USA Pararowing at University

11 Feb
University Contact Consider PR3 Consider PR1/PR2 Pararowing Alums Entry Reqs
U Michigan (Ann Arbor) Gregg Hartsuff Yes Maybe Zach Burns 1480
U Texas (Austin) Wittiker Schlauch Yes Maybe (hearing imp. rowers) 1380
Princeton Greg Hughes Yes Unlikely Jesse Karmazin 1600
Brown Rufus Biggs Yes Yes 1540
Worcester Polytech Jason Steele Yes Yes 1400
Ithaca C Becky Robinson Yes Maybe Pearl Outlaw 1350
Hobart&William Smith Sandra Chu Yes Maybe 1380

Inspired by Pearl as well as by one of my junior pararowers who is looking to continue her rowing career at an American university, I undertook a bit of research into what other USA rowing universities might welcome pararowers into their programmes.

When you watch the Olympics, the commentators will very often note the athlete’s country, but also the American university they compete at. This is because USA university sports facilities and programmes are some of the most lavishly funded in the world. For a glimpse of the scale of collegiate sports, check out Stephen Fry’s gob smacked reaction to, as he describes it: “all the hoopla of a Grand National final but is in reality nothing more than a local derby between amateur students…(at) no more than a medium sized college.” (see below) As a result, American universities are a global magnet for world’s elite athletes.

This wealth of resources exists for two reasons:

  • TV Revenues – College sports, especially (American) Football and Basketball, are huge money spinners. Billions of dollars. To provide some perspective, the college (so not even the pros) championship tournament (aka “March Madness”, so not even the entire season, just one month of playoff games) for Basketball (which is not even America’s top sport, which is Football that draws more than twice the revenues as basketball) has sold the TV rights over over $1 billion per year.
  • Alumni Support – American universities have a pervasive ethos and tradition on alumni patronage especially bequests for beloved sports programmes and facilities.
  • Title IX – Too often women’s sports facilities lag behind the men’s, but American universities are subject to a legal requirement to have equal resources across men’s and women’s sports. Given that there still tend to be fewer women athletes in the student population than men, many USA universities are especially welcoming to international women athletes to help fill their programmes.

In fact, so many opportunities exist for international athletes to study at American universities, a friend of mine, Holly Cram (herself a former elite level international Hockey player who studied in the USA) set up a company called Aspire USA dedicated to helping such prospects across a range of sports.

The prospect of a Pararower participating in a university programme really consists of two scenarios:

  • Integrated PR3 – A PR3 athlete on the lower end of the impairment scale can perform at comparable levels to able-bodied athletes and numerous examples exist of PR3 rowers being big contributors to conventional rowing squads.
  • Special Support for PR1/PR2 – Many universities take great pride in its successes and especially the competitive and sporting successes of its student body. They provide positive PR and a magnet for alumni donations (people like to be part of a winning team). As a result, while I’ve not seen examples of this in the wild to date, the notion of a university leveraging its rowing infrastructure and marshalling some volunteer support (university students have a propensity to volunteer for interesting and inspiring activities) to provide special assistance for a world class PR1/PR2 to prepare for world level (eg. Olympics) competition is not unreasonable.

I reached out to the 30 rowing programmes in the USA to ask them about their openness to consider a pararower in their rowing programme. A good number of folks never replied to my email so having someone responsive to an enquiry is a critical first step. The table above features all of the universities who responded with some sort willingness to at least consider the possibilities. And some had some considerable experience in the area (like Pearl’s Ithaca). I will keep this table updated as I get additional information.

An explanation to each of the fields in the table at table is as follows:

  • Contact = The individual who helped me with information (link provides email address).
  • Consider PR3 = The question was “Would you consider supporting a visually impaired rower (eg. guidance, stroke seat position possibly, VI accessibility) in one of your conventional crews if they met the talent bar?”. Especially given that the question is a bit vague and speculative, the answers tended to bit similarly broad. Roughly, they fell into two categories: (1) “Yes” they would consider a pararower (with various considerations affecting their ability to integrate them), and (2) “Maybe” they would consider a pararower (with generally more prominent considerations constraining their ability to integrate them, usually limited resources in the rowing programme).
  • Consider PR1/PR2 = The questions was “Would you consider supporting an individual Pararower training for international competition (eg. World Rowing Cup, World Championships, Paralympics) training with specialized equipment in a single (eg. individual coaching and safety support possibly with volunteers from the school such as retired or interested rowers)?” Especially given that the question is a bit vague and speculative, the answers tended to bit similarly broad. Roughly, they fell into two categories: (1) “Yes” they would consider a pararower (with various considerations affecting their ability to integrate them), and (2) “Maybe” they would consider a pararower (with generally more prominent considerations constraining their ability to integrate them, usually limited resources in the rowing programme)
  • Alums = The names of any alum pararowers they did have in their programme (details on these individuals can be found with Google quite readily). Obviously, a programme that has had experience with pararowers will have proven receptivity as well as useful experience.
  • Entry Reqs = These are the average SAT scores of incoming students to provide a rough guide to the level of academic achievement required for entry.

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