Photo credit: British Rowing / Nick Middleton
Part of my work with Adaptive Rowing is sitting on the Adaptive Rowing Advisory Board led by Rosie Mayglothling working to find ways to support UK adaptive rowing programmes and rowers. This initiative is supported strongly at the highest levels of British Rowing including the CEO himself, Andy Parkinson. Andy actually got in touch with me to meet up and discuss ideas of how British Rowing could do more for adaptive and Para-rowing. I had no idea he has such an extensive background and knowledge of adaptive sport and was impressed with his insights into its issues and his commitment to grappling with them and driving the sport forward. He also graciously agreed to an interview with me below to share some of his experience and perspectives…
- What was the first sport you played?
Cricket. I was a chippy wicketkeeper with a decent batting average and played at a reasonable level. Although not quite good enough for the big time.
- What was your favourite module in your degree?
It would have to be biomechanics, and understanding how the human body worked. This interest was one of the catalysts for becoming a wheelchair rugby classifier back in the 1990s where the challenge was (and still is) to assess potential physical performance on the field of play against impairment.
- Who is your favourite sports hero?
Bob Taylor who kept wicket for England in the late 1970s and ‘80s. A craftsman with the gloves, a gentleman on and off the pitch, and slightly eccentric. More recently I have huge admiration for David Millar and the way he has come back as a reformed individual after some poor decisions in the early stages of his cycling career.
- What was your first introduction to adaptive/para sport?
My first introduction was at Stoke Mandeville in the late 1980s in the first year of my degree. However, the most significant introduction was just after the Atlanta Games when I was a Boccia ramp assistant in New Zealand.
- What was your first introduction to rowing?
Other than as a sports fan it was when I was the International Paralympic Committee’s Medical & Scientific Director. I worked with FISA in developing their first classification system. This was around 2005 and after rowing had been included on the programme for the 2008 Beijing Games.
- What inspired you to take on the role of leading British Rowing?
Two things really. The first was the chance to work with Annamarie Phelps and to help deliver her change agenda. Annamarie and I knew each other before I took the role and it was clear that she had a strong vision for how she wanted British Rowing to develop. The second was the professional opportunity to do something different in a sport I had little knowledge about so as to really challenge myself.
- What are the constraints you have to manage in driving the sport forward?
There are lots of constraints that make leading a sport’s National Governing Body extremely complex. We need to balance tradition and innovation, which is important to servicing existing members and participants while attracting new ones. We have limited budgets and a complex funding structure that constrains our ability to truly prioritise where we invest. We also need to counter the niche and middle class perception of rowing to help broaden its appeal and grow the sport.
- What issues does adaptive/Para-rowing have that are less of a problem in other adaptive sports?
Most sports have similar issues in the field of adaptive but none that are insurmountable. For rowing, the environment, being out on the water, presents some challenges but also makes it more appealing to certain people. The water safety element is also a perceived barrier but should not be used as an excuse for people not to get involved in our sport. I was once on a Hobie Cat (a two person catamaran) with a paraplegic sailor in New Zealand. While it was a bit hairy at times, it proved to me that anything was possible if you can simply communicate and focus on solutions rather than barriers.
- What is one of the misconceptions in adaptive/para sport?
That adaptive people need special attention. They don’t in my experience, they simply want to be treated the same. The barriers largely come from other people who are worried about doing or saying the wrong thing, so they don’t do anything at all. The best the way in which adaptive sport has and will continue to develop is by people trying different things and learning what works and what doesn’t.
- What is your dietary guilty pleasure?
I am partial to the occasional towpath beer.
- What do you do to keep fit?
Skateboarding in the summer, skiing in the winter and, more recently, Pilates.
Seriously, there are few sports whose CEO has as much experience and commitment to the adaptive/para side as Andy, and from what I can tell he has the commitment to it to match.