John Stephenson with double Olympic champion Alex Gregory MBE at Volunteer of the Year awards
British Rowing honored coaches and volunteers at its annual Coach and Volunteer of the Year Awards this past Saturday including someone who has made an exceptional contribution no just his rowing club, but many other clubs with adaptive rowing programmes as well. Coach, oarsman, organizer and “Gaffer in Chief” for the Marlow Rowing Club John Stephenson was honored as Thames Region Volunteer of the Year. Much of the recognition called out his special contributions to adaptive rowing equipment that have been used by clubs across the UK.
Not only has John performed an outstanding job in this unglamorous and difficult position as boatman, but over the past year he has been pivotal to the establishment and growth of Marlow’s adaptive rowing programme. Not only have his adaptations allowed the programme to grow to one of the strongest in the country, but actually his innovations are helping clubs and disabled athletes across the country. Here is a list of some his more significant contributions…
- Fixed-Back Sliding Seat – This innovation has been a game-changer in the world of adaptive rowing. Many of the major adaptive programmes are now using this seat adaptation for athletes with leg use, but impaired core ability including Tees, Guildford, Maidenhead and Marlow (which has 3) – http://adaptiverowinguk.com/index.php/2017/08/10/how-to-make-a-fixed-back-sliding-seat/
- Supported Back Sliding Seat – As one of our adaptive rowers developed her core strength, it turned out that she needed less back support and wanted more rock-over capability. John fashioned a further variation to the fixed-back sliding seat which has also been shared with the adaptive community – http://adaptiverowinguk.com/index.php/2017/09/25/low-back-sliding-seat/.
- Size 17 Foot Stretchers – One of our adaptive athletes was a CP (cerebral palsy) 18 year old who also happened to be just shy of 7 foot tall. Accommodating the boat to his size was as much of a challenge as any impairment. John devised a number of fixes to get George as comfortable and as effective as possible, but the culmination was taking an old pair of his trainers and working with the coach producing a pair of size 17 stretcher shoes. George is now off to university where he plans to join their crew and is bringing his customer footwear with him.
- Customised Foot Stretchers – One of our rowers as an incomplete spinal injury which forces one of her legs into a contorted position which was impairing her ability to use the slide. John built a custom foot stretcher from scratch that would be adjustable to her optimal foot position.
- Pontoon Rack – Safety floats or pontoons are an essential piece of kit and with the growth of the programme, we had quite number to keep organized and safe. John built a custom pontoon rack which sat on a horizontal blade rack which holds them all neatly in a row making them easy to access by the athletes. The athletes have limited ability to assist with getting the equipment on the water, but they often help with the lightweight pontoons now that they are easy to access.
Drilling holes, shaping, extending and otherwise adapting all sorts of equipment and material to the particular need of the wide range of adaptive athletes at Marlow’s adaptive squad. The adaptive rowing at Marlow has grown to one of largest programme in the UK with over a dozen active rowers and nearly double that to have participated in rowing at the club in the past year. John has not only been a bedrock to the club’s survival and success, but his contributions have now extended across the UK helping adaptive rowers in many clubs.
Thank you for all your contributions to adaptive rowing John,