Former Rotary Scholar kayaks across England for charity
Peter Woolsey, a 1965-66 scholar to the United States, paddles down the Oxford Canal 6 June on his way to London. Photo courtesy Peter Woolsey
A 70-year-old former Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar isn't letting age slow him down.
Englishman Peter Woolsey, a 1965-66 scholar to the United States, recently completed a 400-mile solo kayak trip from Kendal, in England's Lake District, to London, raising more than US$2,500 for Age UK, a charity that provides information, advice, and support to the elderly.
When he was 17, Woolsey completed the same journey through England's network of canals and down the Thames River. As his 70th birthday approached, he decided that repeating the voyage would be an ideal way to celebrate.
"As a youngster, I was fascinated by canals and kayaking, and it grew into a passion which has stayed with me throughout my life," Woolsey says. "I’ve always felt that age shouldn’t be a barrier to achieving your goals."
Early in his life, Woolsey's hobby earned him a job leading groups of British canoeists down the Rhone and Ardèche rivers in France for PGL, an adventure holiday company. After graduating from Manchester University, he set up and managed a water sports center at Miramar on the French Riviera.
Woolsey was 25 and back in England when his stepfather invited him to a meeting of the Rotary Club of Stockton & Thornaby, Durham, which was seeking candidates for a scholarship. He won it by promising he would visit every Rotary club he could and never turn down an invitation to speak.
He made good on his promise, speaking at 84 clubs and four district conferences during his scholarship year. After studying business at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, he used his scholarship experience to build ties between Wharton and the European campus of INSEAD international business school, in France, where he received his MBA. Because of his efforts, students can now earn a degree by doing combined studies at the two campuses.
Woolsey went on to work as a publisher in England, France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, then created a point-of-sale system for merchants in several countries in Europe. He later launched a company that supplied banking and insurance software to businesses throughout Northern Europe and the Baltic, requiring him to commute between Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
While in Estonia, he became a charter member of the English-speaking Rotary Club of Tallinn International, before moving back to England three years ago. Complications from pneumonia and his constant travels have kept him from seeking out another club, he says.
As for his passion for kayaking and canoeing, Woolsey maintains that they’re perfect activities for people of any age.
"I always say, if you can get into and out of a bath unaided, then you can probably get in and out of a canoe, so why not try it? I genuinely believe that canoeing and kayaking are two of the most gentle activities you can do, if you use a canal or a quiet river like the Thames."
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