Myths of Adaptive Rowing

13 Dec

Indoor rowing is often an athlete’s first introduction to the fundamentals of the sport of rowing. I’ve always been struck that despite so few junior adaptive rowers in the sport, the National Junior Indoor Rowing Championships attract nearly a 100 disabled youngsters. Similarly at BRIC, I met several competitors for whom all they did with rowing was sit on an erg. Now for some, that indoor training is just fine, but so many are interested in going the step further of getting on the water and going someplace. Why the discrepancy? Well, there is a shortage of clubs offering adaptive and pararowing. Addressing that shortage is one of the key pillars of the LoveRowing. There are plenty of good reasons why more adaptive programmes available (more on that to follow), but many of the obstacles are often more perceived than real. The day after the LoveRowing launch, Nick Baker explored these myths in detail at the FISA Coaching Conference with a presentation that we collaborated on. I’ve expanded the bullets of his slides into a more narrative piece below:

  • Our facility isn’t accessible enough”: Adaptive athletes are used to dealing with a world that presents constant challenges to their impairments. They are very accustomed to and adept at managing around the impediments. All too often, lack of facility accessibility is cited as the primary reason for not offering adaptive rowing when, unfortunately, in many situations the inaccessibility is pretty standard fare for these athletes. A supportive community trumps inaccessible infrastructure every time. Furthermore, welcoming adaptive athletes, despite the accessibility challenges, is one of the best ways to improve accessibility as they will provide insightful approaches and solutions. If there is one thing that can be a deal breaker is not having an accessible toilet for wheelchair users. But wheelchair users are only about 10% of the adaptive population.
  • We don’t have adaptive equipment”: The vast majority of adaptive rowers (eg. PR3, VI) don’t require significant adaptive equipment. And when specialty equipment is required, it is often easy to fundraise for. Community groups like Rotary and Roundtable are often willing to make donations for the purchase of items under £1000.
  • We don’t have adaptive/disability expertise”: Nobody does. The whole area is extremely individual. One simply has to experiment and adapt in an iterative process to see what works best for individual athletes. Some of the general principles and ideas are available through support resources (like Adaptive Rowing UK) as well as an active community of coaches and supporters.
  • We don’t have the coaches”: People have a tendency to volunteer more readily for adaptive coaching because (a) they get more of a feeling of reward, and (b) the time demands are typically lower as squads train less frequently than senior and junior squads.
  • We don’t have the money”: Considerable new sources of funding are available for disability sport that normally the club would not have access to.
  • We can’t handle a big new squad”: There is never a flood of applicants. The disabled community is a minority segment of the population. Furthermore, it will take time for word to even get out that you offer it for adaptives. The majority of adaptive “squads” in the UK have a single adaptive rower. When adaptive squads do grow, they grow slowly providing plenty of time to adjust.
  • We don’t have any experience or know what to do”: There are lots of support resources as well as experienced clubs willing to assist, mentor, etc. British Rowing is keen to see this aspect of the sport grow and does have some support resources.
  • It will add injury risks”: There are some added risks to be considered (eg. safety cover for fixed seat rowers…more on this to follow in the next post), but the adaptive community finds this objection to be the most humorous quipping, “It’s the able bodied people you need to worry about hurting…we’re already impaired!
  • Many people at our club are mostly concerned about winning pots and races for the club”:  On top of the over 30 regattas and racing events which include adaptive and pararowing events including (not counting the many indoor rowing competitions which feature such events), an increasing number of regattas are adding para and adaptive races to their regattas every year which provide new opportunities for medals, pots and glory for the club.
  • We might offend them”: Disabled athletes have quite thick skin and really don’t care about awkward statement expressed innocently. When in doubt (worrying about being unhelpful or conversely patronisingly over-helpful), the best thing to say to a disabled athlete is: “If there is anything we can do to assist you, please let us know.” (Sally Hopewell, Marlow RC)

4 Replies to “Myths of Adaptive Rowing

  1. That’s a great summary of the excuses made for not helping those with disabilities to become rowers, and the answers to those excuses.

    As you say, and as I’ve always found from a range of friends who were amputees, have MS, suffered polio, incurred spinal injury, have lost sight, one with MND, and others with disabilities – those who are in some way disabled develop strengths of mind and body which would astound those who like to think themselves “fit and normal”. They are so often tougher, braver, more determined, less complaining and, as a result, are often high achievers despite it all.

    There should be no excuses for excluding anyone from rowing, be prepared to help when asked and never, ever pity or patronise. Our sport will greatly benefit from their inclusion.

  2. Pingback: Not Myths of Adaptive Rowing – Adaptive Rowing UK

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