My aim in this entry is to describe the process of becoming classified as an adaptive rower - from the 'I wouldn't mind trying rowing' stage to the 'I'm ready to compete - classify me please!' stage. When I was hoping to be classified, there wasn't really any source with information about the process other than the information provided by British Rowing. Hopefully here I can answer the questions that I had, and answer any that other new adaptive rowers may be thinking of. However, I am by no means an authority on this topic - I'm merely recounting my own experiences. Please bear in mind that if you have a specific question, the best place to take it is to British Rowing. There are contact details on the website (see link below) and very friendly people at the other end!
Click here for more information on para-rowing from British Rowing.
How Bendy Rower got involved...I started out at my college club, initially training as a cox. The cox (or coxswain) is the person who sits in boats such as 8s (with 8 rowers) and coxed 4s (with 4 rowers), steering the boat and telling the rowers what to do. It's a fantastic way to be involved in the sport, and brings easily as many technical challenges as rowing itself. As I got better at coxing I did feel that I was making a positive difference to my crews, and I loved learning how to steer imperceptibly (almost!), and how to work with tides, stream and wind conditions.
I did a bit of rowing, but was always held back by my silly joints and my diminutive stature! I kept on coxing the men's eights, which was a lot of fun, but after four and a half years of coxing I felt ready for a new challenge: I wanted to win things in my own right; I wanted the freedom to explore the river alone; I craved the maneuverability of singles; I felt I wanted to learn new skills.
And, I wanted to be allowed to eat more.
|Potato animals FTW.|
"How does someone get involved in para-rowing anyway?"There are lots of routes into para-rowing! Some people, like me, are involved in the sport as an able-bodied rower before becoming classified 'adaptive'. Others start out with the intention of becoming classified as soon as possible. If you are disabled and you want to get involved, the first thing to do is to find a club...
"How can I find a club?"In the UK, the British Rowing website runs a club finder, which you can also use to search for clubs offering adaptive rowing. Depending on your disability, however, you may find that you can join a club even if it doesn't officially offer adaptive rowing. My club, for example, isn't an official adaptive club, but it does own some wide shells which are perfect for LTA people to learn in, and which can be adapted to suit TA and AS people (more on what these mysterious abbreviations stand for in a minute!). Lots of clubs own stable boats which they use for their able-bodied beginners, but often they're also appropriate boats for disabled people to row in.
If you hope to row in a crew boat (which will probably only be possible if you can use your legs), you have even more options of clubs, because you can go out rowing in normal shells with able-bodied people. If you find a club which you think might be able to help you out, the best thing to do is to contact them and ask if they think they'd be able to accommodate you. Be realistic with what you can manage - it's not fair to them or to you if you aren't - but be prepared to be flexible. And if you're lucky enough to live near a club which already has an adaptive section - go to that one!
"What is classification all about?"Classification is only really necessary if you wish to compete, but it can be a helpful indicator of what you can achieve, and an easy way of describing your disability in rowing terms to any potential coaches. The classification categories are reasonably straightforward. Athletes are assessed on an individual basis and assigned to one of three categories:
LTA - Legs, Trunk and Arms
TA - Trunk and Arms
AS - Arms and Shoulders
The category you are assigned to describes which parts of your body you use to power the boat. If you are an LTA rower (like me!) then you basically row the same stroke as an able-bodied rower, and the only changes are those that have to be made because of your disability. LTA rowers are the only adaptive rowers who use their legs as well as their arms. If you want an idea of what LTA rowing looks like, just watch an able-bodied rower - the blade goes in (the 'catch'), the legs drive, then the back opens out, then the arms draw in.
TA and AS category rowers do not use their legs at all, and are strapped into the boat. TA rowers rock forward from the hips to get extra reach, and power the boat with their backs and their arms. AS rowers also have their upper body strapped into the boat, and row with just their arms and shoulders.
Basically, LTA is for people who have a permanent disability which stops them from being able to row in the same way as able-bodied people; TA is for people in the same situation who can't use their legs but can use their body; and AS is for people with a permanent disability who can't use their legs or upper body to row, but can use their arms. Simple!
"None of those things really applies to me..."You could still be classified! LTA covers a lot of conditions: many blind rowers are classified as LTA, as are some rowers with intellectual disabilities. If you feel you would have trouble using your arms, you aren't alone - lots of adaptive rowers work out ways of helping to grip the oars even if they have amputations, nerve problems or from-birth conditions that make holding things difficult. If you're wondering whether or not you could row, never assume that you can't just because of a disability. Get in touch with clubs, or with British Rowing, to see if they can help you out. Often all that is needed is a bit of imagination, a bit of time, and a bit of elbow grease!
|...and a friendly boatman.|
"How do I know if my disability is classifiable?"Firstly, don't ask me. I am not a medical professional, nor am I in any way responsible for classifying adaptive rowers. The best thing to do is to contact British Rowing for more information. Speaking on the phone might ultimately be the easiest way to do this, but a quick email first will soon be picked up. The most important thing that I can stress is that your disability has to be permanent - so blindness, an amputation, or a genetic condition could all be classified, but other conditions (even if quite long-term) usually cannot.
If your disability cannot be classified, that doesn't mean you can't still be involved in the sport. Classification is only required for those who wish to compete in para-races: without classification, you can still row recreationally and you can still compete in mainstream events. If it helps to know, I had been heavily involved in rowing for five years before becoming classified. I was never much good as a rower (not that it stopped me trying), but, being short and bossy, I wasn't too bad as a cox!
"I'd like to get classified - how do I go about it?"Again, the people to speak to are BR (if you live in the UK) or any other relevant national rowing body. They will arrange for you to see a specialist physio who will have been trained in classifying disabled rowers. You will be asked to take along any walking aids you use, as well as any splints/joint supports, special glasses, orthotics and other such things. You will also need to provide a letter from a doctor, detailing the nature of your disability and how it will affect your ability to row. This letter really does have to be quite detailed - a mere confirmation of diagnosis is not enough. BR can supply you with a sample letter, and will contact your doctor for more information if necessary.
During the classification session you will be assessed by the physio for range of movement and strength. You will also be watched on an erg (rowing machine) - this is not to test how good you are (some people are hopping on for the first time!) but simply to see that you can move safely, and to make it easier to assess which category you should be assigned to.
The whole process is painless and friendly. There's much more information about it from BR here. As ever, if you have further questions it's best to direct them to BR - the people who work on para-rowing are extremely friendly and helpful!
"What happens after being classified?"You carry on training! If you choose to compete, you will need to buy BR membership (some clubs require this for insurance purposes anyway). When you sign up for Gold membership you will receive a card which is your race licence. This lists your name and has some other personal details (e.g. the name of your club), and will also display your adaptive status. This card is really important for any race you enter, as you will have to show it to prove that you are eligible to compete. You will also have to show it if you win the race and want to collect your prize!
|BR membership - your ticket to race...|
"I'm worried that rowing might be too much for me."We all worry about this from time to time! The most important thing is that rowing should be enjoyable. If you give it a go, like it, and want to do more, then great - do more! But at the point where it stops being enjoyable, consider whether you want to scale back or not. This may be right from the first session - rowing isn't for everyone (apparently). It might be when you're trying to push yourself to achieve more, and you realise you've pushed harder than your body can really go. Whatever it is, you should be in control and you shouldn't feel that anybody else is pushing you to do something you don't want to do.
One alternative to water-based rowing is indoor rowing, or 'erging' (rowers call rowing machines 'ergs', which is short for 'ergometers'). The advantages of this are that you can do it in more places (e.g. a normal, fitness gym), you don't need a special boat, you can do it in bad weather, it's easier than rowing on water if you have balance problems (or some visual problems, if you can't easily find someone to help guide you on the water), and as a training tool it's a really useful way of monitoring fitness and practising technique should you want to hop in a boat later on. All rowing clubs will have ergs that you can use, but it might be cheaper to join a gym. Beware of most ergs that can be bought from non-specialist shops (naming no names!) - they're often terrible and will encourage bad technique, which could cause or exacerbate injuries.
If you're in a club and you're worried about any aspect of the rowing, there will be a welfare officer who you can speak to - or speak to a coach, other athletes, even someone you don't know - just anyone you trust. They can all be there to help you work out a solution that makes you feel better, such as a break from the sport to recover physically or to catch up on other commitments, or a way of toning down your rowing commitments and the sessions you do so that they don't feel like a chore.
"I don't think I want to compete..."You can just enjoy the sport too. Rowing is a wonderful activity, and you can find almost any emotion you want on a river, many of them paradoxical: excitement, calm, ambition, contentment, determination, success, perseverance, solitude, community...the sense of being not just close to nature but utterly reliant on its patterns is also a huge draw. Even if I never competed again, I would still row as much as I can, because rowing has a fantastic effect on both mind and body. And without competing, you still get a sense of achieving something when you hone your technique in the boat, or feel yourself get fitter and stronger.
When you've been rowing for a while, and you've got confidence in your abilities, there are few things more satisfying than setting aside a couple of hours in the day to take part in a physical activity, outside in the fresh air (and sometimes the rain!); an activity in which you see immediate results and which gives you an independence you may not have in every day life. From a boat, you can get up close to herons, spot moorhen chicks hiding in reeds, dangle your toes in the water amongst the fish, or just laugh at a dog bounding along the bank, barking at ducks. My family home is out in the sticks, so being out in a boat is the perfect way for me to recharge mentally: you really have to understand your environment for rowing to work properly, and I love feeling that I'm working with, through and in the natural world. I know it sounds cheesy, but just try rowing every day for a week (preferably at different times of day to get the full effect!) and you'll feel the same by the end of it.
|Rowing is like this, every day. Without fail.|