Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In the Beginning

As a teenager my life revolved around my chosen sport of swimming and my ultimate goal was to compete at the 1980 Olympics being held in Moscow. Unfortunately Canada boycotted the Olympics that year and my dream of representing my country died. My love of sport however did not and I continued to swim even through my adult years as a masters swimmer. Even today I feel that I can't get enough of the water. Maybe I am just addicted to chlorine!

I eventually met and married an Australian, moving to Melbourne, Australia to begin a new life in a city that is mad about it's sport. I got involved with a Master's Swim club in Melbourne and even got involved with Aussi Rules Football. (An absolutely amazing game!) Then on April 23rd 1998 my life took an unexpect turn. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, or MS as we all know it. I was led to believe that my life was over and was advised not to do any sport and get ready for a life that was to leave me incapacitated. This to a sports fanatic was worse than a death sentence.

Luckily for me through my fantastic GP, the love of my wonderful husband and family and the support from the MS Society I realised that no one was going to tell me what I could and couldn't do! My life was mine and I was going to live it, albeit by doing things in a different way.

Life for me went on pretty much as normal for the first few years, but every so often MS would rear its ugly head. There were definitely extreme ups and downs but I always seemed to pull through. During a lot of the down times one of the things that kept me going was my love of the water. Even if my legs weren't working at times, I always felt no different in the water than anyone else.

In 2005 the World Masters Games were being held in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and for the first time in any masters games they had paralympic classifications in swimming and track & field. So thinking that the games would be a good idea in order to go home for a visit I got myself classified for the swimming. The games went extremely well with me winning 4 gold and 1 silver! Some how the Paralympic development people sent me an email asking me to come to a Paralympic Talent Search day at the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) located in Melbourne.

In December of 2005 I attend this talent search day and even though I was about 20 years older than the others I was put through the same pace. Just after Christmas that year I received a letter asking me to take up the sport of Rowing! Rowing of all things! I was used to being in the water not on top of it. I was told that Rowing was a new sport to be held at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. Although "Adaptive" Rowing as it is called has been part of the World rowing scene since 2002, it had never been included in the Paralympics.

I wasn't able to take a Learn to Row course until June of 2006 and to say I was a bit worried about it is an understatement. A lot of my physical problems with my MS revolved around my legs, so I was worried about how I would cope with the shear physicalness of rowing. I did my rowing course with the Yarra Yarra Rowing Club and they were absolutely fantastic, assisting me in any way they could. Unfortunately after doing the course and starting with the development squad I had a relapse of my MS. This was by far the worst relapse I had ever had, which put me in hospital for 3 months. But when I got out I was right back at the club and back in the boat. Thus began my affair with a new sport called Adaptive Rowing in the Legs, Trunk and Arms (LTA) category. (This means that I am able to use all three.)

I was very lucky to have the assistance of a wonderful woman by the name of Sally Shaw, who coached me in the beginning and was able to help me go to the Australian Nationals in the first 4 months of rowing. I was able to team up with a Masters rower Fiona to take part in the Adaptive LTA Womens' Double Scull and to our surprise we actually won the event by a whopping 14 seconds! I was now on my way to a sporting career in rowing.

Now that I had a national title under my belt the doors to the rowing world seemed to open up. I applied for and was granted a scholarship from the VIS, which gave me access to the best of sporting facilities and assistance in all aspects of training. I was then invited to a national rowing camp in June of 2007 and was finally able to meet other rowers with disabilities.

Over the following months rowing seemed to take over my life and it has almost become a full time job! Between on & off water training and trying to get enough rest in order to train life has become very busy. Having MS and balancing the training that is needed to become a proficient rower has become the biggest challange, but so far I have been able to do it.

Along the way I have had a few wins. I broke both Australian records for the 4 min and 2km indoor rowing. I have had a few wins with my crews from Yarra Yarra in able bodied events and for the first time in 7 years my women's crew won the C category of the Head of the Yarra race.

I have also had to take part in time trials on and off water to be invited to the selection trials for the National team. These trials took place in February 2008 in Penrith at the Sydney International Regatta Centre (SIRC). These selection trials were held just before Nationals at which we also had to take part. I am happy to say that I was able to hold on to my Double's title, this year with another Adaptive rower Julia and I was second in the single scull. At the end of this week I was advised that I had indeed made the team and that we would be heading to Munich for the World Cup and last qualifying regatta for the Paralympics. The others in my team are Pete Siri, Gene Barrett, Brandie O'Connor and cox Lisa Brown. We row in a coxed mixed four and can be of any number of disabilites. We now had to come together from 4 different areas of Australia to gell as a team! This will be our biggest challenge but one we are all up for.

I now hope to write about our training and lead up to the World Cup on May 10th and hopefully the outcome that we all want, to qualify for Beijing!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great to read your story. A little comment about the colour scheme... light writing on a black background is hard on deteriorating eyesights! Might you think about changing your background theme?
cheers and good luck,
Jenny C