Paralympic potential turned me

By Allison Fredrick | Sept. 01, 2012, 12:53 p.m. (ET)

Rob Jones, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps after being injured in war, and his partner Oksana Masters have a chance to medal in the trunk and arms mixed double skulls.

ETON DORNEY – Despite having raced at Dorney Lake “loads of times,” Dorian Weber, who learned to row just a stone’s throw away from the 2012 Paralympic Games rowing venue at the age of 13, says he doesn’t feel a home course advantage. 

“I’m as American as apple pie,” said the 30-year-old lightweight rower, with a toothy grin and clear British accent.

Weber was born in Manhattan with two club feet, a relatively common and isolated birth defect that required surgery to extend his tendons as an infant. He moved to the United Kingdom when he was four and took up rowing at a small, private all-boys school, even competing at junior trials for the GB team before attending the University of Nottingham. 

It wasn’t until 2009, when Weber was doing warm-up stretches before practice, that his Paralympic potential was realized. 

“We were training out of a boathouse that the adaptive athletes train out of and they were doing a stretch, and I said, ‘Oh, I can’t do that. I’ve got club feet.’ And the coach told me that I might be able to classify (as an adaptive athlete). She encouraged me to do some preliminary testing. I never realized it affected me that much, or could classify me.”

Now, just a few years later, Weber not only qualified for the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Team – he is poised for a medal in Sunday’s legs, trunk and arms mixed four with coxswain final, along with teammates Alexandra Stein (Stamford, Conn.), Eleni Englert (Oceanside, Calif.), Emma Preuschl (Indianapolis, Ind.) and Andrew Johnson (Greenwich, Conn.).  In the last repechage of the morning, the U.S. crew edged out France in the sprint for the second-place qualifying spot. Italy, the defending Paralympic champions, won the race in 3:25.90 to the United States’ 3:27.41. 

“We have a lot of respect for the crews out here and what they are trying to do,” said Stein, who coxed the boat to the final of the 2011 World Rowing Championships. “We were focused on the goal today. This is what we’ve trained for and we’re just going to try to max out. That’s the only thing we can do tomorrow.”

The U.S. crew is up against China, Ukraine, Great Britain, Germany and Italy in the final, scheduled for 11:50 a.m. local time/5:50 a.m. EDT.

Rob Jones (Lovettsville, Va.) and Oksana Masters (Buffalo, N.Y.) will also have their shot at a medal, following an impressive repechage win in the trunk and arms mixed double sculls.

The duo led the field for nearly the entire length of the 1,000-meter course, crossing the line in 4:05.77. Second-place Australia, along with Great Britain and Italy from the first repechage also qualified for tomorrow’s final, scheduled for 11:30 a.m. local time/5:30 a.m. EDT.

“Today, we weren’t concentrating on winning,” said Jones. “We just wanted first or second place to preserve our energy. We need to make sure we are as fresh as possible for tomorrow, then try to catch (China’s Tianming Fei and Xiaoxian Lou).”

Hopes for a Paralympic medal ended prematurely for nine-time national team veteran and two-time Paralympian Ron Harvey (Downingtown, Pa.) in the men’s arms and shoulders single sculls.

“It was a solid race, I rowed as fast as I could,” said Harvey, who finished fifth in the event in Beijing. “I’m disappointed not to make it into the medals final.”

Harvey was in qualifying position through the first quarter of the race, but fell back to finish fourth in his repechage. He will now compete for places 7-12 in the B final, scheduled for 9:50 a.m. local time/4:50 a.m. EDT.

“I went as fast as I could today,” said Harvey. “I just lost to some faster guys. I was keying off of Korea’s (Jun-Ha Park). He beat me by three or four seconds yesterday, and I was figuring that I wanted to stick by him and then I could get him in the sprint. I just couldn’t quite keep up with the pace.”

Sunday's program kicks off with four B finals (places 7-12) beginning at 9:30 a.m. local time/4:30 a.m. EDT, followed by A finals (places 1-6) beginning at 10:50 a.m. local time/5:50 a.m. EDT.