Adaptive racing has traditionally been a solitary affair. Due to limitations on number of the athletes as well as reconciling diverse impairments, nearly all adaptive regatta events have been in single sculls. Also, due to adaptive rowing still being in its early days, most clubs supporting adaptive rowing have only a few rowers and sometimes a single athlete.
One exception to the single scull predominance have been visually impaired (VI) rowers. Often these athletes rowed in double sculls with a sighted rower in bow for steering. Also, some other impairments required in-boat support such as learning disabled (LD) individuals who had troubles steering and especially weak or unsteady individuals who had trouble moving or controlling a boat by themselves.
In recent years, mixing adaptive with non-adaptive rowers has become increasingly prevalent. Never mind about the adaptive world, but for any rowing my favourite way to introduce someone to the sport is for me (the coach, experienced rower) to sit in the bow of a double to guide and direct the learner hands-on, on the water. The adaptive world provides all of the previously noted advantages for certain impaired rowers, but also just expands the base of rowing teammates for all rowers. Given the smaller number of adaptive rowers, this is a huge advantage.
Like many aspects of the adaptive world, finding the right label is a bit of a challenge. The event tends to be called a “Supported Adaptive 2x” (Sup Ada 2x). It is sometimes called a “Mixed Adaptive 2x” (Mx Ada 2x), but this can lead to confusion as the “Mixed” term in rowing tends to refer to mixing men and women in a boat. The Head of the Charles event calls it an “Inclusion 2x” (I chose to use “Supported” in this piece just because that seems to be the most prevalent term in the UK at the moment).
Time handicapping remains the same in principle. Determine the recorded speed of the boat and then calculate distance time deltas based on the differences. The time handicapping system is inexact to begin with and doubling the athletes involved only compounds this difficulty. Furthermore, there tends to be less race time information about Supported 2x teams because (a) the event has really only picked up in the past year, and (b) people often mix combinations around with each race making few like-for-like comparisons. Hopefully, as with the handicapping system overall, more experience and more data will make it easier to level the competition field in this category as well.
The most frequent question that gets asked is “Do you mirror the rowing technique of the adaptive rower, or do you row ‘normally’?” In other words, rowing with a TA or AS rower who doesn’t use their legs, “Does the non-adaptive rower you their legs?” The ultimate answer is that you adapt. You work together and figure out the best way to work to get the optimal aggregation of power and speed. Especially, after some of the recent Supported 2x events (eg. Bedford, Pairs), most combinations have been deployed – TA+nonAda, AS+nonAda, TA+AS, mixed, etc. The key to the teamwork synchronicity is getting the blades in together at the catch and out together at the finish. In my personal experience, sometimes I do take a longer stroke that the adaptive athlete, if I can get through the longer distance in the same time as my partner (who might have less power). At the Pairs Head rowing with Kingsley, he has a pretty long stroke for an AS rower and I rowed sort of a 3/4 slide with less arm finish to match his “stride”.
Supported 2x can more than double the dividends to rowing clubs. It’s not just the para-athletes that benefit, but the other rowers in the club as well who get involved. The award-winning Guinness advert below shows that the “adapt” in “adaptive” doesn’t always have to be about disabled athletes adapting to convention, but can also be about convention adapting to them. Like the video, I actually think there would be some potential in putting non-adaptive rowers into TA (fixed-flat) and AS (fixed-backed) seats to “level” the field. Unfortunately, the challenge this approach is getting more of the adaptive gear (eg. specialised seats and the specialised boats which accommodate them), bit watch this space.
More evidence that the inclusion2x is probably the single greatest way to develop grassroots adaptive rowing.
Ben – Also thanks for the piece about USA Pararowing that talks a lot about the “Inclusive” boats. As I noted in the post, HOCR was very much an inspiration for the work to boost the Supported Adaptive 2x here in the UK, but the USA is way out in front with “Inclusive” 4x as well as 2x and they have the format in the National Championships. http://www.usrowing.org/news/2018/05/04/para-rowing-is-growing-at-usrowing-events/
Yes I agree with Ben. I think it is definitely a great way to help adaptive rowers gain confidence and participate.
To date we have been using the term supported adaptive double in the absence of anything better. Having been introduced to the term inclusion 2x I agree it is a better description reflecting the partnership of both people in the boat.
Robert Hall, Guildford RC
Great article! Thanks.
Is there guidance on the supportive rower, I have recently taken part in the Norwich Head with my son who is classified as PR3, would it be possible in the future to think about parameters for a best fit, i.e. Jnr adaptive rower to be supported by Jnr rower?
Mike – On parameters, to date we have lumped all “supportive adaptive” boats together mostly due to modest numbers available. When we get a critical mass of more participants, then I think it is both possible and sensible to break down and organise the events into more discrete and similarly aligned groupings. Age groupings (junior/senior/masters) are one obvious category. Gender is the other. Fixed-seat impairment and sliding-seat impairment could be another grouping.
On guidance, I can’t find any. But that’s not to say that we can’t assemble tips, tricks, insights and other collective wisdom from our experience to help build some.
A couple of top issues include the following…
TIMING – One of the things that I have learned in my experience in the supported 2x is that alignment of timing is maybe the biggest challenge. The timings vary considerably by disabled athlete. But so does length of stroke. The critical thing is to go in together and exit out together on the stroke. But I have found rowing with someone like Zoe who is less strong than me, I can take a longer stroke than her and get through the water in the same time that she takes a short stroke. That keeps the synchronicity together, but allows me to apply more of my available power to our boat. But it takes a lot of concentration and a fair amount of practice to get right.
BODY MOTION – A fundamental question is whether the non-adaptive rower (a) alters body movement to match the adaptive partner, or (b) maintains as much of their conventional body movement as possible (with adaptations in speed and stroke length to achieve synchronicity). The most obvious example of this dilemma is rowing with a fixed-seat partner. Should the able-bodied partner row (a) without their legs in order to match the rowing style of the PR1 or PR2 rower, or (b) row with legs but with other adjustments to match the bladework of the partner. I have found that for me the latter tends to work best. When I rowed with Kingsley (PR1) and Sophie (PR2), I rowed in a semi-conventional manner, but simply shortened my slide-length, rock-over and arm-finish in order to get the whole stroke to align with my partner.
On the Body Motion question, there is also the prospect of simply forcing alignment and a degree of playing-field leveling by putting non-adaptive rowers into adaptive constraints (ie. put the non-adaptive rowers into fixed-seats to force them to row with the same technique as their partners and remove the capability of their legs or trunk). This approach is the one illustrated in the Guinness commercial. No one has adopted this approach for racing yet, but when we were planning the Marlow Rowers Revenge Triathlon (which got cancelled), we were going to use this approach to level the playing field for the diversity of impairments by having everyone row fixed-seat even PR3s (ie. take away everyone’s legs).
Thank you for your detailed response.
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