Recently, I had the honor of serving as chief classifer for adaptive rowing at the World Rowing Championships , held on beautiful Lake Bled in Slovenia. The competition included five adaptive rowing events, four of which were qualification events for the Paralympics. One of the great things about most rowing competitions is that the adaptive rowing events are included with the “able-bodied” events. Most other sports hold separate adaptive and able-bodied world championship competitions.
When athletes with disabilities compete in sports, they must be classified. Classification provides a structure for competition. The process ensures that an athlete's impairment is relevant to sport performance and that the athlete competes equitably. All rowers at the World Rowing Championships were classified and placed into one of four sport classes. There are five different events for adaptive rowing, using the four sport classes.
More than 125 adaptive rowers from 26 countries competed at the World Championships. Many were hopefuls for the 2012 Paralympic Games , which will be held in London next year. The USA had four entries trying to qualify for the Paralympics and two of these did so successfully. The disabilities of these rowers range from spinal cord injuries  to amputations  to permanent nerve injuries to visual impairments. The rowers come from all over the USA and only have the chance to train as a team a few times a year. Some of these rowers were elite rowers prior to injury, while some began rowing after sustaining an injury. They all have one thing in common -- the drive to compete successfully at an elite level. The same drive, determination and sacrifice required to qualify for the Olympics are required to qualify for the Paralympics.
Rowing is a great sport for anyone with a disability. There are many different pieces of equipment that can be specially adapted. Rowing machines, called ergometers, are a great way to start, and a fixed-seat adaptation is a relatively inexpensive purchase to allow those without use of their legs to use a sliding seat to begin to row. The closest organized adaptive rowing program is Philadelphia Adaptive Rowing (PAR), which rows on the Schuylkill River four nights a week from May through September. You can check out adaptive sports that are offered in the area at PA Center for Adapted Sports . Adaptive sports are a great way to get into shape, enjoy some recreation or compete against others.