Row hard, row fast

Monthly Archives: May 2013

Tomorrow I am going to do an assessment of my current fitness, aka an ergo test. There are a number of reasons why, mostly that I need to see where I am compared to a few months ago, fingers crossed I’m making progress. I also need to see what fitness I lose over next week, as I’m being admitted to a London hospital for some long awaited tests.

I’m not keen on going, but I know I need a way forward. It’s just difficult to plan around as they said it could be up to a week, but others I know were only in for a few days. It is probably about the best timing it could be in terms of training and racing, as Marlow Regatta is still a few weeks off.

I’m going to sneak some training kit, like weights in, and might see what other amenities are around. There will be plenty of wheeling around, especially as I now have my beautiful new chair, which I can push more easily.

I hope to make a start on some bits of craft projects I’ve got to do, and maybe actually take the time off to rest and recharge, although not sure how well that will work as the tests can be quite gruelling apparently.

I was only phoned on Wednesday afternoon about it, so I’ve been busily making phone calls to get all my TPN deliveries sorted out. When I spoke to a nurse on the ward about it, the response I got was “oh my God, oh my God, don’t know if we have anywhere to store it”. Not the most reassuring start to a conversation. She did, however, investigate for me, and I think hope it’s all sorted.

Right sleep and hopefully feel refreshed and ready for tomorrow.


I haven’t updated until now, not because it was a bad experience, but purely because I’ve been too busy. I’ll start with the negatives, which won’t take long as there’s so few of them.

The decision was that I need more experience, more time to improve. A decision I completely agree with. Of course I’m disappointed I didn’t get a place, but that shows I care about what I want to do.

The positives, however, massively outweigh the negatives. The first is to realise how far I’ve come in such a short time. Coming from pretty much no fitness, and suffering from malnutrition, through having had 4 surgeries, and an awful winter weather wise, I probably got about 5 months of inconsistent training, so all these things considered, to have been invited to trials is a huge achievement for me.

I also know I didn’t row my best, which originally disappointed me, but I realised that had I given it my best and not been good enough things would be in a worse way. The weather was awful, so windy that in all honesty I was exhausted before I even got to the start. At points I’d just had to sit at the finish of the stroke and brace, otherwise I was going back down the course!! When it came to my actual time trial, I just couldn’t connect with the boat, I’m not sure why, perhaps a combination of nerves and the poor conditions, I don’t know. So it was a pretty rubbish row.

In terms of feedback, I was given a lot of useful advice and the GB coaches said they’d liaise with my club coaches, and be there if I needed anything from them. They’re basically going to keep an eye on how I progress, having asked me to attend certain events, and I’m just waiting for info about a date to gain international classification, so that we don’t have to worry about that in the future. I’m taking the experience as very much a ‘not right now’ decision, as they want me to come back next year. Going through the process in itself has been useful, as now I know what to expect so that will be one less stress next time.

I think the biggest positive is that it’s shown proof that the training I’m doing is paying off. Last July, at the British Rowing Championships, in better conditions my time was 8:38, but last weekend, despite much worse conditions I did 6:43. So nearly 2 minutes off my previous PB, which I’m really proud of. If I gain that much in 4/5 months, imagine me a year from now?!

As the saying goes, if you fall off your horse, you need to get right back on it, so I was up at 5:30 the next morning ready for training. I know where I need to be, so I’m off to give it everything I’ve got and hopefully more.

Push that little bit harder than you think you can, because you want it more.

At the moment I’m concentrating on breathing and not panicking. For today is the day all the training so far has been for.

I’m terrified in all honesty, I thought I was nervous last time, but this is a whole new level. I’m trying to remain calm though, I know there’s nothing I can do now, but put all my effort into this afternoons trial. I’ve been resting and, focussing on the job in hand. I’ve got a few minutes spare now, hence the post. It’s giving me something to do, whilst sitting in the hotel. My boat hopefully is somewhere near now. It is coming on someone’s roof rack, whilst I’ve got my floats and blades in my van. We’re going to meet shortly and prep my boat, before a briefing and then the trial.

I know that even if it doesn’t work out now, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. I’ve been training less than a year, so I’m remaining realistic, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want it. I want it with the whole of my heart, never have I been so focussed on something or want it so much.

I’ll be back in the next few days for an update.

This is a post for Blogging against disablism 2013

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2013
Last year I was in a very different position in terms of my health and life. Effectively I was dying of malnutrition, with severe bowel pain. I think I might have even been in hospital when I wrote for blogging against disablism.

A different topic this year, disablism within sport. This isn’t another discussion about the Paralympic legacy, but about my experiences with grass roots sport. Several years ago when I arrived at university, I joined the college’s boat club, and loved it, I went on to a development camp with the university and was all set to trial, when my genetic illness decided to make an appearance with vigour.

Fast forward to 10 months ago, I’m back in a boat, this time as a para-rower. Things weren’t quite as simple as that though. First there was finding a suitable club, given the obsession in Cambridge with rowing, you would think it would be easy. Unfortunately the nearest club with a suitable boat is actually at least an hour away. I couldn’t have asked for a better club, everyone is fantastically helpful, but we lack facilities. They are working on it, and I can manage without, but that’s not to say everyone could. It would be such a shame if someone with great potential never had it fulfilled because the facilities weren’t there.

One of the key questions is, If the foundations aren’t there, how will more people be able to get involved? I know there are clubs in Cambridge working to get something set up, but I think there’s been quite a lot of pressure from people higher up. I would dearly love to only have a 15 min commute, four times a week than be spending over 4 times as long.

Once you get a club, there are still a number of barriers to participation, particularly if you want to develop. Competitions are a prime example of this, there are a lot less opportunities for racing as an adaptive rower. Lack of participation is one of the biggest problems here, but it’s a vicious circle, unless there are enough para-rowers out there, then there won’t be enough for a club to consider putting on an event, which means the sport misses out on raising its profile, when the sport really needs publicising. Out of sight, out of mind possibly. Often my club captain approaches the clubs where the rest of the squad are due to race, to see if they’ll put on something for me. I’m grateful that he does it, but there shouldn’t be the need. We should be considered like any other class of boat.

I think one thing that makes a lot of para-rowers reluctant to compete, as well as lack of competitors, is not knowing what the facilities will be like. Several times I’ve had to be lifted in my chair over a bank, or bum shuffled onto the jetty. It’s hardly dignified, and doesn’t help you concentrate on your race. Then there other things like accessing toilets. At one event, the only large toilet was in the men’s bathroom, so we had to block people coming in so I could go. Even this didn’t quite go to plan, as they didn’t lock the other door so as you can guess I rather shocked someone!!

At a much larger event, I was going to do my pre Race wee, but there was a radar lock on the door and my keys were at the hotel. They couldn’t find anyone who had a key, so I had to make do, leaving me stressed before a very important race. When at international invitational race, the coach we were to use was completely inaccessible to me, I don’t think they meant it, they just hadn’t thought about it.

My attendance at a recent event, was interesting, I had competition, we had been told they had access for me, so all was set to be good.
Sadly not to be, facilities failure involved me having to crawl up some old wooden stairs, cue purple knees, and relief that I don’t use my legs when racing as they were even more useless than normally. Even if the equipment had been working, I would have either had to crawl, or get my manual chair lifted up, to get over the landing.

In terms of people’s attitudes, I haven’t come across much disablism from people within sport, it’s usually patronising comments I get from strangers. “Oh, you do a little bit of rowing, how nice”, “No, I do a lot of rowing, it’s what I do”.
The best exchange was with a random man in the pharmacy.
Man : oh I pity people like you,
Me: I wouldn’t I have a fantastic life,
Man: *looks taken aback”
Me: *tell him what I am aiming for*
Man: “oh, yes people like little Ellie Simmonds are so good, and those Brazilians with no arms and legs still winning races”
Me: *deep breath* thankfully he goes before he can insult and patronise the whole disabled community any further.

I think that disablism within the sport is unintentional and work is going into improving the situation. The Paralympic legacy is doing a lot to raise the profile of if, and the few of us who want to race regularly are putting pressure on places to offer the opportunities. It’s a complex situation, as it is expensive for a club to invest in the boats needed, without any certainty that they’ll get the returns on them. Thankfully there is some funding out there, but that involves someone having time to wade through the application. I am seeing changes for the good, but there is still a lot of work to do to make it accessible to as many as possible.

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