Most impairments keep the athlete from moving enough, but sometimes the challenge can be moving too much.
The fixed seat for PR2 (“TA” or “Trunk and Arm”) rowers is an obvious example. Many PR2 rowers can simply sit on a sliding seat with their legs flat, if need be. But the moving seat means that as they undertake the rock over and hip pivot, it is harder for them to get a secure and stable base. The seat will wobble a bit forward and backward. Securing the seat to the boat and the athlete to the seat constrains their motion, but in a positive way to facilitate the movement where they are strongest and unimpaired.
Zoe Berwick is once again the inspiration for today’s showcase adaptation. She was the original inspiration for the Fixed-Back Sliding Seat, which, in many ways, was the inspiration for this blog, since I received so many requests for details about the seat. It is fitting that she is the face of the blog featured in the banner at top.
Her inspiration is not just about the equipment modifications themselves, but also the process by which we came up with the solution. Zoe has an incomplete spinal injury. The condition has impaired the use of her right arm (to the extent that she uses an ActiveHand grip to help hold the oar) and the use of her legs (to the extent that she uses a wheelchair for mobility). She does have some leg activation to the degree that she has been classified PR3. She had tried fixed seat rowing, but is was more frustrating, because it put so much load on her upper body strength. Not to mention the fact that rowing is the one activity where she gets to actively use her legs.
Beyond the fact that they were quite weak, a bigger challenge was the fact that when she rowed with her legs and a sliding seating, quite regularly her right leg would go into spasm and completely freeze up, totally stopping her rowing for a good number of seconds until it subsided. These spasms were physically uncomfortable not to mention greatly disruptive to training and competing. We worked for many months making different adjustments to her technique and to her set-up, trying to identify what was triggering these seizures that happened with frustrating regularity. Eventually (I can’t remember how), we deduced that the act of completely straightening the leg (something she just didn’t do very often in everyday life) was the trigger. We played around with a number of ways to keep her from completely extending her legs and immediately the seizures subsided.
The foam block in the pictures and video was the ultimate solution. It stops the leg comfortably. We tried stopping the seat at first, but that causes all sorts of problems (knocking the seat and throwing the balance off). Now Zoe rows virtually seizure free no matter how long she rows for or how fast she is rowing (both of which were correlated with the leg seizing previously).
This adaptation highlights another top tip – Always have lots of foam on hand. Foam is a magic ingredient to so many adaptations for various impairments. It’s very malleable, so it is easily moulded into different shapes for different uses. It comes in various degrees of stiffness, so you can adjust the degree of buffering. And it is very easy to shape with a serrated knife.
You can see the foam in action here.