Can You Row with MS?

31 Jul

Chris Boys (bow) rowing with fellow MS athlete, Guy Williams.

Today’s “Can I Row With…” piece comes from the UK’s most veteran adaptive rower, Chris Boys, from Guildford RC. Chris was a prominent competitor and leader in the adaptive community when I just started my work with adaptive rowing eight years ago. Today, he and I work together on the Community Adaptive Group and supporting British Rowing’s initiatives in the adaptive arena. He was one of the co-conspirators conceiving and refining both the Time Handicap system and the Supported Adaptive 2x format. Here has shared his perspectives on rowing with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) which is of particular interest to me as well since my day job is working on treatment targeting for MS:

My name is Chris, I was diagnosed with MS in 1990 and it took approximately one year to get a diagnosis in those days. I definitely had it for two years prior to that, possibly longer. MS is a relatively common but complex incurable disease of the nervous system. There are almost no two people affected in exactly the same way. There are many similarities in disability, but for some people it will be more or less hidden and others will be in a wheel chair and many in-between.

It wasn’t until I joined an MS specialist treatment centre that I had my first introduction to a rowing machine (erg). A volunteer at the centre happened to see me on the erg, it turned out he was also a rowing coach at the local club; he invited me along to try and see if I could row a boat. It turned out there were others with MS and different disabilities already there. With his help I started in a fixed seat wide bodied boat with pontoons (floats). There are many ways in which the boats and ergs can be adapted, foam padding, different seating, straps and hand grips to name a few. There are also many ways in which it is possible to enable people with MS to row, whether that is on the water or on an erg.

We all get good and bad days with MS, fatigue is obviously one of the things we need to manage, rest and hydration are important considerations. When competing we use a handicap system enabling close finishes but allowing for different abilities to compete together. These are adjusted throughout the year therefore allowing changes in your condition to be taken into account. Adaptive rowing with MS is beneficial as it builds up muscles that otherwise are not used and this helps with moving around making daily life easier, keeping fit becomes fun and possible. Adaptive boats can be customised to cater for all types of MS as can ergs.

Gradually over the years with help from the MS centre and a lot of coaching at the club I have progressed to a fine boat, sliding seat and pontoons. I have taken part in competition and achieved more than I ever thought possible.

So in short can you row with MS? For the majority of people the answer is yes, it doesn’t have to be competitive it can be just for the pleasure of being on the water.

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