Tuesday, June 12, 2012

First of Its Kind Adaptive Rowing Camp… a Huge Success

By Aerial Gilbert, Outreach Manager at Guide Dogs for the Blind and former National Adaptive Rowing Team athlete

Participants in the adaptive rowing camp

A landmark rowing development camp for veterans and civilians that are blind, visually impaired or have physical disabilities took place May 20-25 in Oklahoma City. Ten men and one woman, 80 percent of whom had a direct connection with the military, traveled from around the country to the Devon Boathouse, home of the Oklahoma City National High Performance Center. The participants' experience with rowing ranged from totally new to the sport to experienced rowers. Over the course of the camp, all of the athletes transformed their technique dramatically, starting with basic technique on the rowing machines to learn the stroke, advancing to the world’s first dynamic indoor rowing tank, and then progressing to rowing on the river in shells. By the end of camp, participants were rowing by all eight and really moving the boat. Griffin Lynch, who rows for his college team at the University of North Carolina, said, “We weren’t rowing by all eight for three months in my novice year!"

Rich Cardillo, head of the Military Sports Program at USABA, spent a couple of days observing camp and explained the Paralympic Military Program where the Veterans Administration provides a stipend for potential Paralympic athletes that meet the standard for one of the Paralympic sports. All of the participants worked very hard over the five days but also had a lot of fun as well. At the wrap-up at the end of camp, Sklar Lao (a wounded veteran) told the group, “I have been doing four types of therapy this past year for balance, physical therapy and speech -- rowing has it all; I want to do it more!”

The coaching staff for the event included: Garrett Klugh, World Champion and Olympic rower; Matt Muffelman, Adaptive Rowing Coach and former US National Team athlete; Marina Traub, collegiate rowing coach; and myself. Garrett, the program coordinator for the event, said, “This camp exceeded our expectations in every way. We are extremely appreciative of the generosity of the Devon Boathouse to allow us to use this world class facility. This was truly a remarkable group of people supported by great partners. I could not be more pleased with the camp and how it evolved. This group really set the standard high for the future.”

The camp was sponsored by the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) in partnership with USRowing, Disabled Sports USA and U.S. Paralympics. Grant funding for this program was awarded by U.S. Paralympics, a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee, through funding provided by the Veterans Affairs and Disabled Sports USA. The grants are provided to facilitate the growth of Paralympic sport programming for disabled Veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces.

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