Thursday, May 10, 2007

Adaptive Rowing

Adaptive Rowing – Specific Needs, Equipment & Methods
By Jose Nunes Portuguese Rowing Federation (POR); Rowing for All (Adaptive Rowing), FISA Commission.
From Quovadis Rowing Seminar, Cologne 1998
Adaptive Rowing, do you know it? Is rowing a Paralympic sport? How many countries have an adaptive rowing program? Which type of rowing boats do you use in your program? What sort of technical aids are required to adaptive rowing? How can we guide our technical approach? Do you need an adapted rowing technique? How can we manage water safety? Which type of disability will get the best help from rowing? Is rowing a way for people to integrate?

No doubt, simple and difficult questions that will need an effort to answer if a person with a temporary or a life-long disability comes to a club to share the sport of rowing and the joy of being a rower. In Athens, 2004, the IPC (International Paralympics Committee) expects the participation of 150 countries in the Paralympics Games. Paralympics means attached to the Olympics and, today, the spirit of the Olympic Movement means two world events: the Olympics Games and the Paralympics Games.

Rowing has been an Olympic sport since 1896, but it is not a Paralympic sport. Sydney 2000 will welcome 18 sports with 5000 athletes introducing sailing and wheelchair rugby as official paralympics sports. Rowing is the third Olympic sport in terms of number of athletes (545 rowers) but is facing a global sport pressure to reduce the number of rowers mainly due to its lake of universality and popularity. The first and second Olympic sports are Athletics and Swimming. They joint Paralimpic Movement in 1960, the year of the first Paralympics Games in Rome, and they are the two only sports with events in all sport areas of disability: blind, wheelchair, cerebral palsy and mental disabilities. Rowing is almost 40 years behind and, beside universality, rowing is facing a strikingly weak image point inside sport and public international community, because if rowing is an ideal lifetime sport for everyone, numbers and facts speak against it.

Adaptive rowing started in the seventies in the Netherlands and in Great Britain by the hand of rowing people. Inside each country, rehabilitation aim was guiding the field action using mainly leisure boats. A similar approach, on a larger scale, was made in the USA with the ‘freedom on the river’ program and, for the first time, an adaptive boat (the ‘omni-cat’) was produce to make rowing possible for people with more severe disabilities. Australia had joined this way and, in 1985, an international regatta took place in the Netherlands.

Now, adaptive rowing takes place on all 5 Continents and is promoted by 14 countries.

As with the beginning of FISA a hundred years ago, each country has made it’s own approach, using different types of boats, races and rowers’ classification and, for that reason, international events are difficult due to the lake of boat and rule standardization. Besides the performance boats used by a small number of rowers, adaptive rowing is performed in many different types of boats, mainly leisure boats.

The boats used are made in plastic or wood with single or double hull with one, two or four rowers, for sweep or scull oars. These 14 types of different boats can be row with sliding seats or fix seats, with or without a coxswain. The boat weight has a wide range for these boats and for some of them, support pontoons in the riggers can be added. Some of these boats are very expensive and others are small cost boats with some potential to be spread worldwide. Some of the adaptive rowing programs are working with national standard boats but, at international level, this is still an open issue.

Besides boats and rowing tanks, the electronic rowing ergometers used worldwide by performance and fitness rowers create a new window for adaptive rowing. In fact, adaptive indoor rowing has made rowing possible for everyone, anywhere and has made adaptive rowing competition easy for almost all types of disabilities. With indoor rowing, adaptive rowing has raised a high potential for a global approach in the world of sport for people with disabilities or with special needs.

The analysis of rowing performance profile (by Thor Nielsen (FISA Development Program) shows that rowing is an endurance sport, a healthy sport for everyone. In rowing, the technical skills are an important aspect of success in top level performance. But, technique is not thinking as a complex motor pattern dependent of the action context but a dynamic movement to be improved in a permanent context, the boat and water system.

Suddenly, for people with disabilities, the chance of rowing is dependent on an adaptive factor: the equilibrium. Taking in consideration this adaptive factor, rowing is possible for many profiles of disability. The equipment may require some technical aids or more stable boats but all the training methods developed by performance rowing are the same methods to be used in adaptive rowing.

The analysis of rowing technique profile shows that an adapted technique of rowing is not required for people with disabilities. Rowing technique is a complex movement, but can be learnt by imitation. Propelling the boat is possible by the action of the arms and, for that, a sliding seat is not required. A fixed seat is a technical aid for adaptive rowing.

The seat position is an early posture. Before walking, people have to learn to sit. This achievement will be a very positive input to the learning rowing process. The structure of the movement requires a cyclic and symmetric body action. So, in indoor rowing, rowing is possible and will help people with a lower level of body coordination. But, in water, beside memory, safety will be connected to the level of body coordination and to the level of understanding the bodyboat system. The body output is opposite of the boat output and for some levels of disability, profile rowing still requires a high level of cognition and
body coordination.

Rowing is a team sport and a team requires an organize group of behavior. This code of communication and cooperation needs to be understood by a flexible and multi-way process. This means a complex and learning stage process a bit outside of rowing tradition.

The analysis of rowing technique generates so many questions and problems. But, at the same time, this technical approach will help to master them.
The chart of adaptive rowing master problems will provide powerful insights for coaches who work with people with different types of disabilities. The basic idea is not learning an adapted technique but learning the correct rowing technique by the help of technical aids, single-team boats and indoor/water equipment. This will make possible adaptive rowing for a large group of disability profiles and people with special needs.

Some technical aids have already been developed for indoor and water adaptive rowing. They can be summarized by an adaptive foot stretcher with asymmetric regulation, holding gloves for the handle of the oar, weighted oars and double button oars, several types of fixed seat and riggers pontoons, coaching headsets, etc. Other helping systems connected to the water pontoons and inside the boathouse may help the integration of people with disabilities and without disabilities making rowing a more friendly sport.

The linkage between the expertise of high level rowing and adaptive rowing is crucial. The ability of a person to perform rowing technique is dependent of several factors of motor development. Everyone knows that a good indoor rower may not be a good water rower. But a good rower is an athlete with a good performance in the boat and in the rowing ergometer.

The first factor, tonicity, is the first of the scale. The last factor, epicritic praxis (connected to smooth coordination) is the more complex but is dependent on the development of
all the previous factors. For example, equilibrium control is needed for a proper differentiation of right and left side. But, rhythm is based on spacetime organization and is dependent of a good development of these previous factors.

Rowing require a good development of all these motor factors. By them, indoor and water rowing may be understand as a unit in terms of adaptive rowing. For some disabilities profiles, water rowing in stable boats is too demanding and the aim of rowing technique development stays, with the present knowledge, in the indoor rowing. So, indoor rowing is a less complex movement than water rowing and may reach a larger group of people.

Rowing in double hull boats is more demanding than the indoor rowing movement but less demanding than rowing in single hull boats. Taking in consideration this approach, an upgrading system may support the development of adaptive rowing. By indoor rowing, rowing will have a chance for introducing competitive large-scale events for people with and without disabilities. By developing an upgrade competitive system, rowing will strongly contribute to the integration of people with disabilities worldwide and will reinforce the values of rowing.

Last but not least, if rowing fulfills this commitment, the quota pressure on rowing at the Olympic Games will be reduced and rowing will really become a worldwide sport for everyone.

Amateur Rowing Association, Development and Adaptive Rowing Program, Great Britain
Dutch Adaptive Rowing Foundation, Netherlands
Landesruderverband Berlin, Germany
Adaptive Rowing Program, Rowing Australia Inc, Australia
FISA Adaptive Working Group

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