Kingsley Ijomah started rowing in 2014 when he was invited to a Warwick rowing club annual dinner by a friend and someone there mentioned to him that Evesham offered adaptive rowing. He had no idea what that meant and had never followed rowing as a sport, but he went the following weekend to give it a go and “fell in love with the sport immediately”. He rowed for Evesham and then for Stratford-Upon-Avon RC until he moved to Ascot and started rowing with Marlow RC. When he started, he rowed a couple times a month and now he trains nearly every day. His path to the 2018 World Rowing Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria was described in the previous post, and here he shares his athlete’s perspective of his first international pararowing competition:
I HAVE TO ADMIT, IT WAS A LITTLE INTIMIDATING AT FIRST…
It all started at the airport in Sofia, where I landed before taking the 3hr bus drive to Plovdiv, it was so easy to spot fellow para athletes, and it dawned on me, I wasn’t the biggest guy on wheelchair, some of these guys looked like they carried the plane and not the other way round, this is where the seed of intimidation and nerves started to grow.
HOW PREPARED AM I REALLY FOR ALL THIS?
When we got into Plovdiv, dropped bags at the hotel and headed into the venue, I was struck at the scale of it all, bus load upon bus load of para and non-para rowers being dropped off, hundreds of boats being unloaded with some already on the water doing practice sessions, I sat on a bench watching the techniques of the non-para rowers and wondering how I got here and if I was prepared enough to show my potential.
THE FIRST RACE WAS MENTALLY THE HARDEST…I HAD TO FIND MY PLACE TO ROW MY RACE
going up to the start for my first heat, I would be telling lies if I said I wasn’t nervous as hell!, in fact if it wasn’t for nerves I don’t think my boat would move, I needed to find my place, know where I rank with the guys in my line up ( RUS | USA | NGR | JPN | BLR ) I knew what my last 2k time was, but unfortunately that wasn’t a source of comfort at all, I needed to be 1min faster to survive this line up, it was time to see if my recent training was enough, when the race started, nerves was replaced with adrenaline and off we went, I ended up third after RUS and USA, I did it! shaved off a good minute and now I had a place, a time I could use to measure up against future races, now I can row my race against my time, I maintained similar time within 5secs of each other throughout the competitions.
PRACTICE SESSIONS PACKED WITH GOODIES
The practice sessions were so valuable I had to take every single one of them, on the water practicing are people I watch on tv, people I followed on social media, when you see them practice you can almost see how their brain works, the little things that they are working on, and from that you can see the big picture, I learnt a great deal from these sessions, both from para and non-para rowers, also seeing how para boats are setup, the sort of seats PR-1 guys use, types of boats etc all these helped me see future possibilities of the kind of improvements I needed, my boat was weighed and I discovered it was overweight by 4kg which makes a lot of difference in a race.
HOW SNOBBY/FRIENDLY ARE THE ATHLETES GOING TO BE…SOME OF THEM HAVE DONE THIS FOR YEARS! I WAS NEW TO THE GAME, AND I HAVE QUESTIONS.
I was pleasantly surprised at how very friendly other athletes were! especially those that have been there and done that, BLAKE HAXTON , RENE PEREIRA , ERIK HORRIE , RONALD HARVEY these guys all gave me lots of advice about what to expect, their experiences and rowing techniques, I wasn’t embarrassed to ask those silly questions
PASSIVE LEARNING FROM WORLDS MOST PASSIONATE COACHES
This was my little secret, during training, you can hear advice from coaches to their athletes, this was fun, stay close to an athlete you look up to and steal some advice off their coach was the game, but the thing is, very passionate coaches can’t help themselves, they actually come up to you sometimes and tell you what they like about your technique and even offer some advice, but yeah, I did steal some advice that weren’t meant for me.
THE GENEROSITY OF FISA AND PASSION OF ITS VOLUNTEERS WAS A SURPRISE.
My first international competition was made so easy by FISA, everything ran like clockwork, I had to be classified for international race as PR1 (formerly arms and shoulders) this was actually very detailed physical checkup, took about 1 hour, I think I actually learnt a few new things about my disability in that time, I know I can’t lift my left leg so I don’t try to do it, but when asked to do it, I tried and noticed my left toe wiggles instead, strange and funny things like that happened, massive thanks to Jill and Kanav from FISA for their massive help in getting me on and off water and being there for so many things.
GAINED TOP WORLD COMPETITION WHO ARE ALSO FRIENDS
I went for competition and left with a bunch of new friends from all over the world, the experience has been mind-blowing, it is always good to know people who are going through very difficult and grueling training just as yourself, knowing you are not alone does kinda help.
NEW SOURCE OF MOTIVATION WAS BORN
There is a strange thing that has happened as a result of taking part in world rowing championships, it has unlocked a next level competitive streak in me, I now know my place in the world, sounds weird to say it out loud sometimes, and if I am being completely honest, it actually brings the odd tears to my eyes, “I know my place in the world” and my place is 12th position, I know what I have to do and the work has already started, I also know I am not the only one who is working hard and this motivates me even more, every-time I think of slacking, I imagine JPN gaining on me or LTU moving further away, the competition is very vivid the hunger very much real, next year we shall find out my new place in the world