What is it?
Paralympic Rowing is also called 'adaptive' rowing because the equipment which the rowers use is adapted so that disabled athletes can participate. The sport is generally similar to Olympic Rowing.
Who can participate in rowing at the Paralympics?
Rowing is open to athletes with spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, lower limb amputations and visual impairments.
There are three classifications based on which parts of their bodies athletes can use:
- LTA: This is the legs, trunk and arms classification. It is for athletes who can use a sliding seat and use their legs, trunk and arms.
- TA: This is the trunk and arms classification. It is for athletes with trunk and arm function who are unable to use a sliding seat.
- A: This is the arms only classification. It is for athletes who have no trunk or leg function and row only with the use of their arms.
How is it played?
The Paralympic rowing programme contains the following events: men’s and women’s single sculls, mixed double sculls, and mixed coxed fours.
There are two types of boat.
- In "sculling" boats, each rower uses two oars -– one in each hand.
- In "sweeping boats" (e.g. in the mixed coxed fours), each rower has only one oar.
All events take place over a 1000m course, with the winner the first to cross the finish line.
All events begin with heats, with two boats from each heat qualifying directly for the final.
All remaining boats then compete in two special races called “repechage races”, which offer a second chance to qualify for the final.
In mixed events half of the rowers must be male and half female.
In the mixed coxed fours the coxswain may be male or female.
Adaptations include the following:
- Single sculls boats have buoyancy devices called pontoons, to provide extra balance;
- Many of the boats have special seats, adapted according to the disability of the athlete;
- Straps are used to secure some athletes to the seat;
- Visually impaired athletes must wear eyeshades that make it impossible to see.
More than giving orders
Many people think of the coxswain, or cox, as the small person who sits at the back of the boat and shouts at the others. But, believe me, there’s lots more to being a cox than that. And in Paralympic, or adaptive, rowing my role is even more important.
My job is to steer the boat. I’m the ‘eyes’ of the four rowers, sometimes almost literally because two of the rowers can be visually impaired. I always have to be ready to make adjustments if one of the rowers makes a mistake or if waves or the wind pull the boat off course.
But that’s just part of it. I’m like the coach’s assistant when we’re out on the water. This means I have to make sure that we keep to the race plan. I have to motivate the crew, and make sure that they all work together as a team. So, by doing all these things, even though I don’t pull an oar, I’m responsible for making the boat move.
And lastly, my number one priority is the safety of my crew. Generally speaking, this means being aware of the abilities and special needs of each crew member. Because the coxed four is a mixed event, the differences in size and strength of the athletes can make the boat more unstable.
I have to be completely familiar with emergency procedures. If the boat capsizes (turns over) we all have to be able to get out safely. We do a safety check before every race. The rowers check that their feet can release easily, because they’re secured to the boat. And we check that rowers who have straps attaching their hands to the oars can release the straps using their mouths.
And then we’re ready. And then I’m just the small person who sits at the back of the boat and shouts at the others.