As British Rowing prepares for the next Paralympic cycle, A key first step is to invite prospective new pararowers for trial. As a precursor to this process, Paralympic High Performance Coach Nick Baker and Performance Development Coach James Loveday ran a PR1 Capsize Drill at the Abbey School in Reading. The drill was not just for athletes on the Development Pathway, they also opened up the drill to any PR1 rowers in the adaptive community who had not attended a capsize drill previously. They also generously invited me to come to take video to share with the community the latest protocol and tips for effective fixed seat capsizes. While the focus was on drilling the PR1 athletes, it was also an opportunity for them to train me, as an Adaptive/Para coach in the latest PR1 capsize techniques.
THE ATHLETE DRILL – Unlike conventional capsize drills where you tip the athlete out once and voila they are done, Nick progressed the athlete through a sequence of capsizes to ever more difficult exercises in the following order:
- No Strap Capsize (just the athlete holding onto the boat to they didn’t fall out before it was turned over)
- One Strap
- Two Straps
- Three Straps
- Three straps with blades
The process of releasing from a 3-strap fixed seat can be a bit daunting so the best way is to advance the athlete from one step to the next ensuring confidence at each stage. As it happened, one of the athletes did the no strap and 1-strap capsize, but felt uncomfortable progressing beyond that due to a recent illness. The partial drill was still very helpful and the athlete was not overwhelmed by going straight for the most complex maneuver. In fixed seat boats, the feet are only strapped and not secured like the fixed shoes of conventional boats so the feet were left free during this drill.
Here is a series of videos of Marlow PR1 Ellen Field doing a 2-strap, 3-strap and 3-strap with blades capsize.
THE COACH DRILL – As a fellow coach, it was great to watch and participate in the drills, but the biggest learnings came from two drills Nick and James added:
- ·Boat Righting – Previous consideration from British Rowing advised against attempting to right a capsized fixed-seat boat with pontoons as discussed in the post by Ella Willott “Capsizes with Safety Pontoons”:
- “It is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to right an upturned adaptive boat fitted with pontoon floats. During testing we needed two individuals of considerable physical strength to attempt to turn the boat back the right way, and with someone sitting in the fixed seat it would not have been possible. We strongly advise against relying on this as a response to an adaptive rower capsize.But more recent examination has shown that righting a capsized boat can be an extremely effective method for getting the athlete above water. Nick explains and demonstrates in this video that the key is to not lean across the upturned boat, but instead to lean way back (while stepping on the near-side rigger). I even got in the water to try his technique and I was able to right James in the boat quite easily and very quickly on my first attempt (shown in the video as well). And lest you think that this might just be something that some big guys can pull off, we also had the young girl who was the lifeguard during the drill give it a go and she managed it very readily as well.
- Strap Cutting – If an athlete has difficulty detaching the Velcro straps or you find yourself in a position where you are unable to right the boat, then the backup option is for the safety marshal to cut the athlete free with a knife. British Rowing Para-rowing coaches all carry a Victorinox Rescue Tool (see photo below with cutting tool circled in red). The blade is rounded at the end so there is no risk of stabbing the athlete. But the blade is extremely sharp. Watch Nick sliced through a strap like it is paper (see video). I also tried this maneuver and the blade did go through the strap like butter. TOP TIP – doing the maneuver I used my other hand to feel where the strap was and then I used that feel to guide the blade, BUT I got a bit close to my fingers with blade (especially with the unsteady bobbing motion in the water) and what felt like just a tap of the blade on my finger turned out to be a good sized nick in my flesh (I told you it was sharp). Here is the video of strap cutting.