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Jason on the boat

Learn 2 Row

It’s not often I receive an email and then on a whim take part in something new and exciting but when the flyer for the Leeds Rowing Club Adaptive Rowing taster day and subsequent Learn 2 Row (L2R) course came out at the start of August I jumped at the chance to take part.

I’ve always wanted to try my hand at adaptive rowing ever since I watched it on TV and read articles about the new technology and seats in the press. However, the courses have always been held in the South of England and generally during the week. Working for a living doesn’t half get in the way of accessing disabled sporting opportunities and events. So when I saw the email for the taster sessions in Roundhay Park in Leeds with Bristish Rowing and Leeds Rowing Club I signed up there and then. Luckily the 2 hour taster sessions were being run on my day off work on a Friday so I was able to go along, see the boats and seats and get out on the water. It was a glorious day so that certainly spurred me on. On arrival I was introduced to David Cottrell of LRC and James Searle of British Rowing and made to feel extremely welcome. I have to say that despite competing in both wheelchair racing and triathlon on the World stage the thought of floating on the water in a slender boat filled me with some fear. After a short technical session on the indoor ergo rowing machine I was soon ready to take to the water. The ergo was fitted with a supportive adaptive fixed seat that allowed me to balance and use my shoulders and arms to row. My heart was still thumping as I got off the stationary rowing machine and I wheeled out of the boat house into the sunlight and towards the water. The ergo made my heart thump inside my chest faster and harder than any marathon or triathlon I have competed in so I knew this was not going to be an easy sport.

What I didn’t realise was that not only was it going to be physically demanding but just how technically challenging rowing is. The first few minutes in the boat were reassuring as with its outriggers holding the floatation pontoons it felt very stable and not at all like I expected. You sit higher to the water than I had imagined but the boat is set up to cope with the instability a novice rower brings with them. My first few attempts to move the boat were rather uncoordinated and it rocked and yawed from side to side as the oars entered the water at different heights and not at the same time. I was able to row in a small triangle gradually getting a feel for the water and the movement of the oars and boat. Soon I was trying some drills to steer and turn the boat and again it rocked and rolled with my uncoordinated movements of the oars.

The before I knew it the 2 hour taster session was over and it was back on to dry land and reality.

The session had wet my appetite for rowing but I would have to wait until the following week before I could get back on the water and enjoy two full days of learning to row. The L2R days came round really quickly and by the following week any aches and pains had vanished and I was ready to try and find my rhythm and technique. The two day course was as intense as the taster session with two hours each morning and a further two after a break for lunch. We warmed up on the ergo, learning the technique as our muscles were awakened for the day ahead. Soon I was out on the water again practising the drills and how to turn the boat. Soon I was feeling the bow of the boat cut through the water as the oars moved more gracefully against the force of the water below. This was an incredible feeling, like gliding on skies over fresh snow or skating across glistening ice. These moments were often short lived as one oar went too deep into the water below causing the boat to dip to one side and unnerve me.

As the time went by my technique was improving and I was able to start to feather the oars and move the boat more smoothly across the lake. At the end of the first day in the sun Karen, my wife, and I enjoyed a delicious Italian mean in the warm evening air although I seemed to be cramming pasta into my mouth at a fast rate of knots. On the second day I ached as I crawled out of bed but a double espresso with Extract coffee beans and a large bowl of porridge set me up for more of the same. As I began on the ergo I could feel muscles acing that I’d forgotten I had. Back on the water my technique was coming together. Maybe this was a result of my dreams where I seemed to be rocking on water all night.

By the end of the course I was thoroughly shattered, both physically and mentally. If only my Ford Tourneo Grand Connect could have driven itself I’d have been delighted to lay back and relax as it found its way home. Two solid days of demanding exercise and total concentration meant I slept so well that night but it left me with the desire to do more. LRC and British Rowing were now going to try and obtain more boats and equipment to allow them to run a regular adaptive rowing club and to even try and get some of the participants to compete. Watch this space.