If there’s one thing Stratford upon Avon Boat Club takes great pride in, it’s being able to give everybody, no matter their age, ability or circumstances, the chance to compete on the water.
And one of the Swans Nest Lane club’s biggest success stories has been the growth of their adaptive rowing section for those who have disabilities. The adaptive squad had just two rowers when it was first launched in 2015, but since then, the numbers have increased steadily year on year.
Fast-forward five years and the Club now has ten regular members who are out on the River Avon and competing at events across the country. “This might not seem like many, but in adaptive terms it’s enormous,” said Head Adaptive Coach Mark Dewdney. “It’s regarded as just about the largest, and certainly the fastest growing squad in the country and an exemplar for what can be achieved in adaptive rowing with relatively few resources.”
Last year provided plenty of success for the talented group, with every rower who competed in the summer claiming at least one regatta victory. On top of that, Kingsley Ijomah – who was one of the first two members of the adaptive squad in 2015 – will compete at the Paralympics for his native Nigeria this year. “We started him off and we are proud of what he has gone on to achieve,” beamed Dewdney.
Current athletes in the adaptive squad have spinal cord injuries, hemiplegia, visual impairment, autism and other disabilities. Because of this, as well as the rising number of members, the squad is dependent on a large set of dedicated coaches and volunteers. “We need fifteen or more helpers to run a squad of ten rowers,” explained Dewdney. “It is a major logistical exercise, especially when we go away to compete. We would be nothing without these volunteers.”
While getting the adaptive squad into competitive action is the primary aim, Dewdney stressed participation and social inclusion was “equally important”. “We are a social and mutually supportive group and everyone is encouraged to participate as fully as possible, not just on the water,” he added. “Like any club squad, we are only as good as what the members are prepared to contribute.”
While it’s all go on the competitive side of things, the Club are actively working hard to improve the in-house facilities for its adaptive rowers. “We are making steady progress, but we still have some way to go to provide our adaptive members with full access to everything at the club,” said Dewdney. “The adaptive squad could certainly do with a corporate sponsor to help towards this aim.”
As part of the wider scene across the country, adaptive rowing is still in its infancy. Dewdney currently chairs a group of English adaptive clubs who are attempting to grow the sport, but it’s all about evolution and not revolution. The committee works directly with the governing body, British Rowing, to formulate plans for adaptive rowing going forward. Many of the lessons learned at Stratford and at the other established clubs are now being fed directly into future strategy.
Paul Stanton, President of Stratford upon Avon Boat Club, concluded: “The amount of work that Mark and his fellow adaptive coaches and helpers have put into the adaptive squad is shown by their success not only in regattas, but also by the enjoyment that can be clearly seen by the ‘can do’ attitude of the squad. “Mark thoroughly deserved the James Roe Award for outstanding services to the club and rowing in the area that was given to him last year.”
Anyone interested in learning more about adaptive rowing can contact Dewdney through the boat club website: www.stratford-rowing.co.uk/contact. Businesses who would like to help the Club in their endeavours to improve its facilities should also contact Dewdney via the website.
For media coverage, see Stratford Herald pages sixteen and fourteen.
For more great pictures of our adaptive squad, see Trevor Tiller’s excellent selection at https://1drv.ms/f/s!Ajo1zADNwhQAmRM00kIAkANYR2i7
Article courtesy of Craig Gibbons, Sports Editor, Stratford Herald