One of Pengwern's adaptive rowers explains what the sport means to them...
If you're reading this, there's a good chance you're a rower. Maybe you enjoy it because you have a busy life and the workout that rowing provides helps you unwind and increases your fitness. Perhaps it's the competitive element or the camaraderie of being part of a team. The close proximity to nature could be an attraction for you or just the promise of a drink in the Club Bar after a rowing session, which you've thoroughly earned.
Imagine if you will that your life is compromised by a disability. This may mean not getting out very much, or only seeing the countryside through a car window. It often means that sport and recreation are more difficult to take part in and maintaining fitness can be a problem.
Now think again about why you enjoy rowing. Imagine the intensity of my feelings as I was tentatively pushed away from the pontoon for the first time. Although the boat had stabilisers, it felt so sensitive to my movements. One wobble and then what? ..but it forgave me my fumbling novice ways and seemed to want to work with me and not against me. Before long I was making slow but steady progress towards the footbridge. It was a perfectly calm, still, autumn day and the trees were golden. There was nobody on the river and I relished the solitude. Whilst noises of the town sounded distant and other-worldly, I was in a bubble of my own hearing only the gentle splashes as the blades entered the water and my increasingly laboured breathing.
To be this close to nature is thrilling and something I have longed for during the 20 years I've been in a wheelchair. To be able to do so using only muscle power and the cooperation of the boat is exhilarating. I have no ambitions to compete - for me this is enough.
I had never thought about rowing as being a sport that severely disabled people could enjoy. Many years ago I had friends who were rowers and they were beautiful to watch - strong, athletic, balanced and co-ordinated. I, on the other hand, am none of those things. Paralysed from the chest down, I'm unable to use my legs or core muscles and my balance is almost non-existent. To overcome these disadvantages our boat, or should I say, single scull, is adapted with a fixed seat and a back rest. I'm happy to say it is also extremely stable. When it comes to the technicalities, I'm still learning. (What is that technical thing they call feathering?)
There is so much about rowing I enjoy. Being pushed away from the pontoon always gives me a thrill of anticipation. The sense that my body is working hard to create the momentum to move over the water. And yet there is a deeper reward than just physical activity, such as independence and an emotional outlet.
None of this would be possible without the willingness, cooperation, imagination and open mindedness of the volunteers who work behind the scenes and turn up every week in all weathers - on behalf of all the adaptive rowers, a big Thank You to them.