How many regattas do you know where 20% of the races are determined by BOW BALL finishes (and half the races are within a single boat length)? The intensity of the competition was just one highlight to the City of Oxford’s Invitational Adaptive regatta held this weekend. For comparison’s sake, last week’s Henley Royal Regatta had 3 “Canvas” finished races out of their 300+ races (less than 1%), in what is supposed to be the most competitive regatta in the world. As we are now into our third major adaptive event of the season, the time handicaps are well refined from the previous competitions and are showing their power. Also, the race between the Marlow boat and the Maidenhead/Stratford composite (aka “Maidenhead-upon-Avon”) was not only a photo finish (see below), but also the first race for Marlow’s Amelia Jones on her one year anniversary of taking her steps after months in hospital treating her brain hemorrhage.
Not surprising for the club with the richest history of supporting adaptive rowing in the UK, the City of Oxford Invitational Regatta set a new high bar for not just for the quality of adaptive racing, but also for the importance of it (of course, the two are not unrelated). Maidenhead Regatta prioritized adaptive racing even though logistics meant cancelling many other races; City of Oxford Regatta prioritized adaptive racing even though logistics MEANT cancelling ALL other races. The traditional City of Oxford Regatta and City of Oxford Sprints had been cancelled due to a number logistical issues mostly concerning COVID (naturally), but the club nonetheless decided to use the scheduled weekend to go ahead and host a special event just for adaptive racing. CORC has always been one of the highlights of the club adaptive calendar and no mere pandemic was going to stand in the way of keeping that tradition going.
The day proceeded with characteristic CORC polish and professionalism. Not that it was without its “learning moments”:
- “Guiding” – I put that word in quotations, but because semantic confusion over what that word referred to caused a bit of a mix-up on the first race (which was quickly identified, clarified and fixed for the rest of the day’s racing). The umpires thought that only the boats needing special “guidance” were to be followed down the course, but actually all the boats needed general marshal guiding (especially with the wafer-thin waterway).
- PR1 Capsize – PR1 capsizes are a BIG deal. They are the most dangerous occurrence in the entire sport of rowing because (a) the athlete is the most impaired, and (b) the athlete is the most secured to the (upturned) boat (3 straps in addition to the strapped feet). Fortunately, they are rare because (a) ALL PR1 boats will have safety floats attached, and (b) due to the severity of impairments for PR1s, the boats tend not to be going as fast meaning which provides more time to react to problems and reduce the likelihood of capsizing. But it does happen. Stratford-upon-Avon competitor Xander Van Der Poll lost control of his blade in the very final feet of the race (I would hazard a guess that 90% of all regatta capsizes happen close to the start or the finish). Xander is a very fit individual and released himself within a few seconds getting himself comfortably on top of the upturned boat while the safety launch promptly attended to him. Despite how smoothly things worked out in the end, the event did produce a number of learnings:
- Drill! – Xander had done 2 capsize drills prior and such practice contributed to his presence of mind and adeptness in extraction.
- Loose Shoes – Xander says that releasing the shoes is one of the most tricky parts of a PR1 capsize so he wears shoes 2 sizes too big in the boat. As a result, he slipped right out of his shoes easily.
- Safety Launch– While two boats were readily by Xander’s side and he was ushered to safety, a few aspects could have been improved which a safety review is examining (eg. the safety launch had rails on its side making it difficult to pull Xander onto it so they pushed him over to the very nearby shore).
One distinction of the PR1 racing was a technique pioneered by Paul Thomas of Marlow to row alternate strokes in support of PR1 Mari Akhurst-Duward. Support rowers for fixed-seat athletes face the challenge of keeping up with a rating that can easily exceed 40 spm for the entire race (I still remember the frenzy of me trying to keep up with Sophie Brown (Sudbury) supporting her in a 2x at the Bedford Small Boats Head). Paul decided to row only alternate strokes to Mari. That way, instead of 2 short, compromised strokes to match hers, he was able to put in one long, strong stroke. He felt that one good stroke was better than 2 weak ones for his contribution, and as a team is was easier to sync their contributions. Possibly the Dick Fosbury of Supported Adaptive FS racing! (stay tuned for a special post on this technique).
The event marked a high water mark in the Supported Adaptive racing as there were twices as many 2x races as singles (several years ago, pretty much all adaptive racing was just in singles). The development is the culmination of a longstanding trend toward the increasing popularity of the format. A crowning touch was the special awards the CORC had for the victors in this category which was a traditional medal for the adaptive athlete and a special CORC commemorative blade for the support rower (see photo at bottom).
Congratulations to the race winners below:
- PR3 1x A– Harvey Wintle, Marlow
- PR3 1x B – Lily Grey, Guildford
- PR1 1x C – Xander van der Poll, Stratford-upon-Avon
- Women’s Adaptive 1x B – Kelly Donald, Stratford-upon-Avon
- Womens Adaptive 1x – Rachael Lunney, City of Oxford
- Supported Adaptive 2x A – Chris Boys and David Jillings, Guildford
- PR3 Supported Adaptive 2x/- C – Steve Bloyce and Nick Steel, Maidenhead
- PR3 Supported Adaptive 2x D – Chris Boys and David Jillings, Guildford
- PR3 Supported Adaptive 2x – James Bastin and Darcey Daniels, Stratford-upon-Avon
- Mixed Supported Adaptive 2- – Freddie Palin and Hannah Germain, City of Oxford
- Mixed Supported Adaptive 2x A – Hattie Throssell and Paola Ward, Stratford-upon-Avon
- Mixed Supported Adaptive 2x B – Nikki Stanton-Ketley and Tom Stanton-Ketley, Marlow
- Mixed Supported Adaptive 2x C – Mari Akhurst-Duward and Paul Thomas, Marlow
- Mixed Supported Adaptive 2x D – Ian Ward and Sophia Ward, Stratford-upon-Avon
- Mixed Supported Adaptive 4+ – Kiki Quibell, Ilse Owen, Amelia Jones, Anna Verrier, Chris Young, Marlow
Mixed Supported Adaptive 4+ photo finish
City of Oxford special “Supported Adaptive 2x” prizes
Inside looking out hunkering down out of the occasional rain shower (courtesy Paul Thonas)
Great to see this. Congratulations to all the participants, coaches and organisers who made it happen this way. This event is the result of years of work by a few dedicated people committed to the cause of Adaptive rowing at club level. People who understand the term ‘adaptive’ – adapting the situation to suit the athletes rather than attempting to adapt the athlete to fit the time-honoured and immovable traditions of events. Well done everyone.