Elsa Lalonde winning the women’s AS1x at the RBC National Rowing Championships at Elk Lake, BC on November 9th, 2014. Photo Credit: Katie Steenman Images, courtesy of Rowing Canada Aviron.
A new para-rowing Center is opening January 2nd in British Columbia.
In the past, athletes trained in their hometowns and were then united multiple times a year at training camps in various locations.
All of that is set to change.
“This will be the first time operations will be centralized year round in one location,” explained Paul Hawksworth, Program Manager for the Canadian para-rowing team.
Para-rowing is not new in Canada. Rowing clubs across the country have been offering opportunities to athletes with disabilities for decades. However with the introduction of para-rowing events at the World Championships in 2005, as well as the introduction of the sport into the Paralympic Games program in 2008, the competition at the international level has been rising steadily.
“In order to perform well in crew boats, athletes have to row and train together year-round,” Hawksworth emphasizes.
He also notes that the ability to oversee the development of new and emerging talent is easier to do when everyone is based out of one location.
This is how the system for able-bodied athletes functions and something Hawksworth is eager to duplicate.
“A rowing Center allows every one to feed off of each other and to raise the level of the group,” he adds, “a fact which is important for a sport which is becoming increasingly competitive every year.”
There is also another benefit: athlete development.
“When veterans and newcomers train together,” Hawksworth explains, there is less of a void when the older athletes retire from the sport.”
Something that happened to the Canadian team two years ago, following the London Paralympic regatta.
After two years of medal performances at the World Championships (including a world title in 2010) and a 7th place finish in London in 2012, the team had few athletes to draw from at the start of the new quadrennial, the four-year cycle between Games, in 2013.
Three of the athletes from the mixed four retired following the Games, and the para-team was left adrift in 2013 and 2014. The program was unable to field a single crew to compete on the world stage in these two years.
“Hopefully with a proper Center, this will not happen again,” Hawksworth stresses.
And with funding from Sport Canada and Own The Podium (OTP) being finalized in the coming weeks, it is also something that these organizations (which are subsidizing the Center) are planning for as well.
“We are grateful for the support we receive but are always looking for more,” says Hawkworth. “The goal is to get the same level of funding for rowers with disabilities as their able- bodied counterparts.”
Notwithstanding these hurdles, it is not all doom and gloom on the rowing horizons.
A majority of the athletes in the current system are young and eager, and based on early testing, they are showing indications of world-class power and endurance.
What they need however is the time on the water to perfect their technique, as well as a location where athletes can congregate and try new crew combinations. Or as in Cameron Sinclair’s case, one of the young athletes in the system, a place to simply find a partner to row with if he wants a legitimate shot of competing in Rio.
“The new Center in Victoria will help athletes like Cameron find a mixed doubles partner, and then when that happens, allow them to acquire the crucial skills needed to excel on the world stage,” says Hawksworth before concluding,
“There is no doubt in my mind that this Center is going to play a big part in our preparations for the Paralympic qualification regatta, not to mention getting our athletes back onto that podium.”
The first chance Canada has to qualify for the Brazil Paralympic Games in 2016 is next summer at the World Rowing Championships in Aiguebelette, France.
Events included at the Paralympic Regatta are:
AS1x: Arms and Shoulders single (men and women)
TAMix2x: Trunk and Arms mixed double
LTAMix4+: Leg, Trunk & Arms mixed coxed four
Click here to learn more about rowing at the Paralympics.
For more information, contact Paul Hawksworth, program manager for para-rowing Canada.
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