Spotlight On... Rowing

Ellen Buttrick, Giedre Rakauskaite, James Fox, Oliver Stanhope and Coxswain Erin Kennedy of Team Great Britain PR3 Mixed Coxed Four celebrate after winning the Gold medal

It’s a Paralympic summer, but don’t just watch the sports, try them!

Parasport's Spotlight On… series offers a quick glimpse into the world of a Paralympic sport – the thoughts, feelings, emotions and behind the scenes details that may be hidden to the outside world.   

In the next part of the series, we spoke to adaptive rowing coach Steve Bloyce about what makes his sport special. 

What is rowing? 

“Fitness on water. Actually, scratch that, it doesn't have to be on water! 

“You can row on the water in a boat or on land on an "ergometer" rowing machine. 

“There are two types of rowing on water: sculling, with one oar blade and sweeping with two oars. There's a rowing machine in every gym you go to, too. 

“From my experience, rowing is a really good, broad, strength & conditioning and cardiovascular-based training.

“There's a very good mental aspect to it. You have to push yourself, it's probably one of the hardest sports I've physically done.” 

Should you start on a machine or on the water? 

“You could do either, I wouldn't go out on the water too early though! There's a lot of technical stuff you can do on an erg and that transfers across to a boat fantastically well. 

“Equally, you could start on the water with a learn to row course at your local club. There's a safe environment to do either and it depends on your preference. 

“Machines are great for adaptive rowers. You can have a static seat, a sliding seat and different hand grips that suit different capabilities, and all of that works on the water.” 

Is rowing an individual sport? 

“It can be - there are single scull boats and rowing machines are for single users. 

“Other boat sizes range from doubles and quads in sculling and pair, four and eight in sweeping. So it's generally a team sport.” 

What's the best thing about rowing? 

“The teamwork is one of the best things about it. You'd think it would be an individual activity - but it's best when you're pushing yourself alongside others. 

“I've tried a lot of sports and I only started rowing in 2017. Rowing takes you to a point of having nothing else to give physically and doing that alongside other people is really special.” 

What are rowing people like? 

“They're hard workers, and very welcoming. 

“The reason why I've stuck around in the sport is because the people at the club I joined were brilliant. 

“If you walk in to a rowing club with a genuine interest in taking part, there are people who share your passion and will help you fall in love with the sport.” 

Is rowing for everyone? 

“There's a lot of work being done to break down barriers, and indoor rowing is hugely effective in doing that. 

“A lot of people's image of the sport is the Boat Race and the Henley Royal Regatta. But on an erg machine, everyone's equal and it's to everyone regardless of status or ability. 

“Really, it's just like turning up to a football club and wanting to play football. There are so many ways in.” 

How easy is it to row with a disability? 

“It massively depends on the type of disability you have. But one of the things that is fantastic about rowing is that boats are so easy to adapt! 

“I was involved in an accident in 2014 and suffered a brachial plexus injury. I learned to row on the side of my body that was less impaired and went out with people who could facilitate that. 

“I've tried different sorts of grips and handles to make it more comfortable on my weaker side. I've used gardening gloves, and other more specific adaptions! 

“There's another person I row with who is paralysed from the waist down. He's got a fixed seat - most seats are sliding, but that can be adapted for him. 

“It's just a case of sitting in the right sort of boat.” 

Do all clubs have solutions like that? 

“Every club is becoming more aware and better at providing adaptive solutions. 

“The people at the club I walked into were so bought into the process that nothing was a problem. It's down to the individuals and I can't speak for every club, but that's what makes the difference. There's no such thing as can't, there really isn't. 

“Anything's adaptable, whether it be rowing or football, where there's a will there's a way.” 

Do you watch rowing on TV? 

“I watch rowing more now I do it myself. I didn't watch it much before, if I'm honest. I'm someone who watches the sport I participate in. 

“I always find inspiration in watching the thing I like to do done at the highest level.” 

What would you say to someone considering trying rowing? 

“Opportunity isn't always obvious. Take advantage of anything that comes your way and if it's just fitness you want, rowing is great for that. 

“If it's a new life, a new challenge, rowing can give you that too.” 


Gain an insight into the world of other Paralympic sports by visiting our Spotlight On… series hub page here.

Want to give rowing a try? Check out our club finder!