The largest one-day rowing event in Scotland is due to take place at Castle Semple Rowing Club in Lochwinnoch on Saturday, May 19.
However, despite competitors coming from up and down the country to take part, there is only one entrant for adaptive rowing – the event for people with a disability.
Graeme Stewart, who rows for Loch Lomond Rowing Club, is the only competitor in his category in the whole of Scotland.
As a result, he hardly ever gets to compete and, when he does, it is never in a fair race.
The Castle Semple Regatta will be one of the few occasions where he does get to take part but, as ever, he will be at a disadvantage: because there are no other adaptive entrants, he will be up against an able-bodied competitor.
Although his opponent will have his movement restricted to try and make the race as fair as possible, he will still have the upper-hand over Graeme who, as a paraplegic, does not have the use of his abdominal and leg muscles.
This means he is unable to brace his body in the same way as an able-bodied rower and is therefore unlikely to be able to create as much power and speed going through the water.
Although Graeme relishes the challenge of trying to beat an able-bodied opponent (which he has done on a number of occasions), he feels this lack of fair competition may be one of the things that is putting people off giving adaptive rowing a go.
As the adaptive rowing representative for Scottish Rowing, he is keen for more people to take up the sport so as to improve the situation, but also because it is such an exciting time for the sport.
London 2012 is just around the corner, and it will be only the second time adaptive rowing has been included in the Paralympics.
At the age of 45, Graeme feels it is too late for him to be able to dream of Paralympic glory, but he is hopeful that someone else in Scotland might have just such an ambition:
“I know it might seem a bit ambitious to be talking about the Paralympics when we have so few adaptive rowers in Scotland at the moment, but I feel sure we’ve got some potential Paralympians hidden away somewhere here.
“If rowing had been made a Paralympic sport when I was a bit younger, I would definitely have wanted to make it into the GB squad, and I’m sure there are people out there who are capable of doing just that.
“There’s a rower called Caroline McDonald who is a perfect example of what can be achieved if you really put your mind to it: she only took up rowing after seeing it at the Paralympics in Beijing and is now close to representing Team GB at London 2012, so it should certainly be possible for someone from Scotland to follow in her footsteps and make it into the squad for Rio 2016.”
Annamarie Phelps, one of the Trustees of the British Paralympic Association and Chair of the Adaptive Rowing Working Group, echoes Graeme’s sentiments:
“I see no reason why, if someone in Scotland takes up adaptive rowing now, they shouldn’t be able to compete in the Paralympics in four years time.
“Turnaround for Paralympic improvement can be much faster than for those aiming for the Olympic team and, with it being such a new Paralympic sport, we are keeping a keen eye out for new talent to develop.”
Able-bodied rowers can race as individuals, in pairs, in fours, or in eights, and are further categorised according to their age, sex, experience, whether the boat has a cox or not, and how many blades each rower is using: one (sweeping) or two (sculling).
Adaptive rowing follows the same categorisation, but is further classified into: Legs, Trunk and Arms (LTA), Trunk and Arms (TA), or Arms and Shoulders (AS), to accommodate the different types of disabilities people have.
Graeme rows as a single in the Arms and Shoulders (AS) category. This means his legs and torso are strapped to a specially adapted chair that sits in a fixed position in the boat, and his arms do all the work.
By contrast, for an able-bodied rower, most of the power that drives the blades through the water comes from the legs, and the seat on which the rower sits slides back and forth enabling the legs to push off from a bent position.
The torso tilts back slightly as well, to increase the length of the stroke, and the harder the rower pushes with his/her legs, the faster the boat goes.
Graeme’s opponent on Saturday will therefore have to himself ‘adapt’ to the arms only technique, so it will be a challenge for both rowers in the race.
The British Paralympic Association are keen to stress, however, that people with all types of disabilities can take part in adaptive rowing.
“Only five per cent of people who are registered disabled are wheelchair users,” says Annamarie, “so there are plenty of people out there who would be eligible to row in one of the other adaptive categories.
“It may even be the case that someone with a learning impairment, or someone with something like a fused wrist joint, for example, is already rowing, but just doesn’t know that they can race under adaptive classification.
“The more people we get registering interest in the sport, the more races we will be able to organise, and the more competitive the event will become. So I would encourage anyone who would like to take part to get in touch with their local club, because who knows, they may be up for selection for the Paralympics in four years time.”
Graeme’s club on the banks of Loch Lomond already accommodates adaptive rowers, and Castle Semple Rowing Club, the hosts of the upcoming regatta, are keen to hear from anyone interested in giving the sport a go as well.
Caroline Parker, President of Castle Semple Rowing Club, said:
“We’re always keen to hear from anyone who wants to give rowing a go – it’s a great sport for people of all ages, levels and abilities.
“At Castle Semple, we have boats to suit everyone but, at the moment, the demand for adaptive rowing just isn’t there.
“It’d be great if we had some more competitors for the adaptive event at our regatta. It’s the largest one-day rowing event in Scotland, so for everyone taking part, it’s a really good day of competition.
“If you’re interested, do come along and find out what it’s all about. It’ll be a great day out – even if you aren’t a rower – and please feel free to get in touch if you want to know more.”
To find out more about adaptive rowing, please email Graeme at email@example.com or contact your local club. A full list is available on the Scottish Rowing website: www.scottish-rowing.org.uk