Local rowing club caters to disabled athletes

WASHINGTON – Having a fitness program that fits an individual’s specific needs is important – and one local program is doing just that.

The Capital Adaptive Rowing Program, part of the Capital Rowing Club, makes it possible for participants with a wide range of disabilities learn to row, train and eventually race.

“We’ve come up with a lot of equipment modifications that make it possible for people with a wide range of disabilities to row,” says Meredith Miller, the executive director of the program that operates out of the Anacostia Community Boathouse.

Miller enjoys being able to provide access to a sport that is both demanding and satisfying.

“What I’ve heard from a lot of my athletes is that the ability to just hop in a boat and row just like everybody else is really what’s liberating and exciting about rowing,” she says. “It’s a little bit like flying.”

Sofija Korac, who uses a wheelchair to get around, enjoys the freedom of rowing on the Anacostia River.

“I just love being on the water. I like the rush,” says Korac, who adds that part of the rush is being able to generate all the power needed to knife through the water on her own.

Like Korac, Dana Fink has been active in other adaptive sports, but rowing has become a favorite.

“I train in the morning before I head in to work,” she says. Fink admits that the early start is tough, but after her workout is over, she is ready to brave the day.

“I’m wide awake and ready to go. It actually helps me in the rest of my day, too,” she says.

Bridgid Myers and Megan Silk coach the Adaptive athletes. Silk says she was nervous when she started coaching, mostly because she wondered how hard she could push her athletes.

“That was one of the big things the first day I was most nervous about – like, how do I coach these people and how they row versus how I row,” Myers explains.

However, she says that coaching is no different.

“Their goal is to win boat races, and they know they have to put in the work to do it.”

The difference, Myers says, is helping the athletes work around their disabilities and tweak the equipment so that it is an aid, not an obstacle.

Margaret Rajnic, whose left leg was amputated below the knee, says rowing offers obvious physical benefits, but the mental boost it offers cannot be overstated.

“This will promote great cardio, but great emotional strength also,” Rajnic says. “If you’re feeling some depression, the amount of endorphins that are released from this sport are amazing!”

Miller makes a pitch for more participants to join the program. She explains the program is funded by the Disabled American Veterans Trust and the Olympic Opportunity Fund.

“We’ve got room for four or five new veterans that we want to teach,” Miller says. “If you join us, we will teach you to row for free. We will take you to exciting regattas.”

The cost of attending the regattas and participating in the rowing are covered by the grants.

Participant Chuck Linderman, who has Parkinson’s disease, encourages anyone thinking about rowing to give it a try. For him, it may mean slowing the progression of the disease.

“I find that every day I workout helps push that off,” he says. “And you can’t say that about anything else.”

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @KateRyanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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