In St Andrews, as our little club has grown over the past 5 years we have also established an adaptive rowing programme, which has become an integral part of our development. The initial impetus was the result of a series of coincidences. We had met Gateshead Newcastle Club when taking part in the Great Tyne Row 2015 and they had recently finished modifying their boat to accommodate paraplegic rowers. At this point we were about to build our second boat and the local harbour trust had just installed pontoons. We had a number of club members with experience in a variety of relevant areas, ranging from maritime experience to the military and various medical professions. Coupled with this pool of skills, as a community based club, which had received community funding, we had a desire to be inclusive about the ways in which we wanted to bring our sport to those with disabilities living in our area.

Our journey has not been without its ups and downs, with the best-laid plans sometimes going smoothly and on other occasions not at all running according to the script. We have learnt a lot along the way and have ironed out many of wrinkles, thanks to the patience of our adaptive rowers who have been willing ‘guinea pigs’ and the dedication of our adaptive rowing team. The best thing is that this team now includes disabled rowers who, as members, are acting as advocates for the sport, helping to recruit and induct new rowers with disabilities.

Our ambition now as a club, with the support of the SCRA, is to facilitate, encourage and assist other clubs to engage with adaptive rowing at whatever level they wish or feel able to. Clubs associated with the SCRA are spread out geographically, so the suggested way forward is to ask for a minimum of two volunteers from each SCRA area to be team leaders. These volunteers will form a ‘SCRA Adaptive Rowing Steering Group’, which can then liaise and assist clubs locally. Some clubs may already be engaging with disabled people, others might be considering it, while for a variety of reasons, for other clubs, this may not be a route they are able to go down, either now or in the future. However, even if your home club is not able to be involved, this does not preclude you yourself from being a volunteer. Once established as a Steering Group, we will work together and learn from each other. In this set up it is anticipated that the role of St Andrews will be to assist by sharing the strategies we have tried and tested (and in some cases abandoned!) to date. We are by no means experts but have built up some experience, for example, around how to get started, access and equipment and can draw on examples of problems and solutions that we have faced and found. In this way, we hope to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves to us as individual clubs so that we can move forwards together in the development of adaptive rowing within Scottish coastal rowing more generally.

Fear is probably the biggest hurdle for clubs and disabled people alike. The fear of saying or doing something wrong, the fear of something new or of holding others back. All are challenges but they are far outweighed by the rewards for everyone involved. Consistently we hear in feedback, “if I hadn’t felt welcome I wouldn’t have come back” or “this is the best thing we do as a club –it’s my favourite thing”. For many who have seen their lives turned upside down by illness or injury it is an opportunity to develop a new facet to life. As one of the participants in the St Andrews University ‘Rowing the Waves’ research projects summarised better than we can, this can have both a physical and psychological impact:

“on the boat there is this aspect of my disability meaning nothing or disappearing, yes, and at the same time this connection and being one with everything else, with the sea like this breathing with the sea, you know, that I really felt that there was no separation between the sea, the movement of the sea and the movement of the boat and we were we were an extension of the sea you know, like, we were one”

“there is a meditative quality of rowing and at the time I felt like I was dancing”

“I don’t know whether I can speak for other people with a disability but I think I really would like to give them this opportunity to feel that their disabilities mean less, in that context and so that there is, you know, it’s really part of your healing process to come to terms with disability but also to learn that actually there are lots of things you can still do and enjoy”

“it’s the single most evident gift that the amputation has brought me”

In a practical sense engaging with adaptive rowing means many factors need to be considered, not least of all logistics. We row from very different locations that have unique opportunities as well as difficulties. The equipment and facilities available vary enormously club to club. There are solutions to most problems and it is fair to say that skiffies seem to excel at overcoming these – whether they be broken oars, split planks or choppy seas. A real-life example is of a young man who lost his leg in an accident and was struggling to row comfortably with his local club. He paid us a visit in St Andrews and we were able to make some very simple modifications that he would be able to transfer back to his own club. In addition, one of our adaptive rowers, who formed part of the crew, gave him some practical advice from his unique perspective – our enlarged dedicated adaptive rowing team in action!

In sum, collaboration and helping each other to establish and develop a new and exciting element to Scottish Coastal Rowing is the goal. If you would like to be part of this by becoming a volunteer or would simply just like more information please contact Julie Hardisty via email at .

Kind regards

Julie & Clayton Hardisty
St Andrews Coastal Rowing Club

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