Paul Doulton, my grandfather, is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. He not only continues to pursue the sports he loves, but he and his partner together have built a sustainable development, La Querencia, in the mountains of Mexico. I can describe La Querencia best as what I imagine the Garden of Eden would look like. Coming up to his 80th birthday, I had the chance to interview him about sailing, tennis, rowing and La Querencia.
How long have you been doing all of these sports?
I have been sailing for 70 years, playing tennis and rowing for 65 years. And before that I used to run everyday.
Out of those sports, do you have a favourite?
Well, the one which I hope to continue doing for the rest of my life is rowing because it is such a complete sport and the environment is beautiful.
Has rowing enhanced your appreciation for nature?
I have always had a great appreciation of nature, but rowing is where it is at its maximum expression. But of course, when you’re rowing, it’s amazing because you can just clear out all the garbage in your head, or things you might be dreaming about, or problems you’re worrying about, you sort them out on the lake.
So, is rowing almost a meditative exercise for you?
(Laughing) No, meditation would be an inappropriate expression in my case.
Have you ever rowed, sailed or played tennis competitively?
Sailing yes, rowing a couple of times but we no longer complete. It’s more just for pleasure but I used to take part in the senior category of international rowing competitions.
How often do you row?
I row three times a week; Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Sailing less now, just a few times a year, but when I sailed before, I used to get out every weekend. But I still play tennis at least twice a week. All of it is around the weekend.
What made you want to start rowing?
We live next to a lake and I used to row at school. A friend of mine lent me a boat and I just thought, I’ve got to get back into this! So it is partly because of the geography but there is also no better sport for keeping fit. It is as much for fitness as anything else.
I’ve just come back this morning after rowing for 70 minutes and am about to go and play tennis with an old friend.
Do you think this sporty-life style has changed the way you think about health and fitness?
Both, but I have always been an outdoor person and this is the way I can channel my energy. Ants in my pants, got to do something about it!
How important is the social element to your choice of sports?
That is not my motivation however there is that side which is also very enjoyable. But most of the rowing I do I’m in a single, although there is quite a good rowing community
Do you have any top tips for anyone starting out rowing? Advice? Words of wisdom?
With rowing, it’s great for fitness and it’s something you can do all of your life. I mean, here I am approaching 80 and I’m still getting out there on the lake.
And you also have an interest in sustainability?
Yes La Querencia; our motivation is that it’s a life project to sustainability.
Was there a catalyst for La Querencia?
It was because my partner was looking for a piece of land, I wasn’t but when I saw it, I thought let’s do this together. And we thought together we would be able to do something about sustainability.
Do you think you’ve done this to create a legacy for future generations?
Yes, that’s exactly it, that’s very well expressed.
What are the uses for La Querencia?
We grow all our own organic fruit and vegetables all year round and it’s a great social meeting point. We have yoga classes and there have been adventure holidays for children here and we have company retreats as well. The whole purpose of La Querencia is to create an environment were we can build a community of like-minded people, people committed to improving the environment.
By Siena Barry-Taylor
Alex and I have been close friends for many years now, I have seen his complete dedication to rowing first-hand and not only how much it means to him but also the huge impact it has had on the course of his life. I managed to talk to him just after a training session and ask him a few questions about the sport he loves.
How long have you been rowing for?
This will be my fifth year as a full-time rower.
What got you into rowing?
I was inspired at a young age by my grandfather’s rowing achievements and wanted to try it out for myself.
And who have you rowed for?
St Paul’s school and Thames Rowing club. I preferred rowing at Thames though because rowing at a club is a more relaxed atmosphere, everyone is on the same level including the coaches and we have more freedom.
To what level do you row?
Other than competing on behalf of my sixth form, I have competed at national and international level from the age of 16. I have also competed in both the under 18 and under 23 GB trials. And I am continuing to row next year for Yale on a rowing scholarship.
How do you think rowing has impacted your life?
I think rowing has opened up new opportunities I otherwise might have missed or not considered such as being able to go to such an amazing US university.
What part of the Thames do you row on and what do you think about that part of the river?
Day to day, I row between Wandsworth bridge up to Chiswick or Kew Bridge. From my experience of rowing I think it is probably the most heavily polluted part of the river, the water is very filthy; plastic bottles, dead fish. It’s not nice to fall in.
What are your top tips for anyone who wants to start rowing?
If you want to do it seriously you have to be committed, to get above a novice or recreational level you have to put in a lot of hours. This is not just on the water but also in the gym. It is also important to remember rowing is an all year round sport so you have to be prepared for the cold water, snow and being splashed.
What are your kit essentials?
What are your favourite snacks post work-out?
Bananas, oat bars and malt loaf are my go to or maybe some dried mango and beef jerky to keep my energy up.
What is your ‘cheat’ snack?
Ice cream or Nutella or soft milk chocolate chip cookies are my favourite.
How do you think the water in the US will be?
The water is a lot cleaner and there seems to be a lot less pollution in the rivers and lakes so I’m looking forward to rowing there!
Do you think you will row all your life?
I think for now yes, but maybe not to the same level later on in life but it’s great to keep fit.
How good to you think rowing is as a sport for one’s personal fitness?
Rowing has been proven to be the only sport that uses all the muscles in the body so in my opinion it is the best sport to keep fit. It also teaches you life skills; you really have to learn to keep your focus and time management is also really important.
Do you enjoy the sport as a pass-time or is it purely a competitive sport for you?
I would still want to compete all my life however, I wouldn’t want to train this hard for the rest of my life. It can be rough at times competing to such a high level, but at the end of the day, being able to say that all my training has led to a victory or medal and that I can say I really earned makes it all worth it.
By Siena Barry-Taylor