Last week Maidenhead Regatta introduced its first adaptive events. The club has recently started its own adaptive programme and has been working with other adaptive clubs getting input and support. Maidenhead is one of my favourite regatta hosts. Their events are always run with not only sharp logistics, but also a very friendly and welcoming demeanour. They always have a strong focus on junior and novice event given their relatively short stretch and their congenial attitude is ideal for less experienced rowers. It is also ideally suited for supporting adaptive racing.
Despite not yet fully up to speed with their own adaptive programme, they decided to take the leap of adding adaptive events to the regatta. Nick Steel has been a central person to the programme and the point person for the regatta events. The day was exceptional and not even a passing thunderstorm (which held up racing for 20 minutes) could disrupt the smooth running of a well planned event.
Nick’s an Maidenhead’s experience is very illuminating for other folks interested in adding adaptive racing to their events but are wary of doing so lacking the experience with adaptive rowing. I asked him a few questions on the preparation and execution which he has kindly shared below…
- What prompted you to add adaptive events to your regatta?
We want to launch adaptive rowing at Maidenhead – to encourage more participation in rowing from this section of the local community – and felt that having some adaptive races would both showcase what it is about, and also have some experienced adaptive athletes on our stretch of water and using our facilities, to get their feedback on how we are setting ourselves up. We have passively offered adaptive events in previous years, but this year we reached out to local (and not so local) clubs and proactively sought competitors. We ran 8 races, with 7 athletes from 3 clubs (Marlow, Guildford and Worcester).
- What were some of your big apprehensions?
As Club safety advisor I was concerned that our safety systems would be robust, particularly as there would be so many home and visiting boats on the water, together with the cruisers and other summer river users. We also wanted to ensure the overall programme of races fitted together and all competitors would have a positive experience. Particularly through the hard work of our Entries Secretary (Carolyn Smithson), and based on feedback, I believe we achieved this. One of our competitors is VI, so we had a chase-boat carrying their guide. MHD regatta is run without umpire boats (we have umpires on the start pontoon, who hand over to an umpire on a tower), so again this required some adaptation to the normal regatta flow, but it worked well. The MRC launch driver will now be the guide for this athlete at the City of Oxford regatta.
- What investments did you have to make to accommodate adaptive events?
We experience significant river level fluctuations at Maidenhead, with the boating pontoons dropping to ~50cm in summer low-flow conditions. We had already launched a project to find the best way for everyone to access the pontoons, and our flexible ramp arrived a couple of weeks before the regatta. Without this, I think we would have managed, but with less independence for the adaptive athletes. We are fortunate that our clubhouse was built with full access (e.g. lift, disabled loo/shower).
- What aspects were harder than you anticipated?
Working out time handicaps; endeavouring to get close races for all, and all athletes arriving at the start line feeling they had a fair chance of a win. Scheduling the Supported 2x AB athletes’ other races also required a few iterations, but wasn’t any more challenging than the usual ‘doubling/tripling up’ that happens in many regattas.
- What aspects were easier than anticipated?
Club support. Everyone at Maidenhead got fully behind the project, and we had more volunteers to support this aspect of the regatta than we had tasks on the rota – particularly minding one of the competitor’s guide dog!
- What were some of the benefits to the regatta and club adding adaptive events?
We sensed an overwhelmingly positive atmosphere during the regatta, which lingers afterwards. Much of the feedback is along similar lines: how inspirational the adaptive rowers are; for what they achieve, and because, like everyone taking part, they are competitive athletes. We are running a launch day for adaptive rowing in September; many of our members want to be involved, as they wish to be part of a positive experience and enjoy the sense of giving back to the community.
- What lessons did you learn that you will apply next year?
We made some late substitutions in the race line-ups, which resulted in some races being too close together. Finally, I would like to express my thanks to all the athletes who came and raced with us – they made the day. We couldn’t have done this without the help, guidance and insights of Bruce Lynn (Marlow RC) and Robert Hall (Guildford RC). Maidenhead Rowing Club fully supported the venture, so I’d particularly like to acknowledge Keith Abbott (Regatta Chair), Jim Hotchin (Captain) and all the members who volunteered.
Congratulations to Guildford RC who pulled off a clean sweep of the events despite some intense competition and challenges…
- W Ada LTA 1x – Susannah Barnett, Worcester
- Ada LTA 1x – Chris Boys, Guildford
- Mx Ada SUP 2x – Chris Boys and Dave Jillings, Guildford