Sydney Rowing Club (NSW) and Oxford University Boat Club (UK)
James started his rowing at Newington College, Sydney, finishing in the six seat of their first VIII in 1985.
He then joined Sydney Rowing Club and raced well locally to be selected into the NSW Youth Eight in his first year out of school.
Over the next seasons, James developed into a strong under 23 and senior rower, representing Australia at the under 23 level in the Trams Tasman Series, and representing his State in the King's Cup.
His 1992 Olympic aspirations were thwarted after being diagnosed with a malignant melanoma. Although the mole was removed, he then had to also battle glandular fever and chronic fatigue. His competitive career had finished, or so he thought.
Esther Han in the Sydney Morning Herald on April 5, 2012 continues the story.
For 20 years James forged a business career and moved from Sydney to London in 2006.
When his family moved into a flat on the Thames in Barnes, the sight of rowers training outside his window compelled him to realise his rowing dreams again.
He enrolled at Oxford University and began an intense fitness regimen to win a place on its Boat Race squad.
For months he rowed for up to 25 kilometres six days a week by himself on the choppy River Thames, cycled eight kilometres to the Wimbledon Common and ran around its football fields for an hour.
"The selection is based on technique, power, strength, endurance, flexibility and mental attitude," Mr Ditzell said. "All of them related to how to make a rowing boat go fast and I worked hard to win a spot."
By September last year, he had lost 28 kilograms and gained six kilograms in muscle. He was again pulling similar scores on the rowing machine to what he had achieved at 21.
Mr Ditzell is 19 years older than the average age of the Oxford squad and 21 years older than Cambridge's squad. He is as old as some of his crewmates' fathers.
"In the ergometer tests over 2000 metres and 5000 metres, I always pulled in scores that put me in the top eight," he said.
Although this training put him in line for a blue boat position, he received a rib injury which kept him out of training for six weeks. In the end, at the age of 45 years, James raced in the winning Isis boat, the reserve crew.
Had James made the blue boat, he would have been the oldest rower ever in the history of the race.
Whilst a sad ending to the story, it is uplifting and positive story on so many levels. It was a great result.
James was a masters student in management at Pembroke College, Oxford.
Known rowing record
1985 – Australian National Rowing Championships, Schoolboy 8+, 6 seat, 4th place
1986 – Australian National Rowing Championships, U23 8+, 6 seat, 4th place
1986 – Interstate Regatta Wilkinson’s Youth Cup, 8+ for New South Wales, 6 seat, 4 seat
1988 – Australian National Rowing Championships, Open 4-, 3 seat, 6th place.
1989 – Australian National Rowing Championships, U23 2-, 6th place
1989 – Australian National Rowing Championships, U23 4+, race cancelled due to a cyclone
1989 – Australian National Rowing Championships, U23 8+, race cancelled due to a cyclone
1989 – Interstate Regatta Kings Cup, 8+ for New South Wales, 6 seat, race cancelled due to a cyclone
1989 – U23 Trans Tasman Regatta, second men’s 8+, 5 seat, victory against New Zealand
1990 – Interstate Regatta Kings Cup, 8+ for New South Wales, 4 seat, 4th place.
2012 – The Boat Race Reserves Race, Oxford’s Isis boat.
Flynn Snowden and Andrew Guerin
- https://au.linkedin.com/in/jamesditzell extracted 26th June 2023, including image
- https://www.smh.com.au/sport/an-old-sydney-hand-in-boat-race-20120405-1wf5j.html - extracted 26th June 2023
- https://cherwell.org/2012/03/01/45-year-old-competes-to-row-for-oxford/ - extracted 26th June 2023