Adaptive Rowing

When I was first asked to come down to the Ohio River to try adaptive rowing (or para-rowing as it is now commonly called), I was hesitant. Water. Boat. Quad. I wasn’t sure this was a great combination.

That first morning I got into a boat, I was nervous. I was in a double (a scull for two rowers) and my able-bodied rowing partner, Ann, explained the basics of rowing to me. By the time I got out of the boat that morning, I knew I had found my sport. 

After that first day on the river, I returned week after week, year after year. My coaches have tweaked the equipment to make it work. As a quad, I use gloves that wrap and hold my hands around the oars. I also use a chest strap that wraps around the fixed seat to keep me seated upright and balanced. Since I can’t “feather” the oars, we came up with a way to keep the oars in a stationary position. As I got stronger, I was able to go from rowing with the lighter weight “spoons” to “hatchets,” then from rowing with a partner to by myself in a single. I finally progressed to a Paralympic-style scull that is lighter weight and narrower than the recreational shells.


I don’t row for the competition, although I have rowed in various regattas. I row to be free. To enjoy an incredible work out. To be out in nature. To push myself further than I thought was possible.

In October 2014, my rowing partner and I completed our first 5000m (3.1 mile) head race. The conditions were rough with the water a bit choppy and a head wind working against us. But we did it. This summer, I had hoped to row to the Water Tower and back: a four mile row in the single. I did it. What’s next? I’d love to race in the Head of the Charles in Boston with my rowing partner. My coach is setting up an ergometer (i.e., a rowing machine – or “instrument of torture,” as I prefer to call it) at my house so I can stay in shape throughout the winter. We’ll see what the future holds.

I have to give kudos to the coaches and volunteers who take the time to carry the boat down to the dock, help set up the equipment, transfer me down into the boat, and go out in a launch alongside me for my safety. Without them, none of this is possible.

You may be wondering who can row. The diversity in our rowing program is one of the things I love about adaptive rowing. We have had individuals with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, spinal cord injuries, Multiple Sclerosis, amputees, Downs Syndrome, visual impairment and intellectual disabilities. It’s a great group of people and it is worth getting up early on a Saturday morning to get in a great row and spend time with these friends.

I recently read a quote that instantly resonated with me and sums up what rowing means to me. The quote is from George Yeoman Pocock in The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.

“It’s a great art, is rowing. It’s the finest art there is. It’s a symphony of motion. And when you’re rowing well, why it’s nearing perfection. And when you near perfection, you’re touching the Divine. It touches the you, of yours. Which is your soul.”

Yes. That is what rowing is to me.


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