Stratford-upon-Avon Boat Club’s adaptive squad is flourishing thanks to Mark Dewdney, Head Coach
Located in the centre of picturesque Stratford-upon-Avon, opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, there is no better spot for everyone to enjoy the delights of the River Avon and all it has to offer. And last month Stratford-upon-Avon Boat Club (SUABC) was honoured as Parasport Club of the Month.
Mark Dewdney and his team have worked tirelessly to ensure that rowing is a sport for all to enjoy. Having spent many years coaching with Evesham Rowing Club, Mark made the move to SUABC in 2015. Here he brought about the changes required to form the adaptive squad. Mark is part of a team of five qualified coaches and a reliable set of volunteers. All have the same focus: to ensure that everyone, no matter what their disability, has the same access to rowing as their able-bodied club colleagues.
The adaptive squad has grown from a squad of two in 2015 to 12, a tribute to the hard work and commitment of all involved. The new installation of a ramp to the staging (with help from the Rowing Foundation) and the purchase of JUNO, the safety boat (kindly supported by the Henley Royal Regatta Charitable Trust), emphasises that the section continues to move forward. SUABC is now widely known as being a club making great efforts to be accessible to all.
Mark says: “My squad ranges from the age of 17 to 57 with widely differing abilities. We actively encourage all; whether you are an athlete with Paralympic ambitions or someone who is just looking for a new activity. An initial assessment of the person wishing to join is made; if rowing is deemed safe then a plan is put in place to enable inclusion.
“We are proud when we see an empty wheelchair by the side of the river. It means the effort and commitment of the volunteers has enabled that individual to take to the water with confidence and enthusiasm.”
“I love being on the water. It’s fantastic”
As well as rowing, Mark actively encourages social activities. He says: “There is a pub lunch at least once a week following a morning row.”
There is a real feel of friendship at the club and everyone has one thing in common – the love of rowing!
A recent convert to the sport is Linda Barlow, a permanent wheelchair user, who – through lockdown – was looking for an activity and the chance to make new friendships. Linda browsed the internet looking for an inclusive sport and decided that rowing was the way forward. It didn’t disappoint.
Speaking after her Sunday morning rowing session, Linda says: “Rowing is fantastic, you feel a sense of freedom on the water and the squad have been so welcoming. All members are encouraging and have been so helpful. I would definitely recommend this activity to everyone.”
Linda also commented on the social side of the club and said that she had found it really beneficial. There is a very active WhatsApp group – a lifeline during the difficult times we all find ourselves in.
Mark adds: “During lockdown we were in constant touch via WhatsApp. It is so important to keep engaged with all squad members and volunteers. Just chatting is very therapeutic. Social isolation is a danger we tried our best to avoid.”
Enabling each rower to enjoy the sport provides different challenges, requiring creative solutions from the team.
Mark says: “There are certain fundamentals to moving a boat; you always bear them in mind, but you may have to be very inventive to make it work.
“Any good mainstream coach can be a good adaptive coach. It is the most interesting coaching I have ever done”
“Physical disability requires you to constantly strive to achieve the best boat configuration and technique to be used by each individual. Mental health issues and learning difficulties present different challenges.
“You must find the trigger that works for that person. Verbal instruction may not work – visual clues or other approaches may. To me, it is almost like doing a Times crossword clue – there is an answer there somewhere, but it may take a while to find it.
“Fundamentally, that is what all coaches do. Any good mainstream coach can be a good adaptive coach. It is the most interesting coaching I have ever done.
“One final tip – listen to the rowers. They’ve often come up with the most practical solutions to the everyday issues they face. It’s a collaboration – working together to make it the best experience for all concerned.”
“You certainly feel as though you are part of something and that there’s people you can rely on here”
A last word from a new rower
For Linda, the experience has been enriching and she’s loving her new-found sport.
“I love being on the water. It’s fantastic.
“I think Mark and the volunteers are amazing and what they do to enable people to get out on the water is great.
“You certainly feel as though you are part of something and that there’s people you can rely on here.”
After being Parasport Club of the Month in October, the club has now been nominated for Parasport Club of the Year. You can use the link here to cast your vote!
Photos: Drew Smith