Row, row, row your boat!

Trish DowningRace BlogLeave a Comment

What started out as injury rehab has turned into so much more!

Last October, when I pulled into transition at the Hawaii Ironman after riding 112 on my handcycle, my shoulder was on fire. No telling how many rotations it had made over the previous nine and a half hours, but suffice it to say, it was a lot and it wasn’t happy.

That wasn’t the first time I had ridden that far or the first time my shoulder hurt after a ride, but it was the first time that the pain did not subside, even after massage and rest. Two MONTHS of rest, mind you. Usually, if I got a massage and took it easy for a day or two, any soreness from a ride would go away. But this was consistent, continuing and just plain painful! So I finally visited my doctor at the end of November and she sent me to physical therapy. My therapist had a lot to say about my shoulder and what could and should be done, but after all of the poking, prodding and testing he determined that my problem was not unusual for someone who uses a wheelchair for mobility—athlete or not. The front of my body—mainly my chest and shoulders was overbuilt and over strengthened compared to my back. This made me off balance and was the main factor in me straining my rotator cuff. But it’s not like I hadn’t worked at all on my back. I worked it plenty in the gym, but three months of two times a week lifting through the winter, was no match for the hours and hours I spent on the handcycle; sometimes eight hours in a day as I got ready for Kona. As a result, my shoulders are rounded, off balance and prone to ending up in serious pain.

So, what to do?

The therapist’s suggestion was to make some changes to my bike, but also to my routine. Stop with the bench press and work on the rows. And so I did. I followed his program at home with the therabands, and hand weights. I tried to think of other exercises or sports I could do that would cause less stress on my shoulders or at least build them in other ways. And since the rowing exercises were on the top of the therapist’s list, I decided to look into doing the real thing.

Now, there are a couple of things about rowing that make it difficult. First of all, I live in a state that has little water. Second of all, the equipment is specialized, expensive and giant. I thought it was difficult lugging around a handcycle and a racing chair, but it’s not exactly like you can throw a row boat over your shoulder and off you go.

Luckily, I did some investigating and found out about the US Rowing training center located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. And what was great about my timing was that just as I was looking for a new sport, they were looking for new rowers through a talent identification program. I filled out an application in just a couple of days, I heard from Jeremy, the coach who was in charge of building this adaptive program. He told me he was in search of experienced and accomplished athletes in other sports to turn them into rowers. He liked my resume and my six-foot wing-span was an added bonus. He invited me to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training center in OKC to see if it was something I wanted to pursue.

My first visit there was four days in which we worked both on the water and in the gym, to assess my ability to pick up the technique as well as my fitness and potential with the demands of the sport. At the end of my time there I got the green light from both Jeremy and another coach, Matt, who would end up working with the adaptive team. They invited me to come back (and come back soon) to train, as there were immediate opportunities for me to contribute to the U.S. team. At first, I was skeptical about being able to get up and running so quickly, but they assured me that I had the background necessary and I was picking up the skills I needed quickly. The fine-tuning would take time, but I was off to a strong start.

As a result, I am off and running! This summer will be full of training, but of a new kind and I couldn’t be more excited. Not that I have sworn off triathlon, I do still have a couple on my schedule and still hope to go to duathlon Worlds, but I will be doing more cross training and focusing on rowing. I will commute back and forth to Oklahoma City where Coach “Muff” resides and will prepare to represent the U.S. later this summer.

So, I’m off on a new adventure! Not sure what lies ahead, but I am ready to jump in and steer my passion for sports and competition in a new direction. Stay tuned for more race reports of a different kind! The adventure continues…

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