Following the 2016 Rio Paralympics, Rowing Australia’s Para-Rowing Program conducted a series of “Train4Tokyo” camps specifically to identify new athletes who would likely be eligible for Para-Rowing in Australia.
“We were pleasantly surprised by the interest and ran a number of camps over the last two years, according to the apparent demand we received,” said Head Para-rowing Coach, Gordon Marcks.
“A priority of the camps was to seek participants who generally had no prior rowing experience and provide them with a good introduction to the sport.”
The camps were mostly conducted at the Reinhold Batschi National Training Centre in Canberra utilising the facilities of both Rowing Australia and the Australian Institute of Sport. The final camp, which was held towards the end of 2017, concluded with a PR3 Mixed Coxed Eight crew competing at the Head of the Yarra in Melbourne.
“We didn’t focus any particular possible sport class or impairment type and offered the camp places to anyone who thought that they may be eligible for Para-Rowing.
“At the end of the year, we could see that we had a very good group of potential PR3 athletes and looked to challenge them with a camp specifically to train and compete in an eight which was a lot of fun but, more importantly, a great challenge to get these talented athletes together from all over the country and race at a great event, the Head of the Yarra,” added Marcks.
Fast forward to the 2018 World Championships, where Australia is represented by five athletes who attended the Train4Tokyo camps, these athletes are in the PR3 Mixed Coxed Four and PR3 Men’s Pair. The 2018 World Championships is the first international appearance for Jed Altschwager, Nikki Ayers, Alex Vuillermin, James Talbot and Ben Gibson, and provides them with plenty of opportunities for them to learn as they continue their rowing journeys.
James Talbot, who has represented Australia both in the PR3 Men’s Pair, winning a silver medal, and the Men’s Coxed Four said, “The program was really good as it gave me an opportunity to meet people with different impairments within the category and row at a really tough by good event.
“By meeting people at the camp, I’ve built my para-rowing networks and it’s bought us all together as a group of people with the same drive and determination. It’s also good to have that competitive group together, all striving for the Paralympics.”
Fellow 2018 World Championships para-rowing debutant, Ben Gibson, who finished fifth in the world in the PR3 Mixed Coxed Four, added, “After my nerve surgery wasn’t viable, I explored Paralympic website, did the APC form and ticked all sports and had rowing at the forefront, based on what I knew about it.
“The Talent ID person at APC gave me a list of contacts and I contacted RA first and within weeks, I was at the February 2017 #Train4Tokyo camp. I really enjoyed it and Gordon Marcks put me in touch with Jason Baker at Sydney Rowing Club. JB took me on and I gradually increased my involvement with the sport as I enjoyed it so much.
“I felt that I could pick up the sport relatively quickly having had a competitive sporting background. I was motivated from day one, and making that enquiry meant I had the goal to go there. Rowing was the one for me and I’m obviously now aiming for the Paralympics.”
“The impact that these new athletes have made on the sport domestically is astounding and they will continue to improve and challenge crews internationally as we head towards the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. We are hoping to identify more para-eligible athletes as we move through the cycle and would be delighted if people got in touch with us to try out rowing, ” concluded Marcks.
To find out more information about para-rowing and possible opportunities, please email Gordon Marcks on [email protected]