Member of Team USA Competes in Paralympic RowingMember of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Rowing

Rowing

Paralympic rowing combines athletic strength, grit and breathtaking photo-finish races in some of the most beautiful waters in the world. It’s also a sport that combines athletes of different impairments (in this case, visual and physical) in the same competition—and even in the same boat.

The sport is relatively new to the Paralympic program, having debuted at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. In competition outside the Paralympic Games, these rowers often compete alongside able-bodied athletes at events such as the World Rowing Cups and the World Rowing Championships. In the Paralympic Games, the distance covered is 1 kilometer (.62 miles) instead of the Olympic distance of 2 kilometers (1.24 miles).

Rowing is open to athletes with physical impairments such as spinal cord injuries, amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. and cerebral palsyDefinition: Damage to the central nervous system. as well as athletes with visual impairments.

 

TIMELINE

2002
Adaptive rowing debuts at the World Rowing Championships in Seville, Spain

2008
Rowing debuts as a medal sport at the Beijing Paralympic Games

EVENTS

Paralympic rowing offers four events: single-person scull (one for men, one for women), double-person scull (mixed gender) and four-person sweep boat (mixed gender and mixed impairment).

In each event, six boats race 1 kilometer (.62 miles)—and the first over the finish line wins.

EQUIPMENT

Just as the term “adaptive rowing” indicates, the equipment these athletes use is adapted to them. In one-person sculls, the boats have a fixed seat and the rower is strapped in at the chest to allow only shoulder and arm movements. In two-person sculls, the boats also have fixed seats but the rowers are not strapped in so as to allow for trunk movement. In four-person events, the athletes use standard boats with sliding seats.

FAST FACTS

Vocab lesson: The left-side of the boat is called the bow or starboard side, and the right-hand side of the boat is called the stroke or port side.

Oh captain, my captain: In four-person boats, a coxswain is a fifth team member who sits up front and serves as the steersman. As a guide, this team member does not necessarily have to have an impairment to be part of the team and is not subject to the same classification requirements.

Excusez-moi? The World Rowing Federation is known as FISA, which comes from the French version of the organization’s name: Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron.

Another way to win: The World Rowing Championships offer an additional sport class beyond Paralympic offerings. The extra class is open to LTA (athletes with at least some leg, trunk and arm function) who want to compete in gender-mixed double sculls.

Athlete Spotlight:

Blake Haxton

As a senior in high school, Blake Haxton was an accomplished rower being recruited by several top universities when he contracted necrotizing fasciitis, a rare disease that quickly eats away at the body's soft tissue. Within a matter of hours, the situation became life-threatening and Haxton began a march through almost two dozen surgeries. The infection spread to his organs, and the family discussed funeral arrangements as Haxton slipped into a coma. But neither Haxton nor his family, friends, and doctors gave up, and after the amputationDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. of both his legs—one to his hip and one high above his knee—Haxton began his recovery.

When it came time for rehabilitation, Haxton knew how to push through pain thanks in large part to his training as a rower. He enrolled at the Ohio State University but took a break from his sport, choosing to coach rather than compete. He eventually got back into the boat after realizing his times on the rowing machine dipped below the U.S. elite standard. By the time he entered his first race, an indoor event in Boston, he was good enough to win—and he broke an American record for speed. He entered a qualifier for the U.S. national team, and a terrible start to the race left him last to launch, but he came back to win and earned a spot on Team USA. Almost overnight, it seemed, Haxton was an elite athlete.

He took fourth at his first world championship in 2014 and fifth in 2015, but finishing off the medal stand hasn't tempered Haxton's enthusiasm for competition. With one eye on Rio and one on a long career as an AS (arms and shoulders) adaptive rower, he's charted a new and inspiring path through life—one defined by his thankfulness to be alive, let alone to represent the United States on the international stage.

Althete Spotlight Blake Haxton

CLASSIFICATION

Paralympic rowing competition is open to male and female athletes from two impairment groups (visual and physical). Sport classes are divided among four boat groups.

Note: The models presented below are examples. A classification evaluation must be performed to determine an athlete’s sport class(es).

Physical Impairment

Visual Impairment

Intellectual Impairment

Rowers with physical impairments may compete in three different types of rowing events, separated by the gender of the athlete and the type of boat used.

ASM1x and ASW1x

ASM

1x

ASW

1x

"AS" stands for "arms and shoulders," "M" and "W" stand for "men" and "women," and "1x" indicates one person may compete in each boat. Rowers who only have full movement in their arms and shoulders may compete in AM1x (men) or AW1x (women). In these sport classes, the athletes use a fixed-seat single scull boat that is 8.2 meters (27 feet) long.

ASM1x

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

ASW1x

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

TA2x

TA

2x

"TA" stands for "trunk and arms," and "2x" indicates that two people may compete in one boat. Athletes with trunk and arm movement may compete in a two-person, mixed-gender scull that is 10.4 meters (34 feet) long.

TA2x

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

LTA4x

LTA

4x

"LTA" stands for "legs, trunk and arms," and "4x" indicates that four people (not including the coxswain) may compete in one boat. Athletes with an impairment—either physical or visual—but with full movement in the legs, trunk and arms may compete in LTA4x. These athletes are able of using a sliding seat to propel the boat forward. In this class, athletes compete in a four-person sweep boat that is 13.7 meters (45 feet) long. Each boat must include two male athletes and two female athletes. A boat may include a maximum of two visually impaired athletes.

LTA4x

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

All rowers with visual impairments compete in the same sport class, regardless of the severity of their impairment. Read more about athletes with visual impairments in the Paralympic Games. 

LTA4x

LTA4x

"LTA" stands for "legs, trunk and arms," and "4x" indicates that four people (not including the coxswain) may compete in one boat. Athletes with an impairment—either physical or visual—but with full movement in the legs, trunk and arms may compete in LTA4x. These athletes are able of using a sliding seat to propel the boat forward. In this class, athletes compete in a four-person sweep boat that is 13.7 meters (45 feet) long. Each boat must include two male athletes and two female athletes. A boat may include a maximum of two visually impaired athletes, and only one may be classified as mild (the least severe eligible visual impairment). During training and competition, these visually impaired athletes wear a blindfold to ensure an even playing field.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional