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A Golden Opportunity For Adaptive Athletes

by Ed Moran, ed@usrowing.org | Mar 31, 2014
Before the car accident, Katelyn Steinke was a professional horseback rider. She ran road races every weekend and trained for marathons.
Before the car accident, Katelyn Steinke was a professional horseback rider. She ran road races every weekend and trained for marathons.

But an accident resulted in her losing her left leg, and a subsequent infection thirteen months ago left her a paraplegic. That did not stop the 27-year-old Cape Cod, Mass., native from wanting to be competitive.

Saturday, she was one of a large group of adaptive athletes participating in the “Gateway To Gold” event at the Community Rowing, Inc., boathouse in Boston.

Designed as a chance to give adaptive athletes an opportunity to get involved in several sports, including rowing, cycling and biathlon, the event attracted dozens of men and women, some who were there just for a chance to see how they could remain active, and others, like Steinke, who are hoping for a chance to compete on the world stage at the Paralympic Games.  

Before the infection that left her a paraplegic, Steinke worked with amputees and adaptive athletes at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospitals and participated in adaptive sports. “As an athlete, I was involved in adaptive sports. I did biking, I horseback rode, and I did downhill skiing.
 
“I’m very competitive and if (the opportunity to row for the United States) came up, I would definitely take advantage of it,” she said.

Considering she was about a second off of the time standard for an international shoulders and arms rower, that may happen. She certainly caught the attention of USRowing Director of Para-Rowing, Tom Darling and Ellen Minzer, CRI’s Director of Outreach.

Both Darling and Minzer are former national team athletes and are heavily into the process of finding new athletes to help build the available base of Para-rowers who could train and compete for the United States in the world championships and, ultimately, at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.

CRI had already been involved in Para-rowing and has a high-performance group from which the legs, trunk and arms four crew that competed in the 2013 World Rowing Championships last summer in South Korea was selected.

But the interest in adaptive rowing is growing, she said, and CRI reacted.

“We had so much interest in adaptive programs here at CRI, but we only had two program offerings. Like any other rowing program, when it’s small it’s great for all comers. But when it starts to grow, it gets pretty crowded and there is a mix of expectations,” she said.

So CRI revamped the program and added several levels to the existing high performance group. Participants, Minzer said, “can number in the hundreds.”

“Now, we have advanced Para-rowing for those interested in going to national-level selection regattas, general recreation Para-rowing in all different categories and we have youth categories for athletes under 25 in the sliding seat categories that have either minor disabilities or cognitive disabilities.

“We found people are really starting to get what they wanted out of the program to begin with,” she said. “They are getting the water time they wanted, more specific types of coaching toward their race category, and we’re able to put more people on the water in our best equipment.”

Minzer, who coached the LTA four last summer at the world championships, will do so again this summer, and has plans to bring athletes to para-rowing trials in several different categories.

“We have an advanced group that is trying in all categories,” she said. As for the four, “we are identifying athletes throughout the country and we will be inviting them to a camp that takes place on June 17 here. From that athlete pool, we’ll select the top four athletes, whether they are CRI athletes, or athletes from Seattle and other places, to compete for the U.S. at the world championships.”

Like Minzer, Darling has been scouring the country looking for new Para-athletes to bring to rowing. He used Saturday’s event, and has attended other “Gateway To Gold” events to help find them.
    
“I think this event is great,” Darling said. “I went to one in Tempe, Arizona, and this has just as many athletes. It’s a really good way for USRowing to identify athletes who have the potential to go to the Paralympics. And the way Ellen has it set up with the ergometer screens, with pace boats that reflect the different time standards, it’s a really good way to see how they are doing.”
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