Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics Summer

Adaptive rowing makes a splash

Adaptive rowing, making its Paralymic debut in Beijing, presents a great opportunity for disabled athletes to test their mettle.

Eight Canadians will compete in the sport during its Paralympic debut

Steve Daniel used to spend his days coaxing people to jump out of airplanes, but he faced even greater challenges after his career as a military parachute instructor.

Daniel broke one of his thoracic vertebrae while conducting a course in June 2005. He was paralyzed instantly. Surgeons inserted two rods in his back, and he spent months in rehabilitation.

Daniel soon started looking for ways to live an active lifestyle. He took up adaptive rowing last year and discovered what many others already knew: The sport, which is making its Paralympic debut in Beijing, presents a great opportunity for disabled athletes to test their mettle.

Though developed for those with physical or intellectual disabilities or limitations, adaptive rowing uses the same basic techniques as regular rowing and is just as demanding.

Brian MacPherson, chief operating officer of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, said the arms-only event is particularly difficult. "It's extremely gruelling to row a boat for a thousand metres using your arms only," he said of the discipline that has become Daniel’s specialty. 

Boat classes competing in Beijing

LTA4+ (Legs, trunk and arms coxed four)

This class is for disabled rowers who can use their legs, trunk and arms. They use a sliding seat.

Distance: 1,000 metres

Gender: Two men, two women per boat

Coxswain maybe of either gender and may be able-bodied

Canadian entry: Scott Rand, Tony Theriault, Victoria Nolan, Meghan Montgomery, Laura Comeau (coxswain)

TA2x (Trunk and arms double scull)

This class is for rowers who have trunk movement but who are unable to use a sliding seat to propel the boat because of weakened function of their lower limbs. They use fixed seats that offer postural support.

Distance: 1,000 metres

Gender: One man, one woman per boat

Canadian entry: Wilfredo More Wilson, Caitlin Renneson

AW1x (women’s single, arms only)

This class is for rowers who have minimal trunk function or none at all. A-class rowers apply force primarily by using their arms and/or shoulders. They use fixed seats that offer postural support.

Distance: 1,000 metres

No Canadian entry

AM1x (men’s single, arms only)

Distance: 1,000 metres

Canadian entry: Steve Daniel

Adaptive rowing gains full medal status

Adaptive rowing developed in the mid-1970s, when programs were established in several countries, including Australia, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands and the United States.

The sport was an exhibition event at the 1993 world rowing championships in the Netherlands, and had full medal status at the 2002 worlds in Spain. Adaptive rowing continues to grow around the world and in Canada.

It began in Canada in 2001, when the Argonaut Rowing Club and Durham Rowing Club, both based in Ontario, started programs independently of each other. Other clubs followed.

In 2002, Rowing Canada established a committee to promote and encourage participation in adaptive rowing.

Two years later, Rowing Canada formed its first national adaptive rowing team. It competed against 13 other countries at the 2004 world championships, also in Spain.

Today, "an increasing number of local rowing clubs across Canada have embraced para-rowing and are actively recruiting new participants," MacPherson said.

"This type of grassroots, integrated [able and disabled] effort is very satisfying to see, and will lead to the development of many great para-rowers from Canada."

Paralympic prospects

MacPherson and other Canadian officials are optimistic about Daniel’s Paralympic prospects.

Daniel, one of eight Canadians competing in adaptive rowing at the Beijing Games, broke the national record in the arms-only event at the Canadian indoor rowing championships in February, and recently placed second in a tough field at the U.S. national championships.

"Steve has had a great year of competitions and continues to develop his skills through each event," said Allison Sheard, co-ordinator of the national adaptive rowing team. "He has been able to experiment with his race plan [so that he] takes advantage of his strengths throughout the length of the race."

Sheard described the Sudbury, Ont., native as "an extremely coachable athlete" who has "very good prospects for these Games."

"In terms of fitness, being an ex-paratrooper doesn't hurt," MacPherson added. "His arms are as big as tree trunks."