Rowing and Brachial Plexus Rehab

11 May

Steve Bloyce is one of the longer-standing pararowers in the Thames Valley area. He rowed for Maidenhead for the adaptive and senior squads. He’s contributed to Adaptive Rowing UK before about arm impairments (“Arm Impairment Physio Odyssey”) and now he is working to take those insights even deeper with a methodical survey of those with traumatic brachial plexus injuries. He shares his research with Adaptive Rowing UK below and includes an important call to action where the adaptive community can help him in his research:

A Survey to Help Shape the Future: Injury Rehabilitation & Traumatic Brachial Plexus Injuries:

Following a motorcycle collision, I had in August 2015 that left my right arm paralysed from the shoulder down, unknowingly at the time, I was about to be in a very privileged position and receive some of the world’s leading treatment for my injuries. I would also be involved in a rehabilitation process that would significantly affect the way I view many of life’s daily activities and it would lead me down new career paths to meet and connect with some truly amazing people.

My own injury rehabilitation process is just about done now with my right arm moving once again, gripping objects and lifting with tangible strength. With these movements I have competed in PR3 rowing/indoor rowing at a national level and am now part of the current rowing coaching staff for the UK Invictus Team who will represent us in Dusseldorf this September. I thought now would be a great time to reflect and give back so others can hopefully learn from it.

I am writing this piece following a conversation I had with Bruce at . Bruce is one of the many supportive people who have influenced my connection to rowing and has allowed me this opportunity to help spread the word about an unmet need within UK research and rehabilitation.

I am currently part of an exciting collaboration between the James Lind Alliance & Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital Peripheral Nerve Injury Unit. They are looking into the unanswered research questions for Traumatic Brachial Plexus Injuries (the injury I sustained) that I would now like to share with you all and ask for your help to get the survey out there.

The University College London Centre for Nerve Engineering (James Lind Alliance – UCL Centre for Nerve Engineering – UCL Centre for Nerve Engineering) and Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital PNI Unit ( have set up a James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnership (JLA PSP) ( to survey a range of people for their ideas on research uncertainties relating to adult Traumatic Brachial Plexus Injuries (TBPI). They really want to hear from people with different lived experiences of having a Traumatic Brachial Plexus Injury, their carers or family members, and from healthcare professionals who look after these people. This JLA PSP is being led by Hazel Brown and Tom Quick at the UCL Centre for Nerve Engineering and Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital Peripheral Nerve Injury Unit who have both helped me through my injury and ultimately have empowered me to get in a boat and row at a level I am truly proud of. Thank you 🙂

JLA PSP page is here:

Once the survey data is collected through the TBPI PSP Survey (open to everyone) the research uncertainties will be identified and the top 10 research priorities for Traumatic Brachial Plexus Injuries will be decided. These prioritised uncertainties will then help inform funding organisations and researchers where to focus their resources and create a better future for many more people like you and I to come. It genuinely will help shape the future for this injury with more positive outcomes for people if we can get it out there.

What is the best form of rehabilitation? Does it start before the injury happens? Does rehabilitation start at the entrance to the physiotherapy department? What really matters? Where does this all fit in with Rowing?

I am not going to pretend that I think rowing is the answer to all rehabilitation and fitness strategies (even though my coach may tell me otherwise) or even that I saw it as the perfect rehab solution for my injury to be fixed by the erg or oar. I saw it as a vehicle to give me focus and help regain my fitness and it grew from there. I am also not going to lie and say that the alluring enticement of high-level competition and the accompanied ego boost did not contribute to the thought process, but something must stoke your fire in the first place and there I had my start.

In the beginning, having never rowed a boat before or even considered it as an option, everything was new and a learning process where the progressions were steep and very rewarding – PBs nearly every session and significant technical changes that resulted in large steps forwards at every training session. This is when the hook of a new adventure starts to draw you in.

At this point of my rehab, I was driven by the clear goal of getting the use of my arm back following the surgery and regaining more movement than expected from my operation. Rowing a boat and powering an erg seemed like a very good way to demonstrate capability against this adversity. I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone else who had encountered similar that I was better than the injury and that these types of things are possible if you set your mind to it and apply yourself.

As you start down a road often times the direction becomes clearer the further along you go and as I explored my strengths and limitations the route I was heading helped shape itself in front of me. Before I knew it, I was racing boats at trials and competing at a decent level both in and out of para/adaptive categories. My arm became stronger with my initial injury seeming further behind me and my path ahead growing in stature. I would love to tell you here that I raced at international regattas winning gold for Great Britain but not all stories have an ending we once wished for. Instead, I am happy to say, that the road I ended up going down now fulfils my wellbeing in deeper ways that the shiniest of medals or the most prolific erg score.

Rowing has been a huge part of my life for the last 7 years. It has helped shape a healthy lifestyle, allowing me to take a fresh look at exercise and the mindset of how to arrive at a goal. I now get to share my outlook with people from all walks of life daily in my job within the NHS and pass on every bit of knowledge I can to help facilitate an individual’s rehabilitation process to the best of my ability. A true gift and one that I am happy to share.

A famous quote from Bruce Lee says “A goal is not always meant to be reached. It often serves simply as something to aim at.”

From my experience with rowing, I must say I am fully onboard with this statement when it comes to rehabilitation. Off the back of all my experiences in rowing and rehabilitation I now work in the NHS as an Exercise Rehabilitation Instructor and continue to contribute to the RNOH where I can for their PNI unit.

There are so many truly inspirational people out there, none more so than the people I have been involved with in the adaptive athlete community and NHS. They all play their role in the rehabilitation across the country every day and as human beings we are all truly remarkable at facing adversity and changing to circumstance if we adopt a positive outlook.

What really matters in the end, in my opinion, is knowing that you have given everything you can and should to get the most out of yourself when the time comes. Hopefully, I can now pass this on to others to help people get the best rehabilitation results off the back of my experiences. I want others to use any experience I have so they can further themselves and improve their chances to recover from injury and face their path with a positive and open mind. Leave the jersey in a better place than you found it and contribute to others future successes.

If you know of anyone who has experience in whatever form with Traumatic Brachial Plexus Injuries, please forward them the survey. It will help so many more people than just you and I.

The survey will run until June and if you are having your own experience with an injury or rehabilitation, I sincerely wish you all the very best and hope that you face your path with true mettle, clarity and resolution.

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