Support through Sport UK had the pleasure of chatting to Guildford Rowing Club's Robert Hall and Danny Skillman about the club's adaptive rowing sessions.
Hi Robert and Danny. Huge thanks for chatting to us today. To begin, can we ask when, and why, Guildford Rowing Club started offering adaptive rowing sessions?
We first started offering sessions in the early 2000s when a former member of our club - Simon Goody (who's now the British guru on classification for adaptive and para rowing) - introduced a few people to the club who he thought could make it into the British Paralympic team. Two of these people did indeed make it into the team: Helene Raynsford - who won the first ever Paralympic gold medal at Beijing - and Vicki Hansford, who took a silver in the four. A few years later, in about 2010, I (Robert) was winding down from work and so decided that we should start up the adaptive sessions again. At about that same time, a lady called Claire - who's a wheelchair user - approached the club about getting involved in rowing. I began by holding her up on a rowing machine and, from there, we acquired some special seats for rowing machines and have since built up a whole fleet of specially-adapted boats (five singles and one double, with another double on the way). This kit has all been funded by external sources. Members of the adaptive squad have won medals at several Rowing World Championships and at the 2016 Rio Olympics (gold), as well as at many local and regional events.
What advice would you give to other rowing clubs - or sports clubs in general - who would like to set up adaptive, or para, squads or sessions?
I think just do it. Just start. We've had a number of clubs come and visit us to seek advice, but it's not as difficult to do as people might think. The three key things that you need are: (1) equipment (and I'd say that this is almost the easiest of the three things to get as people are really responsive and supportive when you have a story to tell), (2) participants and (3) volunteers. All of these things are critical and there's nothing worse than when we have people who want to row but we can't cater for them, or volunteers who don't have anything to do as we don't have enough participants. However, over the last few years, we've had a fair turnover of people and we're now one of the most active adaptive rowing clubs in the country.
A few years ago, the Phyllis Court rowing club at Henley invited our adaptive squad to a time trial, so we started going to that, which provided the squad with a good introduction to racing. We've actually trialled a number of different racing innovations in order to make racing more open to everyone. For example: as there's a relatively small number of people racing, we've introduced a handicap system that's based on individual performance, and we've also introduced what we call 'inclusion doubles', which is where you have a para-athlete with an able-bodied athlete. Chris and Dave from our club recently won the inclusion doubles event at Bedford Head and they also competed in the Pairs Head a couple of weeks ago, which is held on the same stretch of water as the Boat Race.
With adaptive rowing, there are two main streams: para and adaptive rowing. What's the difference?
Para-rowing is Olympic rowing and it comprises three very clear classifications: (PR1) Arms and shoulders (there are two events for this category: a men's and women's singles event)., (PR2) Trunk and arms (where the event is a mixed double) and (PR3) Leg, trunk and arms (a mixed event (two men and two women), where no more than two members can be registered as visually impaired).
With adaptive rowing, however, we can be far more flexible and aren't restricted by strict classifications. In the Paralympics, you obviously have to have a clear set of rules, but our mission with the adaptive rowing here at Guildford is to get as many people as we can out on the water enjoying themselves. When someone turns up to the club, I'll put them on a rowing machine and work out what their capabilities are. For example, with sliding seats, a lot of people can use their legs but they haven't got strong enough core muscles, so they're actually much better off in a fixed seat. We have a range of seats they can try and then they can be adjusted to suite the individual. It's amazing what you can do with a roll of gaffer tape and camping mat! So, to summarise, adaptive rowing is for everyone, and anyone can compete in adaptive racing.
How big an adaptive rowing squad does Guildford Rowing Club now have?
We currently have about 10 to 12 people.
Did any of your current athletes compete at the recent Invictus Games?
Yes. Martin Tye and Steve Alman. Both Martin and Steve actually competed in, and won medals across, a variety of sports including rowing, wheelchair rugby, powerlifting, athletics, wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball.
If someone is reading this article and is interested in trying out adaptive rowing at your club, who should they contact?
We'd ask that they fill out an application form, which can be found here.
And, in a similar vein, If someone is reading this article who would be interested in volunteering with the squad, who should they contact?
You can contact us here. We'd also stress that you don't have to know anything about rowing to become a volunteer; there are so many different ways that you can help us.
Thanks so much for talking to us, both, and for showing us your fantastic, inclusive club.