I’ll be honest, my lead up to Henley Women’s Regatta wasn’t great. I’d missed a lot of training through illness and injury and was really not in the shape I wanted to be. To the extent that, I was seriously considering scratching about 2.5 weeks before the race. Coach wasn’t having any of it thankfully.
To have even half a chance at winning, I knew I had to stay well and get the most out of the sessions I had left.
With good fortune, I stayed well and injury free and managed to commit to some decent training. I regained speed quickly and my erg scores started to tumble. With a few days to go before I started to taper, I finally managed to produce some scores I could be relatively happy with, and the belief that I could perform started to reappear.
So I bundled everything (but the kitchen sink!!) into the car, and set off to Henley. I arrived just in time to see some of my squad mates race. I met some friends for the first time, saw some old friends, and generally had a chilled out afternoon.
I had a straight final so was only due to race Sunday afternoon, but I love Henley Women’s Regatta, so went
down for the whole weekend, it’s such a great event.
I went to prepare for an evening paddle, to discover that my foam roller, that I use under my knees in the boat had been removed and left at home. So after a quick strop, we used some bits of kit for a temporary job and I went out for a paddle. It was good to be back on the water, although being surrounded by 8’s is always a little unnerving in a single. It’s like being in a Smart Car surrounded by HGVs!! The session went mostly to plan. I found my balance (well as much as I ever have!!) and did a few starts. It seemed okay, and I managed to hold off the 4’s and 8’s coming down for a while. I did nearly capsize just before coming in when I had my right blade parallel to the boat and my left was well into arms away, but I managed to stay calm and rescue it, phew!!
We then went back to the hotel, unpacked, had food etc…. The plan was to chill out for Saturday and have an evening paddle. So I had an early night and a late morning, my PA and I went out to get some snacks, but otherwise I sat around and mooched. My parents arrived in the afternoon, which was lovely. I was going to go out for the paddle, but we decided that driving 30- 40 minutes, for a 40 minute outing and then the same back, was probably not worth it in the grand scheme of things. I wasn’t going to gain anything significant from the outing, but I could injure myself, or tire myself out so I decided to stay watching DVDs instead.
My coach was kind enough to run around the shop and get a new foam roller, whilst we acquired a saw to do the job.
I had an early night, having packed everything and prepared all my kit and drinks for the next day. Not long after I woke I got a frantic phone call from my coach saying there was a problem with the timetable and we were due to race at 1150 not 1500. This gave me less than 2 hours before I needed to boat. Many phone calls, tweets and emails were sent, and I managed to get hold of someone, who said that they’d just noticed it as well and were in the process of checking it. Thankfully 1500 was right, which is what we’d been told originally, so I had to spend some time calming down.
We arrived at 11 so had plenty of time to prepare and cut down foam rollers. I just rested and chatted until it was time to prepare and get on the water. We were heading up to the changing room when an unfortunate incident occurred, which involved me being tipped out of my wheelchair and dislocating my shoulder in the process. This resulted in a very stressed and annoyed me, with a rather wonky shoulder. I quickly put my shoulder back in and tried to get my head back into the race plan.
I boated and rowed up to the start focussing on balance and length, and remaining focussed on my race and my boat not what was going on around me. I got up to the start, and had fun with the cross wind. We were called up to attach to the stake boats. I arrived got lined up and then they decided to change the person holding it, and also move the length of the platform out as well. Eventually we were called to Attention. I quickly checked my blade position, took a focussing breath and then “GO”.
I had a good start, and moved off quickly, I powered through my first few strokes, and realised I could already see my competitor from the corner of my eye. Without losing focus, I continued to push on, by the Island I already had about 2 L clear water, so I settled into a safe rhythm, remembering my coach’s sole instruction “Don’t F*** Up” I continued to pull away, so I started to wind down a bit- I was told to keep it safe and not push on unnecessarily. I settled into a 75% pressure pace, and just kept my focus and calm, whilst trying not to get too excited. As I drew towards the finish, everyone was cheering and shouting, and suddenly I heard “Claire, you can stop rowing now” Possibly the most bizarre hooter/whistle in the world. Suddenly I realised I had won!! Yes, finally after a horrid season, I’d done it. I wound it down and continued rowing so that I could get back to the boathouse. Some people didn’t realise that I had finished racing and were shouting at me to keep going and not give up- I think I was doing arms only at the time to try and recover a bit!! As I continued rowing down people were still clapping and cheering- this is what I love about HWR, people support everyone, complete strangers came up to me to congratulate me, it’s a lovely feeling.
I got back to the boathouse and out of the boat- for once I didn’t throw up!! But I did cry instead. I know it sounds daft, but it’s been such a rubbish season, it was such a relief to have done this. I got an understated fist bump from coach and then I went to roll into a shower before getting dressed up for presentation. I discovered I was only 12 seconds off the course record and I’d only been rowing at 75% so I was a bit annoyed about that, but the time I won in was about the same time I’d won my semi in last year, so despite all my problems this year it shows I’m in better shape than I thought.
I took my parents shopping, well I mean I showed Mum lots of things I wanted and convinced her to part with her credit card for some of them!! They sadly had to go and couldn’t stay till the presentations as it’s nearly 4.5 hours for them to go back home and Mum had work the next day. My aunt and uncle stayed a little bit longer and then headed off. I was called into the presentation enclosure and we kept having to move people out of the way as otherwise I wouldn’t get to my presentation!! There was a bit of talking and speech by Naomi Riches MBE, before the presentations started.
Eventually it was my turn- after remembering to take off my brakes, I made it to the front. I’m not good in these sorts of situations, I get really nervous, but I managed to not drop the trophy which was the main thing, and remembered to try and smile as well!!
We made a quick exit after that as I was pretty tired and still had to do the drive home. We did our goodbyes and made for home.
So that’s my story of Henley Women’s Regatta. It was as ever a fun experience, and really enjoyable.
Training has been going rather well recently, I’m not as fast as I’d like, but then what athlete ever is!? But my endurance is improving, and with that should come speed, so fingers crossed it is on the right path.
I’ve been trying to look at the nutrition aspect of my training recently. This of course is a very complex area for me given that I can’t tolerate much food orally and only absorb part of what I do manage to tolerate. Both my gastrointestinal team and respiratory teams have some involvement in my nutrition, the latter because of my reflux affecting my lungs. Each have an opinion about what should and shouldn’t be done, and me being me, generally have a different plan to both of them!!
Whilst they argue it out, I’m focussing on the basics- hydration during the day being the biggest, and the focus today. I get my primary fluids overnight in my IV bag, and can only tolerate around 300ml of oral fluid a day. So I need to make that 300ml contain the most value it can. I need to consider what I need, what I can tolerate and what I have planned for the rest of the day and the next days. I can rehydrate effectively day to day with my IV fluids, but trying to quench a post-training thirst, or rehydrate after a sweaty first session are not so easy to do. It’s not practical, nor safe to hook up extra IV fluids every day due to access and de-accecessing requirements. I will do it if it’s a dire emergency but it’s not ideal in any way (for my personal situation).
Some things I tolerate better than others, and at different times I tolerate different things. Generally water is the fluid I struggle most with, so I have to avoid drinking pure water. Instead if it’s just for rehydration as opposed to for refuelling, I’ll use an electrolyte tablet added to water, as I tolerate this reasonably well. If I need calories as well as electrolytes I’ll use a carbohydrate powder mixed in and for ‘Recovery’ I’ll use a protein/carb mix, but I find that hard to digest so tend to only use that on evenings.
I am pretty obsessed with fluid balances, output/input etc as well as weight. Dehydration is known to have a massive impact on performance not only physically, but mentally. A quick search produces thousands of articles discussing the negative impact it has, as well as hopefully mentioning the dangers of overhydration, so I’ll skip the details. Dehydration also affects one of my other health problems, so I have to be extra careful- I’m still learning though, and for me it’s not an exact science as so many other things affect my stomach and its ability to tolerate oral fluids. My days of glugging down a big glass of ice cold juice are well over, although I dream of this on a hot evening, because if I over do the fluids I end up with them coming back up, and my hydration levels worse than they were before I started.
Unfortunately with the summer coming, things get that bit more complicated, as I need to find some way of getting in extra day time fluids without being able to increase what I put in. It’s difficult and we’re still balancing it out, but now I have a second line in, I can piggy-back fluids to run with TPN, without it taking any longer. I’m hoping that this will work, this is the first year I’ve tried this so fingers crossed it works out okay. The risk with this is that I end up with fluid overload and best case scenario end up taking a lot of loo breaks, the worst case heart failure. So it’s a delicate balance!!
The downside to there not being people around who have tried this before, means you’re kind of on your own out there. It’s a work in progress, and I’m hoping to work with a sports nutritionist soon, so he might have some ideas, but due to the circumstances has never worked with a TPN athlete before- at least he should know the basic nutritional stuff, I just go with common sense and try and make some educated judgement calls.
It’s now less than a week to Henley Women’s Regatta, so I’m started to plan my fluid options for that. Thankfully I’ve only got the one race, so it’s easier in terms of hydration than last year, but is very much weather dependent and based on pre-planning estimates.
Hopefully it’ll work out okay and I’ll be a nicely pre-hydrated, ready to kick butt on Sunday!!
I’m known for breaking things, but seem to have taken it to a new level recently. I’m currently in the VW van centre, getting my van looked at. It’s randomly losing power which is not very helpful. Hopefully it’s nothing too major and I can get it fixed quickly and get back home.
My powerchair still remains broken, I need to get that chased up, dragging myself through the car is really not good for me!
Manual chair is fixed though. I replaced the brake myself and with some fiddling, have managed to get it so it is working again. That’s one to me, 2 to inanimate objects.
The final major failure is my rowing seat, I’ve broken one weld and completely sheared through another bit. It needs to go back to the seat hospital. So now we need to change the seat and rails back to my old ones, which aren’t as good, but better than nothing.
Update: managed to get my chair fixed, which is rather handy. Does mean the rails have to be changed again tomorrow, but never mind!!
Car isn’t a VW fault, they believe it’s the alternative ignition that came with the hand controls. Phoned the relevant company who were adamant it wasn’t anything to do with them, until I mentioned what the guys at VW said, then suddenly it was possible it was to do with them!! They, however, haven’t rung me back so need to chase them next week.
I went back home on Thursday afternoon, until this evening. Was a nice change of scenery. Ready for a hard week of training, as I’ve been selected to row for England next weekend, assuming there is still a race. I haven’t heard much so not sure what’s going on. Fingers crossed it’s happening, I loved it last year. It’ll be good to see where I am, and where I need to be for the National Championships in October.
I’m also rather excited as I’m going to see Ash on Tuesday night, (definitely worth skiving off one session to see them!!).
Marlow Regatta, for me nearly didn’t happen. Having come down to the area the night before, to ensure I was on time, relaxed and ready for it, none of those actually happened. My Sat Nav has gone on a holiday and appears not to have found its way home again, so I was relying on printed directions. I left at 9:30, for a 15 minute journey, I eventually got there at 11:10, having had to send someone to let race control know I was on my way. You wouldn’t believe the number of ways you can get lost in Slough!! Thankfully I found a vaguely helpful gentleman, who pointed me in the right direction.
The consequence of this, was that I was wheeling around at high speed to get boated in time. I just made it to the start line in time, but I wasn’t at all prepared mentally, so my race was pretty poor. I finished third and then was approached by someone from BR, who congratulated me. I was a bit surprised by that, until he explained that they hadn’t realised that two categories were racing, and that I’d actually won my event!! Sadly no medal, but I was presented with the winner of the other category’s medal, then had to give it back, but they’re going to get me one engraved and sent out to me.
I was meant to finish this entry off before I went to Henley Women’s but it didn’t quite happen. HWR was a fantastic experience, although it would have been even better if we’d had more para-rowers. I’d had some coaching by a different person between Marlow and HWR, and I was pleased to see the technical changes we’d made, I managed to produce on the day. I was the only entrant in my category, so raced up a category. I knew it was going to be difficult, but I was determined to do my best. I had a good start, on which I built, and managed to lead for the first 400 m, but as the wind increased, the difference between being able to use just your shoulders, versus the whole of the trunk, became very evident. I dug deep though, and I had nothing more to give at the end, so I can’t be disappointed with my race. It has given me things to work on, which is a good thing, especially so early in my rowing career.
I had to try and hold a coherent conversation with the umpire until we got to the landing stage, who wanted my thoughts on the event, para-rowing in general and a bit more about me. My main thought was, I’m tired, and cold!! Can’t remember what I actually said, but she seemed happy enough with my responses.
I think that’s the main races done for me for a while. There’s the National Championships, but they aren’t until October, so will probably do a few local regattas with my club in the mean time. Other than that it’s mostly training for now. Well, when I can avoid hospital appointments. Not sure how I’ve managed it, but I seem to have loads of tests at the moment, and appointments all within a few days of each other. Not my favourite past time!!
This morning the fun is radioactive egg, with toast and jam. I’ve only got an hour left. I’ve had 3 or possibly 4 scans so far, each an hour apart, so I’m quite bored!! I nearly escaped the last one, if my stomach was behaving, but there’s still quite a lot of the food left, so I’ve still got one more scan. Time has been passed talking to the other girl, who is also having the same scan. I’ve been abandoned now though. The most trying bit of the experience was having to eat the jam. I don’t like jam, let alone jam with seeds in it *shudders* seeds are a big problem for me, I’m terms of my ASD, so I’m kind of proud of my success!!
Tuesday I spent an hour trying to sleep in an MRI machine, whilst also following instructions, multitasking at its finest!! I’ve got two London consultants to see in the next 12 days and a dermatologist up here. I’d been working so hard to cut down on the number of appointments, and don’t know how I’ve managed to end up with all of these.
Right time to go and do something useful, or procrastinate until it’s time for my outing!!
It’s Marlow regatta, at Eton Dorney, (home to the Olympic and Paralympic rowing), this weekend. which is rather exciting. Sadly I don’t think my fitness is the best it could be. I need more stamina, it’s coming on, but not fast enough for me!! I think that the week in hospital didn’t help things. Also using my lightweight chair more is a bit of a shock to my arms!!
Currently I’m waiting to see my nutrition team, which hopefully will be okay. I have a few things to discuss and also see what they have to say about things.
Preparations for the race have started, motivational, head focussing music is on, and the cards are up. Training is starting to taper as well. I’m quite excited about the race, although it appears I’m racing up a category again, which is annoying, but a race is better than no race, even if it’s just for experience.
Not much else is happening in my world, it seems to revolve around sleeping and rowing, which is fine by me!!
Well that’s what I hoped, but in reality I seem to have spent the last month trying to work out how to get one oversized object from one part of the country to another. The last resort plan seems to be the most serious contender at the moment, which trust me is a plan that nobody wants to have to resort to, but if that’s what it takes for me to compete then that’s what I’ll do.
In other frustrating rowing news, I’ve just been informed that there isn’t another entry for my category at HWR. I’m really disappointed about this, it would have been a fantastic experience. Someone from the committee phoned me this evening to let me know. They have suggested that I could row as a demo event, to hopefully raise the profile, but it’s a long way to come just to do that. So I’ve made the suggestion that I row up a class as my times previously weren’t that much slower than the ones they did. At Bedford I was considerably closer to their times than I was the other two in my own class. I hope the committee allow this, it’s not against any para-rowing rules, so it should theoretically but okay.
Fingers crossed please. Find out tomorrow.
This is a post for Blogging against disablism 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.