring. The rowing is once a week and I’ve been part of organising some Rowga – yoga for rowers. Then there’s also dry land training, running and working out at the gym. We really have a great network of people who come together and do all kinds of things pubs, dinners and so on.

I probably wouldn’t have joined if Otters hadn’t been an LGBT club. I think I would have felt uncomfortable. I guess I come from a different era where sport was mostly the jocks and people weren’t out about their sexuality. Had you come out in that sort of environment especially when there is going to be camaraderie, gyms and showers, it just might make people uncomfortable and I would be uncomfortable as a result. I was definitely looking for gay activities and it wasn’t at all driven by dating. It was really to meet like-minded people.

There are definitely positives about being older in the club – there’s a kind of wisdom and there was a period when the club was getting on its feet and they were seeking my advice and participation, especially in the running of the club.

Some of the younger club members started a Whatsapp chat for ‘Movember’ talking about prostate cancer, so I was leading that group as I was going through that, bringing the rowing and the gay thing together. I wanted to share my experience so it would be discussed because in my generation, nobody spoke about prostate cancer ever. They were all so supportive to me and if I needed someone to talk to I could just send a text and someone would be waiting there.

For an over fifty LGBT person looking to get fit, I’d say, just go for it. Age shouldn’t be a factor at all. You are only as young or as old as you feel and the younger people will embrace you. It’s not them holding you back, in fact they will welcome, honour and respect you. There’s also something invigorating about the vitality of youth, being around it and remembering it. We obviously have all been every age and have experiences that they don’t have. Were in a better position if anything. Sure, our bodies are not as physically strong as they were. But you’ve got something else that they don’t have and they welcome that. So, it’s not purely about the fastest runner or the best rower, it really is a community event where the elders are revered and I guess that term ‘Grandpa Otter’ is a form of endearment just to give me that respect, basically.

We have the young rowers, the veteran rowers and the social rowers. Everyone fits in somewhere. Our guys race against other rowing clubs at meets and they win – returning with trophies. For older guys, if you can hold your own at that level you’re welcome to take part.  We social rowers go out and cheer our teams on.

There’s just something magical that’s going on with The Otters. It starts with the founding members, Warwick Lobban and Grant Ralph, who are affectionately Mama and Papa Otter, and it filters down to everybody. We really and truly love each other; everyone is celebrated for what they can bring to the group, a bit like a pot-luck dinner.


In recognition of Peter’s contribution to the club, the London Otters recently named one of their boats after him. Watch the video  here:

To find our other Out & Active Champions, click on their names.
Christopher from Out To Swim
Tammy from London Royals Hockey
Nigel from Goslings London Badminton Club
Sarah from London Otters Rowing Club
Nash from London Royals Hockey
Sarah from Out To Swim

To find out more about the club click
London Otters Rowing Club

Champion interviews by Christopher Preston
Design for Out & Active by Laura Salisbury

Out & Active is kindly
supported by London Sport