Top 13 Moments of 2013: U.S. crew earns bronze at Para-Rowing World Championships

By Caryn Maconi | Dec. 25, 2013, 8:30 a.m. (ET)
Natalie McCarthy and Paul Hurley
Natalie McCarthy and Paul Hurley won a bronze medal at the 2013 world championships. 

It was a thrilling year for the Paralympic Movement in the United States and around the globe. Records were broken and legacies were made. From Dec. 18-30, will unveil the Top 13 moments of 2013 for U.S. Paralympics in chronological order.

At the 2013 Para-Rowing World Championships in Chungju, South Korea, the legs, trunk and arms (LTA) mixed double sculls event debuted for the first time. On Aug. 28, the U.S. crew of Natalie McCarthy (Seattle, Wash.) and Paul Hurley (Washington, D.C.) rowed to a bronze medal, the first para-rowing medal for the U.S. in 2013.

McCarthy, who is visually-impaired, and Hurley, a retired U.S. Naval officer who lost part of his leg in a car accident while on duty in Bahrain in 2006, knew they worked well together. But they, like the rest of the para-rowing community, were brand new to the LTA event and didn't know what to expect heading into the world championship.

The U.S. crew advanced to the final, but earning a medal wouldn't come easily as the pair was set to battle strong boats from Germany, Ukraine, and South Korea.

Ukraine ultimately finished with the gold medal in three minutes, 27.98 seconds. Germany took silver in 3:34.48, with the U.S. close behind in 4:08.59.

The win gave McCarthy and Hurley, who both made their USRowing Para-Rowing National Team debuts in 2013, their first-ever medals in international competition.  

McCarthy knew she and Hurley were rowing well throughout the race, but she wasn’t sure they had edged South Korea until Hurley told her the official result.

“I kept asking Paul, ‘Where’s Korea? Where did they finish?’” McCarthy said after the race. “I held my breath. It seemed like forever until it went up on the scoreboard and Paul said we were third. We won bronze. I felt like I was shaking inside. I was so amazed.”

Hurley wasn’t quick to take the glory for himself, instead praising McCarthy’s effort and the guidance of their coach, Steve Perry.

“I give (Natalie) all the credit because she had to be so patient with me while I figured out what I was doing,” Hurley said of learning to race in the new discipline. “I love to row and be on the water, but learning how to be an effective racer, and understand the nuances, that was all thanks to Natalie and Steve.”

McCarthy, who lost her sight due to a brain tumor, has been rowing since 2005 and competed at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., before aspiring to the Paralympic level. Hurley rowed for the first time at the Valor Games in Chicago several years ago. He didn’t become competitive in the sport until 2011, but he is the current world record-holder in his class for the indoor 1,000-meters.

McCarthy and Hurley now have their sights set on the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. The pair trained with Perry, the U.S. Naval Academy lightweight rowing coach, on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., throughout the summer, and they plan to do so again as they approach the 2014 world championships.

The season that ended with a bronze, though, will always remain meaningful for McCarthy and Hurley.

“I know neither of us will ever forget what we did this summer for the rest of our lives,” McCarthy said. “It just inspires us to do more.”

– Allison Fredrick contributed to this report